DECATUR, Ga. - A charity known nationally for saving the lives of dogs and cats faced questions about how it failed to properly feed starving dogs in the DeKalb County Animal Shelter. Lifeline Animal Project manages the DeKalb shelter, but it's the police department that's responsible for investigating animal cruelty cases.
On March 31, officers seized two emaciated dogs named Jax and Cicely. The next day they brought in a dog named Chaos, also severely malnourished.
But according to a DeKalb police memo, when detectives stopped by two weeks later to weigh those dogs, they found they "looked physically the same as we had last seen them."
There's a reason for that. Lifeline employees failed to feed them properly.
"How could an animal shelter forget to feed starving dogs?" we asked Lifeline Animal Project founder Rebecca Guinn.
"To be honest with you, Randy, this was an awful mistake," she admitted. "And we take full responsibility for it."
In his memo, DeKalb police Sgt. T.C. Medlin said he told Shelter Director Kerry Moyers-Horton on April 13, "I don't think they are being fed." He said she replied, "Don't generalize; they are being fed, just maybe not enough."
Large signs went up on the cages requiring the dogs be fed 3-4 times a day.
But detectives were not convinced. They pulled surveillance video of the 400 section of the shelter where dogs involved in bite cases or animal cruelty are quarantined until their criminal cases are resolved.
After watching the video, police determined none of the 30 dogs housed there got food during a 47-hour period leading up to the investigators' complaint to Lifeline. Even worse, police say nearly all the dogs also went without food for the two days AFTER the complaint to Lifeline.
"The team members had a miscommunication," Guinn explained. "And one team member thought the other team member was feeding."
"So even after your folks were told, hey, these dogs aren't being fed, he says there were two more days went by and they really weren't being fed."
"Right. We had a breakdown in our system."
"Yes," admitted Guinn. "There's no excuse for this, Randy. I want to be really clear about this. There's no excuse for this kind of failure. We made a mistake."
One of those three starving dogs belonged to Zedric Tyner. The bus driver just bonded out of jail, charged with animal cruelty for leaving his dog Chaos in the garage to guard an abandoned house.
"And they not feeding him. Then you doing exactly what you claimed that we was doing," charged Alicia Sprinkler, Tyner's girl friend.
They've since visited their dog in the shelter hoping to reclaim him soon, even though police say Tyner is the reason his dog wound up there in the first place.
"You think you deserve your dog back?" we asked.
"Yes," he replied. "I deserve to get my dog back. And I do understand, you know, that I kept him in the garage. The conditions of the garage. I accept full responsibility for that. But I never mistreated my dog."
Regardless, Chaos seems to be back to a healthy weight now. So is Cicely, who Guinn said has gained 30 pounds.
But the third dog of the group was not so fortunate. Last month, Jax was moved to a stainless steel cage in the medical section of the shelter. One night, he tried to squeeze through the opening and the next morning was found dead, his body pinched in the door.
Lifeline placed at least some of the blame on the cage itself.
"We'll never know what happened here, Randy, but this isn't safe so we're not using it," Guinn stated.
But DeKalb police shot video of that cage right after the death. It showed the door working properly. They blamed Lifeline staff for not completely closing the door to the cage, thus allowing Jax to squeeze halfway through.
These two terrible incidents take place just as Lifeline reached a magic number: 91 percent of the animals that came to the shelter last month left with new families, compared to 61 percent when the county ran the shelter. But in reaching that magic 90 percent no-kill shelter status, Lifeline sometimes took a chance by adopting out animals who were not spayed or neutered.
The irony was obvious. Lifeline built a national reputation for spay/neuter. Since the charity started, nearly 100,000 dogs and cats in metro Atlanta have been fixed to make sure they don't contribute to the pet overpopulation. Lifeline said so far 188 dogs or cats have been adopted from the DeKalb shelter without being fixed mostly because they were too young or too medically fragile for surgery. They're all supposed to return for spay or neuter at a future time.
"I mean, there's a slight risk," Guinn admitted. "I can't deny that. I think it's a calculated risk that we put in place for life-saving."
Guinn said of those 188 dogs and cats, only six have not returned for surgery.
As for the 400 block of the shelter, Lifeline now requires staff sign a log after every feeding, embarrassed that a charity created to help vulnerable animals could have failed at delivering their basic needs.
"Is it possible that this team approach fell apart because the team was more focused on adoptions?" we asked.
"Absolutely not," Guinn responded adamantly. "Absolutely not. No. It's not about numbers. It's about saving their lives. Finding them homes. Giving the chance that they deserve."