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Lifeline Animal Project hired to run Fulton Co. animal services

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FULTON COUNTY, Ga. -

Fulton County commissioners have approved a new charity to run its problem-plagued animal shelter. The decision to hire Lifeline Animal Project comes after years of FOX 5 I-Team investigations into the previous management group.

In 30 days, Barking Hound Village Foundation will no longer be the top dog at Fulton County animal services. Instead, commissioners and animal advocates put their faith in a 10-year-old charity that could soon wind up running DeKalb's shelter too.

After spending the last 10 years quietly running the a successful no-kill shelter and spay/neuter clinic in Avondale Estates, Lifeline Animal Project will soon take over a high-profile basket case -- Fulton County Animal Services.

"We felt it was time for someone to step up in the Atlanta area and we're ready to do it," Rebecca Guinn, president of Lifeline Animal Project.

For decades, Fulton County has hired non-profits to run its animal services. But the first charity ran up alarmingly high euthanasia rates. FOX 5's I-Team caught the most recent vendor, Barking Hound Village Foundation, spending nearly $80,000 at pricey restaurants, hotels and New York trips. The county said the money should not have been spent that way and accused Barking Hound of refusing to fully cooperate with an audit.

Volunteers filed official complaints with the county about lazy workers and missing animals. When the contract came up last year, Barking Hound decided not to bid again.

"We think that Lifeline is going to make the commissioners proud. I think it's going to be good for the county too," said volunteer Ashley Freedman.

Some of those supporters almost scuttled Lifeline's bid. More than a thousand emails flooded county offices, urging officials to vote for Lifeline. The number was so high that some here suspected Lifeline might illegally be behind the effort. In the end, though, no wrongdoing was found.

Even though the county manager recommended no one get the bid, Commissioner Liz Hausmann pushed hard for Lifeline.

"The overwhelming support that the community showed for them was very impressive. Very impressive," Hausmann said.

Lifeline is still waiting to hear whether DeKalb County will accept their bid to run that shelter as well.

"The animals actually don't know where the county line is between Fulton and DeKalb. And I think neither do volunteers or animal lovers, Guinn said.

The contract will cost taxpayers $2.4 million a year, divided among all the cities in Fulton County as well as the county itself.

Lifeline has already hired a new director, Lara Hudson. She ran a 13-county shelter in Hattiesburg, Mississippi that dropped the kill rate for animals from 80 percent to 40 percent in less than a year.

Click the video above to see FOX 5 I-Team reporter Randy Travis' latest update.

Previous stories on Fulton County animal services:

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