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How Rebecca Guinn helped shape the compassionate, animal-loving spirit of Atlanta

If there’s one thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has really driven home for the animal-loving community, it’s that people should never have to give up a beloved family pet simply because they’ve lost their jobs or need to be hospitalized because they’re sick.

On that same note, the pandemic fallout has further reinforced that the dogs and cats who brighten our lives and communities and provide us with much-needed companionship shouldn’t be dying unnecessarily in shelters because their families fall on hard times or lack access to the critical resources needed to care for them. The very idea that that happens every day across our country is, quite frankly, ridiculous.

LifeLine Animal Project in Atlanta gets this. Founded in 2002, LifeLine has shaped animal sheltering and local lifesaving in and around Atlanta into a true collective, community-driven experience. But the roots of the organization lead back to one remarkable woman who found a dog caught in her backyard fence in 2001.

Rebecca Guinn is a longtime personal friend and hero of mine. She is a person driven by the pursuit of knowledge and justice with the goal of saving lives. She has based much of her life on understanding the root cause of problems and pursuing long-term solutions rather than short-term fixes. That’s why, in 2001, when she called her local animal control to help a stray dog stuck in her backyard and learned that a likely outcome for that dog might be an early death, she named him Rudy, found him a loving new home, and then researched the hell out of shelter lifesaving statistics in her community.

After walking away from a successful criminal defense law practice and attending the 2001 Best Friends National Conference, Rebecca founded LifeLine in 2002 with an emphasis on community-driven approaches to neighborhood reinvestment and public safety designed to increase both human and animal welfare.

She rolled out a visionary trap-neuter-return program for cats living in Atlanta area communities, aptly named Catlanta; opened a private shelter for animal cruelty cases and special-needs animals; and created a low-cost spay/neuter clinic. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, she played a huge role in the heroic efforts to save and care for homeless animals and support impacted shelters. In 2013, she entered successful bids to take over animal control operations for DeKalb and Fulton counties. She has led the charge to make Atlanta no-kill for dogs and cats, and LifeLine now serves as a guiding star for others working to replicate her efforts across the country.

In a nutshell, she is the embodiment of the kindness, commitment and community spirit that define the no-kill movement. Of course, if you ask her how LifeLine has helped make so much progress for animals in need in Atlanta, she’ll tell you it’s all about the incredible team she works alongside every single day. As she puts it, “We have an amazing team and it is all about them. They never back down from a challenge. They always find a way.”

Sometimes, when I mention Rebecca and everything she has accomplished for pets and people where she lives, I see people hesitate. They’re probably thinking, “That’s amazing. But I can’t possibly do what she did.” And here’s what I say to that: You don’t have to do exactly what Rebecca Guinn did to make a difference for animals in your community. All you need to do is think like she does and let that light your way.

When Rebecca was presented with that dog in her backyard and the likelihood that he’d meet an untimely end at her local shelter, she didn’t ask, “Who’s fault is this?” or “What’s wrong with people?” Instead, she asked, “Why is this happening and what can I do to change it?”

By the way, if you’re not already following LifeLine Animal Project, DeKalb County Animal Services and Fulton County Animal Services on social media, you’re missing out. Their marketing and social media team is superb and specializes in doting staff members cuddling with ridiculously adorable pets.

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Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society Julie Castle
CEO
Best Friends Animal Society