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FOX 5 I-Team investigates

Emails could disqualify shelter's bid to run Fulton Co. animal services

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FULTON COUNTY, Ga. -

Nearly 1,000 emails have been sent to Fulton County officials urging them to pick a popular charity to run the beleaguered county animal shelter. But some worry that enormous support may backfire and actually disqualify Lifeline Animal Project.

Cadillac Kimberly woke up one morning determined to adopt a dog. Then the Bankhead native took a tour of the Fulton County animal shelter.

"This is my first time. And my last," she said.

She's just the latest to be upset about lazy workers. Others have filed official complaints with the county about dogs and cats left neglected in an aging, undersized shelter.

"They're already traumatized most likely for wherever they came from. And then they come here and their quality of life isn't much better, in my opinion. I mean, who wants to live upon that stench," Kimberly said.

Rather than running it themselves, Fulton is one of the few metro counties that hires a private group to operate animal services. For decades, that meant the Atlanta Humane Society was boss there. But high euthanasia rates prompted the county to dump Atlanta Humane and eventually settled on Barking Hound Village Foundation.

But under that charity's leadership, the troubles continued. The FOX 5 I-Team caught the shelter's first director keeping dogs on chains at her DeKalb home, even though that county banned the practice. No charges were filed. She later resigned.

Later we discovered nearly $80,000 in shelter money spent at places like restaurants, hotels and trips to New York for its president David York. The county said the money shouldn't have been spent that way, but Barking Hound refused to let county auditors see the complete spending records.

York told the FOX 5 I-Team that he's spent thousands of dollars in personal money keeping the shelter open. When the contract came up last month, he declined to bid.

Two new groups have bid on the contract. Lifeline Animal Project, a no-kill operation based in Avondale Estates, and the Siwel Group, which is headed up by Ron Totten, who once ran the shelter when he worked for Atlanta Humane.

Last week, county leaders began receiving emails urging them to pick Lifeline. They never stopped. FOX 5 also received many emails.

"I know that I've gotten over 1,000 emails or close to it. I don't know how many Ms. Strong-Whittaker got. It almost shut the system down yesterday," said interim county manager David Ware.

In fact, so many people wrote in support of Lifeline that the county suspected the vendor was behind it. If so, they'd be disqualified. But Lifeline president Rebecca Guinn says her group had nothing to do with the full-scale digital lobbying effort.
    
"Mr. Manager, I encourage to be fair and open-minded and not assume that they are guilty of something until you can absolutely prove it," said Fulton County Commissioner Liz Hausmann.

The county attorney would only say they're still reviewing the bids. No one will know for sure whether Lifeline is disqualified until next week's agenda comes out on Friday afternoon.

In the meantime, potential dog owners like Cadillac Kimberly say they'll search elsewhere for a healthy pet.

"Heart-broken to be honest. Not that just I'm leaving without one, but I have to leave them in here in this environment," Kimberly said.

Earlier, the selection committee failed to recommend either candidate, citing concerns about the financial health of both bidders.

Click the video above to watch the story from FOX 5 I-Team reporter Randy Travis!

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