When your greatest passion is making a meaningful difference in the lives of animals, few jobs are more rewarding and challenging than those at county animal shelters. LifeLine employees’ diverse talents and varied backgrounds enhance their ability to make that meaningful difference every day. Such is the case with LifeLine’s Fulton County Animal Services Officer Dena Gardner.
Officer Gardner isn’t your traditional Animal Control Officer. She is a licensed attorney who has spent the past 19 years practicing family law in Savannah. Why would someone with nearly two decade’s experience practicing law for humans switch to enforcing the law for non-human animals? Inquiring minds wanted to know.
“While practicing law was often fulfilling, I became disheartened by people who were focused on hurting or harassing other people through my representation,” says Officer Gardner. “I wanted to apply my efforts towards something more constructive and personally satisfying, and since I have always had an interest in animal welfare, I began looking for a way to be in the trenches and help animals directly.”
Officer Gardner began researching local animal welfare organizations. She was impressed with LifeLine’s work and mission. “LifeLine has taken two county shelters, with very high kill rates, and turned them into places of hope for health, good lives and happy homes for one of our most vulnerable populations,” she says. “I decided that this was an organization that I wanted to be part of.”
Raised in a family of animal lovers, Officer Gardner grew up on a horse farm near Athens, Ga. “At any given time, we had three dogs and four cats,” she says. But the “animal hero” who inspired her passion for animal advocacy was a woman who owned the farm down the road and had more dogs than she could count.
“This woman would go to the local shelter periodically and bring home bunches of dogs who were scheduled to be euthanized. They all got to roam free on her substantial acreage with full access to her home and her stables. They all seemed to live in complete harmony, and my childhood eyes saw it as Utopia,” she says.
Now that she is an Animal Services Officer, she loves being able to make an impact on a daily basis. “There is nothing more satisfying than being able to catch sick, injured or starving dogs or cats, and watch them get healthy and adopted into safe homes,” says Officer Gardner. “We also make a big impact in people’s lives when we come across folks who truly love their pet, but due to poverty, disability or lack of education about pet care, have not been able to meet their pet’s needs. Providing the resources that enable them keep their pet, is incredibly fulfilling.”
The most challenging part of her job is interacting with people who have pets but don’t really care about them. She says, “I cringe every time I hear ‘It’s just an animal’ or ‘I have real problems and don’t have time to worry about getting my pet vet care’. Some people just do not seem to comprehend that they have sequestered this poor animal, who has the capacity for love and ultimate loyalty, and who depends on this person completely, and have denied them of their basic needs.”
Equally frustrating to her are people who deny their pet free veterinary care, because they don’t want to meet the rescue organization’s requirement of having them spayed or neutered. “I met one sweet dog who had lost an eye because her owner would not pay for the vet care and would not permit the rescue group who wanted to help her spay the dog and provide the vet care,” she explains. “If the owner doesn’t do what is necessary to help their pet, we will ultimately take it.”
Despite the occasional frustrations, Officer Gardner is thrilled with her new career, and her goals as an ACO are simple: to save some lives and to make some lives better. “All animals deserve a healthy, happy life. Companion animals have so much to offer us and are in need of our protection. A dog’s life on the street is often hard and usually unsafe. Sometimes, a dog or cat’s life in a particular home is even harder. I want to help rescue as many of these animals as possible and help give them hope,” she says.
Fulton County Animal Services Director Lara Hudson says that she is excited to have Officer Gardner on her team. “So happy to add Dena’s expertise to our law enforcement efforts on behalf of pets and people in our community,” she said.
Officer Gardner has six rescued pets: three dogs and three cats. On her days off, she likes to cuddle and play with her fur babies and spend time with her husband and adult children.
We are thrilled to have Officer Gardner join the LifeLine Animal Project team!