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Urgent Dogs in LifeLine Shelters

This year has been one of the most difficult in LifeLine’s 21-year history. We have exhausted countless efforts to find homes for the pets in our care. Higher summer intake, fewer adopters, and staff shortages have led to severe overcrowding and unsatisfactory living conditions for the animals housed in our shelters. Our teams have been forced to make heartbreakingly difficult decisions on a shorter timeline when it comes to dogs that have the most urgent need for placement.

An “urgent dog” is one whose mental and/or physical health has deteriorated significantly while living in the shelter environment. Often, the only humane outcome for urgent dogs is euthanasia unless immediate, long-term placement can be found. These dogs are safe for placement in the right types of homes that can support their unique needs and help them grow and are different from those that are not safe to place in the community. Each dog is an individual, and the conditions of shelter life can impact them differently. Some dogs can withstand these conditions for longer periods of time, but others deteriorate more quickly.

Earthworm Jim's Story

At just 2 years old, Earthworm Jim, E.J. for short, found himself on the urgent list in March 2023. He had lived 171 days in the care of DeKalb County Animal Services until that point. The odds were stacked against him, with extreme anxiety and overstimulation that caused him to lash out in his kennel and on walks. E.J.’s story was shared far and wide on social media reaching thousands of supporters on Facebook and Instagram. In the 11th hour, a foster stepped up to bring him home.

By her own admission, E.J.’s foster was terrified. At the same time, she knew she was his only hope. It took a village of support for E.J. to adjust to foster life – additional temporary fosters to help on the weekends, volunteers to socialize E.J. with other dogs, consistent training to learn manners, and LOTS of enrichment to keep his mind occupied. But, the proof is in the pictures. 4 months later, E.J.’s transformation is almost unbelievable.

E.J. while housed at DeKalb County Animal Services
E.J. while living in a foster home

According to his foster, “The weeks were rewarding and hard.” E.J. loves love and being the center of attention. His foster could go on and on about him for days: his handsome looks, penchant for making dog friends, his “stage 4 clinger” status, and his puppy energy that both entertains and exhausts. All of these qualities make him uniquely E.J., and we know the right adopter will be the luckiest person to welcome him into their life. It bears repeating, fostering saves lives.

Moving Forward

When it comes to humane euthanasia in shelters and rescue organizations, it’s easy to make assumptions from the outside looking in. How did we get here as a community? How can staff make these decisions? How do we decide who deserves a chance? What’s harder is to move forward day by day when the progress is slow and despite not always knowing or agreeing with the answers.

As of the publish date of this blog, 11 out of 48 dogs deemed urgent at DeKalb County Animal Services this year have been humanely euthanized or are pending euthanasia. There are many like E.J. capable of these incredible transformations. The unfortunate reality is that our shelters are overrun. And, despite heroic efforts on the part of SO many caring individuals, not nearly as many dogs as we hope, urgent or not, are getting the same opportunity.

The animals need more from us to make a bigger, lifesaving impact:

  • Fosters to open their homes and give dogs a chance.
  • Volunteers and community partners to lend a hand.
  • Donations to help us keep up with the needs.
  • Supporters to mobilize their social networks, on and offline.
  • Community leaders to advocate for neglected, abused, and homeless pets, as well as more resources, such as inclusive housing for pets and their families.

Atlanta, we all have something to offer these pets. It’s important to continue asking questions, but please let the first one be, “How can I help?”


There is no such thing as a perfect home, but your home might be the perfect fit for one of our dogs. You don’t have to have foster experience to join the efforts, just an open mind and an open heart.

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