Holiday Heroes: Giving animals a ‘Lifeline'

Holiday Heroes: Giving animals a ‘Lifeline'

Rebecca Guinn was a white-collar criminal defense attorney when the cry of a red-haired dog put her life on a different path, one focused on saving the lives of countless dogs and cats.

It started in 2001, when Guinn discovered a dog whose paw was caught in a barbed-wire fence near her home in Avondale Estates. She called animal control to help release the dog, leading to a series of events that made clear to her the harsh reality facing unwanted pets.

She visited the shy, sweet dog she helped free a few times at the animal shelter. At the first visit, the local shelter was noisy and overflowing with dogs and cats. But just a few days later, the place was eerily quiet.

She feverishly researched the issue, and found, according to Stopping Pet Overpopulation Together, a group that gathers statistics from 20 local shelters, close to 100,000 dogs and cats were euthanized in metro Atlanta in 2001.

“That’s one animal every six minutes, and that’s how I look at time,” said Guinn, 51. “As an attorney, I look at it like billable hours, and I became obsessed that there was some kind of problem and surely something had to be done.”

Even the mixed-breed dog she found snarled in the fence — a perfectly healthy, cute and sweet dog — was scheduled to be put down after its owner never came to the shelter to claim him.

So Guinn decided not just to get involved in her community, but to change her community.

She gave up practicing law and created a network of services called The Lifeline Animal Project. The nonprofit includes a shelter in Avondale Estates designed for dogs and cats with special needs, such as those with heartworm or those having been abused, often the first to put down in many shelters. She also has a cat room, as well as two low-cost spay-and-neuter clinics, one in Avondale Estates and one she recently opened in College Park.

She also worked to fill a void in helping feral cats, creating a program designed to decrease the population but also to care for the existing wild homeless kitties. With the help of volunteers, her organization traps, fixes and releases 2,000 to 3,000 feral cats every year. Volunteers help feed them.

The Lifeline Animal Project now has a staff of 25 people.

Devoting herself to animals required Guinn to make personal sacrifices. She estimates her income plummeted by 70 percent. She sold her large home in Avondale Estates and moved to a more modest home in a nearby town. She sold her sporty SUV for a Chevy Impala.

But she doesn’t complain. She likes her car just fine and while her house is not fancy, she quickly points out it does have a nice, large yard — a key asset when you have a few dogs and cats.

She still uses her legal skills, but to help animals. She recently helped to get state legislation passed that bans the use of gas chambers in animal shelters. (While not a widely used method in Georgia, there were a handful of gas chambers in the state.)

As for the first dog she found in 2001, Guinn named him Rudy and found him a loving home.

“It was a bittersweet story because the woman who got him was diagnosed with cancer and passed away. But Rudy was the light of her life. This dog was going to be killed, but he’s such a special dog and he illustrated everything we do,” she said.

AJC 2010 Holiday Heroes

For the second year, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has selected a group of metro Atlanta residents to honor as Holiday Heroes, members of our community who, often at their own expense and without fanfare, do what they can to help others. Thirteen winners were selected from among dozens of worthy nominees. Besides having their stories told in the AJC and on ajc.com, this year’s Heroes will also be featured on radio station B98.5 FM, and each will receive a $250 gift card donated by the Buckhead Life restaurant group. The stories of all the 2010 Holiday Heroes can be found online at www.ajc.com/holiday.

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