Who Will Stop the Killing in Memphis?


Update Sept. 3, 2011: Demetria Hogan, a Memphis Animal Shelter employee with a criminal record, is finally gone, fired after one dog she picked up but delayed bringing to the shelter died of heatstroke and another disappeared. Hogan has been charged with 3 misdemeanor animal cruelty in connection with the dog who died and Kapone, the dog she picked up along with another pet dog but who has not been seen since.

Director Matthew Pepper is also gone. 

So now what? Does all this mean a positive change, less killing at the high kill shelter, better care of the animals? It doesn’t seem likely.

Pepper quit; he wasn’t fired, and, in fact, the city council tried to convince him to stay! MAS was slow to address Hogan’s allegedly criminal activity, the extent of which with respect to Kapone is still not known. 

Mayor A.C. Wharton’s response to the outrage about the ongoing killing, inhumane treatment of animals, and mismanagement at the shelter was to tap the local Rotary Club, to do a free audit. It’s far from clear what expertise the Rotary Club would have to audit the city animal shelter, but that was probably not the reason for their involvement. As it turns out, the president of the local chapter, John Coats, is a good friend of the Mayor’s. Coats was in any event repeatedly asking for the mayor when he was arrested recently for DUI, public intoxication, reckless driving and refusing to take a breathalyzer test. 

An audit from a good friend would have made the Mayor’s operation of the animal shelter look good.

The city also plans to do away with the webcams that has allowed citizens to watch for inhumane treatment  – and watch as staff take animals to be killed.

The MAS Advisory Board now meets in secret…   

Go here for more information: http://yesbiscuit.wordpress.com/category/memphis-animal-shelter/

The city has taken to bullying Shirley Thistlewaite who has exposed through her blog, YesBiscuit, the abuses including the high kill rate at the Memphis Animal Shelter. 

Singer and songwriter Maria Daines has released this song for the animals suffering in the Memphis Animal Shelter.

For information about the abuses at Memphis Animal Shelter, read Animal Law Coalition’s earlier report below.

Original report: It has been one year since Matthew Pepper was hired as the shelter director for Memphis Animal Shelter. And during this time webcams have been in place at the shelter, webcams that were supposed to ensure accountability for any cruel treatment of animals there.

These changes made in 2010 followed a raid on the Memphis Animal Shelter by Shelby County Sheriff in 2009 and shocking indictments of then shelter director Ernest Alexander, and two staff members in early 2010 for animal cruelty.  

The abject cruelty and other criminal activity that prompted the sheriff’s raid began long before Alexander came to work there, however. The city shelter was also the target in 2007 of a clarion call by Memphis-based Animal World USA for changes in the shelter’s operation to stop the killing of over 80% of the animals taken in each year. 

Memphis media outlet ABC 24 Eyewitness News investigative reporter Jenni Deprizio has also been instrumental in bringing every questionable issue to light and trying to hold the city accountable. Memphis advocates Cindy Sanders and Jackie Johns have been tireless as well in working to bring the cruelty and neglect issues and practices to light for the animals at Memphis Animal Shelter.

Pepper has failed to make any improvements and regardless of the webcams, things appear to be worse for the animals.

After the May 11, 2011 MAS Advisory Board meeting, Mayor A.C. Wharton’s Chief of Staff Bobby White was accused  of saying the mayor "would never entertain the fact that a small group of ‘animal lovers’ could talk to him".  The response by city council member Janet Fullilove was "So what?" That seems to sum up well the attitude of the mayor and the MAS administration towards the killing and the cruelty at the shelter.

While the mayor apparently believes it is beneath him to meet with the animal welfare community in Memphis, the kill rate, by his own admission, is 73.1%, a barely perceptible dip from what he claims is the 2010 high of 77.4%. The mayor’s chief of staff, Bobby White, commented during the advisory board meeting he did not know what the city would do with 16,000 impounded dogs. If MAS didn’t kill them, that is.

The mayor initially claimed an increase of 40% in adoptions this year. He then backed away from that claim and said the number of adoptions rose from 674 to 950 animals so far this year.

Advocates dispute any increase in adoptions or drop in the kill rate, however. And the statistics obtained from the Memphis City Attorney support that:

 January – April 2010 rates (the 4 months before Pepper became MAS Director):
 Adopt 12%
 Died 2%
 Euth 73%
 Foster less than 1%
 Missing 2%
 RTO 7%
 Transfer 2%
 January – April 2011 rates:
 Adopt 12%
 Died 1%
 Euth 72%
 Foster less than 1%
 Missing (not reported for Feb, Mar or Apr)
 RTO 6%
 Transfer 5%

The information and photos for many animals are never posted on petfinder or sites maintained by Friends of the Memphis Animal Shelter. There have been complaints that many animals are hidden in the back of the shelter. The public never sees these animals or learns of their existence, and they are not given a chance at adoption of foster care, training, anything.

The shelter limits access of volunteers and generally refuses to work with animal rescue organizations to try to find homes for animals. 

Michelle Buckalew, founder and president of Animal World USA, told attendees of the Board meeting that shelter staff tells the public animals are dead when they are actually alive. "There is no accountability for the employees’ irresponsible behavior and mistreatment of the animals.  We cannot be proud of what goes on behind closed doors at this facility.  …Why aren’t employees fired?" 

Others at the meeting agreed mistreatment of the animals was the biggest problem at the shelter.  Sick dogs were recently left outside at night during severe storms; they were covered only by a blue tarp that allowed cold rainwater to pour on them all night. Dogs are often dragged by catch poles. Animals are not usually sedated prior to euthanasia, only increasing their stress and anxiety. If the needle comes out, the animal can become very agitated. Animals are forced to watch as others are euthanized.

A photo showing a staff member manhandling a non-aggressive Lab mix and flinging the terrified dog in the air was explained away as "acceptable". Animals are left in the kennels while they are hosed down, leaving them wet with urine soaked spray.

The indifference and cruelty that characterizes treatment of animals at MAS was epitomized by a webcam photo shown this week of a shelter worker with a garbage can full of puppies.  In what Jon Stewart would call a Zen moment, the mayor assured everyone this was an "isolated instance of poor judgment" and  the shelter staff is "compassionate".

YesBiscuit has collected more, a slideshow of "isolated instances of poor judgment".

White described this as a marketing problem. It could be a political as well as legal problem, however, for Mayor Wharton and Pepper and their staff at MAS.

White said at the MAS advisory board meeting he did not understand why "so much emphasis" is put on the way animals are treated. Someone should remind the mayor and Pepper that animal cruelty is illegal.  

Go here to watch the shelter on the webcam.


Contact Tennessee Attorney General Robert
E. Cooper, Jr. and urge him to initiate an investigation into the inhumane treatment of animals at MAS:
Office of the Attorney General and Reporter
P.O. Box 20207
Nashville, TN 37202-0207
Telephone: (615) 741-3491
Fax: (615) 741-2009

Continue to contact city officials and urge them to follow the law and provide trained, competent and caring staff for the shelter, open the shelter to volunteers and the public and implement policies to reduce immediately the kill rate and increase adoptions.

Hold Mayor Wharton accountable:
Email:  ac.wharton@memphistn.gov
Office:  (901) 576-6000
Mail:  Office of the Mayor, 125 N. Main Street, Memphis, TN 38103
Contact Memphis City Council:

125 North Main Street, Room 514
Memphis, TN 38103
Ph: (901) 576-6786

Contact Public Services Director Janet Hooks:

125 N. Main Street, Suite 200
Memphis, TN 38103
Ph:(901) 636-6564