A Clarion Call for Compassionate Leadership: An Open Letter to the City of Memphis

© by Michelle Buckalew, editor of The Animal World, http://www.animalworldusa.org/, (reprinted with permission)

The Animal World and a growing number of citizens believe that the most important issue that the city has overlooked and failed to significantly address is the compassionate care and shelter of homeless animals in our city….the most vulnerable.

Over 11,000 animals each year at the Memphis Animal Services are killed without a proven effort to adopt these unconditionally loving animals. This open letter comes after a series of recent events which have unfolded and revealed yet again the neglect, absence of consistent policy, the failure to provide meaningful management/care and a promised new shelter for the animals in Memphis.

In 2006, Memphis Animal Services:

-Took in 14,448 animals.

-Euthanized 11,641.

-Returned 918 to owners.

-Adopted out 1,755.

So far in 2007, Memphis Animal

Services has:

-Taken in 13,103 animals.

-Euthanized 10,875.

-Returned 881 to owners.

-Adopted out 1,153.

First hand experiences from adopters, humane groups and The Animal World’s own recent visits/attempts to adopt have prompted public meetings to start up as a means to achieve results.

For many advocates, who have worked years, the delays and failure to build a simple shelter, while an arena that costs 1/4 billion dollars goes up, is difficult to reconcile. Even more hard to believe, the upcoming budget plans to include 25 million dollars plus, to tear down old, vacant buildings in the city. This, while shelter plans continue to be delayed. Many concerned citizens are seeing the continuing delays as an unacceptable response to the over 10,000 innocent animals who are being led to premature, unnecessary deaths (with not a chance of adoption) each year in Memphis.

Memphis Animal Services has kept an 80 percent or higher annual euthanasia (killing of adoptable animals) rate over the years. The figures for 2007 are now presently at 83 percent. That is 83 percent of all animals who enter Memphis Animal Services shelter are killed.

The number of hours of operation available for the public to come and adopt are only 26 per week. MAS is only open 3 hours on Saturdays when more people have the opportunity to visit. These hours seemingly serve the city and not the citizens. Opening at 11 am each day, closing at 2 pm Mondays/Saturdays and 4 pm other weekdays (closed on Sundays) is not giving the public a fair chance at saving precious lives.

Furthermore, the loss of adoptions means the loss of revenue for the city. Efforts to adopt some of these animals have been met with less than professional attitudes from some shelter employees. I must stress that this does not include all employees as there are a handful of caring employees and heroic volunteers who valiantly serve despite the tremendous challenges

they face day in and day out. Many other communities have taken the route of privatization (turning the operation into a non-profit entity). Some suggest that this could be the best fiscal and compassionate way to handle the problem.

Because the city leaders have failed to return most calls to meet with animal advocates/

leaders, public meetings are now being held to address the crisis. One point being discussed is a Memphis ordinance that stated that there is to be an advisory board for MAS. It was recently discovered that the advisory board was eliminated quietly within the last 3 months. More than ever, the citizens have no place to turn to take their concerns or to follow a formal complaint process.

The Animal World is asking that city and community leaders come together and act on behalf of those who have no voice. We seek leaders who can step up and help eliminate the continuing crisis.

1. Memphis Mayor W. W. Herenton

The issue is not going away. It is getting worse. The Director of Public Services and Neighborhoods is either not communicating the severity of this crisis or you are not listening.

Under your administration, thousands of animals are being killed annually and there is no end on sight. We currently have no management at the shelter. The situation is getting worse by the day. You know, as Mayor, that you have the power to immediately start saving lives.

2. Keenan McCloy, Director of Public

Services and Neighborhoods

There is a communication breakdown and all roads lead back to your department. You oversee the shelter. It has often been said that in business, leaders who do not solve a problem have given up or they just don’t care. Your failure to respond to the citizens and to our requests for help are largely ignored. You are neither serving the Mayor or the public if you are not communicating the severity of this problem. These failures are far-reaching and, in the wake of thousands of deaths, cannot be defended. You have the power to immediately start saving lives.

3. Memphis City Council

The proposed shelter has been moved to the back burner… yet once again delayed. For the new council coming on board in January, we ask that you put this at the top of your list. For current council members, you still will have an opportunity to help as citizens in your chosen professions. You have the power to immediately start saving lives.

4. Shelby County Mayor A.C. Wharton

While it is not your responsibility as county mayor, we still need your leadership. As a young man who once considered becoming a veterinarian, you have a compassionate heart. We desperately need your voice. You have the power to immediately start saving lives.

5. Leaders of Faith-Based Congregations

You and many of your congregants are not yet aware of this crisis as it has gone largely unreported. God’s precious creatures are being led into euthanasia rooms, mouths being tied shut and they are being killed systematically. For the sake of the innocent, this surely cries out for spiritual leadership. You have the power to immediately start saving lives.

6. Business Leaders

Many of you with immense talent and vision including Fred Smith, Kevin Kane, Pat Halloran, sports coaches including college and professional all have demonstrated that you have the ability to create change and most importantly, you have the ear of the Mayor. Broadway Barks has long been saving lives in NYC. Coach Bobby Cox of the Atlanta Braves has a homeless organization in Atlanta that has saved scores of lives. We need some of the vision, compassion and talent that you have shown over the years to address this crisis. You have the power to immediately start saving lives.

7. Citizens of the Mid-South

We need your participation, voice and collective energy at this important moment. We need you to become involved, adopt, volunteer and attend meetings to help create a climate of change. Everyone ahead of you on this list answers to you. You have the power to immediately start saving lives.

8. Media Outlets

We need stories on what is happening to the animals. Investigative reporting and a real hard look of what has been going on. The fact that shelter continues to operate under these conditions is a story that must be told…and told again until the truth takes hold. Print publications, you can begin running no charge line ads for the Memphis shelter animals at the very least. Television and radio decision makers, please consider a link on your website with info about adopting from the MAS and frequent news segments raising public awareness. People are responding to investigative reporting and truth-based shows because we all want to know the "real story." Report this story. You have the power to immediately start saving lives.

9. Memphis Police Department and Shelby County Sheriff’s Department

Crime against the animals of our communities is well-known. From dogfighting to neglect, animal abusers are a detriment to the community. They have also have shown a propensity to commit other criminal activities. When people commit crimes against animals they are hardening their hearts. The innocent…both animal and citizens become targets. We need to set up a true task force or panel to address this in a meaningful manner. Sheriff Luttrell, you have shown compassion. You know from the Miami Animal Police visit in 2004, how effective law enforcement can be for the animals. You have the power to immediately begin to start saving lives.

10. Educators

Young people look to you every day for your guidance, wisdom and experience. Teach your students about the importance of adopting and volunteering at local animal shelters. Kindness to animals is one of the most important lessons you will share with your students. You have the power to begin/continue saving lives.

11. Puppy Millers and Backyard Breeders

Go visit the shelter on a regular basis and see the lives which are being lost as a result of over-breeding. Playing on the ignorance of those who don’t know the tragedy might serve you financially. However, the legacy that is left to your families and community cannot be ignored. Don’t breed or buy while others die. Until pet overpopulation is brought under control, breeding animals while others go into incinerators, landfills and gas chambers is nconscionable. There are rescue groups for every breed of dog. The problem of healthy, loving animals being routinely killed in our country is not going away tomorrow. You must take responsibility. You have the power to immediately start saving lives.

12. Advocates

We need to continue to stand united. Our voices are far greater when we are working together. Providing the facts, working with media and finding common ground will serve us well. The Michael Vick case has shown us that the decision makers will respond if we stand united and press on with conviction. We have the power to immediately start saving more lives.

13. The Animal World

The policy of this publication for the first four years of its’ existence was to provide positive, upbeat stories. We chose to avoid news that would deter potential adopters. At this point in time, we are in agreement that the problems must be addressed publicly. While The Animal World will continue its’ policy to provide no-charge advertisement for the shelter, we recognize that we have the responsibility to do more. We must and can do more. We have the power to immediately start saving more lives.

14. Memphis Animal Services

Employees who work at MAS merely for a paycheck and with little or no concern for the animals…. please consider another career. If any of you are burnt out or stressed out, seek counseling. Continually working in an environment where tens of thousands of animals annually are killed has a direct effect on your mental and physical health. You are on the front line and nothing will change without your cooperative and positive attitude. You have the power to immediately start saving lives.

In Closing

The lessons that the animals teach us are those of love and forgiveness. Through the years, the advocates have tried to exhibit those lessons along with patience. We have helped to create exciting local and regional events. We have invited animal welfare leaders from across our country to provide inspiration and encouragement. Nothing seemingly changes except the euthanasia numbers go up, shelter plans are put on hold and effective leadership is absent.

The shelter is a city service that is supported by citizen’s tax dollars, as are many other public services. This includes fire and police protection. The shelter affects a segment of population who has had no voice except the few who attempt to protect and save them. Sadly those voices do not include the majority of people/staff who are paid to do so. Therein the problem lies.

The vast majority of advocates who met this past month are ready, willing and able to work with the city on a solution. The city must begin to take this tragedy seriously and address the crisis in an effective manner. Animals have shown to be essential to our lives…providing healing in hospitals and nursing homes, R.E.A. D. dogs in libraries helping students achieve better reading skills, serving in law enforcement and disasters and teaching us all the true meaning of unconditional love.

May God guide us as we seek to find solutions, implement reform, seek accountability and join together to save the lives of these precious animals.

What will make Memphis Animal Shelter a 21st century shelter?

Saving lives.

Making the shelter, truly a "shelter" for animals that are lost or find themselves in neglect.

Measure success by shelter statistics (how many lives were saved vs intake)

New shelter

Hire a new MAS director

Have an advisory board

Shelter reform – with input from stakeholders and outside experts.

New ordinances:

Ban the killing of shelter animals if a rescue Group is willing to save that animal’s life.

Formal complaint process and oversight.

Address chaining and cruelty in a meaningful manner.

Require anyone selling companion animals to be licensed

Establish a TNR program


Aggressive Spay/Neuter Focus

Community Outreach

Make adoption hours conducive to the public and their working schedules

Offsite adoptions

Publish statistics – make available on the website

Promote "foster" care

Shelter clinical pastoral care/support

If you would like to urge Memphis to make these changes or if you can volunteer to help at the shelter, contact:

1. Mayor’s Citizen Service Center: 901-576-6500

2. Keenon McCloy- Director of Public Services and Neighborhoods: 901-576-6564; keenon.mccloy@memphistn.gov

3. Memphis City Council: 901 576-6786

Note: Since the publication of this Open Letter, The Animal World editor, Michelle Buckalew, www.animalworldusa.org, reports the shelter has worked with The Animal World and Petco to stage a series of adoption events. The city council approved  a resolution for the completion of plans and specifications and taking of bids for a new shelter, and Keenon McCloy reports the search for a new director is underway. A volunteer photographer will begin taking photos of animals to facilitate adoptions. Click here for a look at what else has happened since the Open Letter was issued.

Click here for information about adopting animals at the shelter. 

One thought on “A Clarion Call for Compassionate Leadership: An Open Letter to the City of Memphis”

  1. I personally want to congratulate my friend Michelle for her fine work, and the editor of this site as well whom will be , I am sure , doing everything she can to assist in duplicating this success elsewhere.
    These wonderful concepts, taken largely from Nathan Winograd’s new book “Redemption” and enacted here, are proof of the power that we, the Animal Welfare Community have to make a Change For Good.
    I URGE EVERYONE TO READ NATHAN’S BOOK (Amazon-under $12), FACE THE TRUTH of what it is saying, and help in any way they can to make this a NO KILL NATION.
    Friends..it is a MORAL IMPERATIVE!


    Doc Wheeler

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