Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Horror Story at the Memphis Animal Shelter

A Horror Story at the Memphis Animal Shelter
Carlotta Cooper

The Memphis Animal Shelter in Memphis, Tennessee has had more than its share of problems in the past. Even at the best of times this shelter, under contract to and funded by the City of Memphis and Shelby County, has been described as a doggy concentration camp. According to the NoKillMemphis web site, the shelter has an astonishing kill rate of 77.45 percent, compared to the national average for shelters of 50 percent. A few years ago a dog was found starved to death, its body in a frozen mound outside the shelter. This abuse and neglect at the shelter led to indictments and firings of shelter staff. Matthew Pepper was brought in as shelter director and things were expected to improve. Unfortunately, things at the Memphis Animal Shelter continue to look like a horror show.

In February two dogs escaped from their yard and were picked up and brought to the Memphis Animal Shelter. The dogs’ owner went to get his dogs, who were intact males, and was told by shelter director Matthew Pepper that, in order to be in compliance with the new mandatory spay/neuter law in the city, both dogs would have to be neutered before they could leave the shelter. The owner said he would rather take the dogs to their regular vet to have them neutered but Pepper refused. The city’s law does not require that the shelter itself perform this surgery, only that the owner come into compliance with the law. A short time later, one of the dogs was dead following the surgery, after being left unattended on the kennel floor. The dog had a post-operative reaction to the anesthesia and there was NO ONE around to see about him. There are plenty of questions about why a dog was left unattended following surgery. How does a healthy dog go into the Memphis Animal Shelter and die from a normal procedure for neutering? And, how did Matthew Pepper react to this story? He spent the Saturday following this event dressed up like dog in a cage at the shelter as a fundraiser, coming out to dance occasionally, and refused to answer questions about the dead dog.

In other cases, there are dogs that were picked up loose by animal control who were euthanized the same day they were picked up, breaking state law.

And, in the most recent and terrible case, at least 40-50 dogs were killed last week,and as many as 100 dogs may have been destroyed at the shelter this week because of an outbreak of distemper. These are both what the shelter considers “adoptable dogs” and the strays they pick up. While it is not unusual for shelters to deal with outbreaks of disease by destroying dogs in large numbers, what is troubling about the way Memphis Animal Shelter has dealt with the situation is that they have roundly blamed the public. Instead of taking responsibility for the situation because they have no quarantine area for new dogs that come into the shelter, or because they do not vaccinate dogs for diseases and hold them long enough to see if the dogs will stay healthy, MAS blames the public for not vaccinating animals. It’s quite possible that many dogs they take in may be vaccinated for distemper and other diseases since they are owner turn-ins, but how would MAS know when they destroy healthy dogs with no sign of the disease?

YesBiscuit! has been following the tragedy in Memphis day-by-day with photos of the kennels and information from people who visit the shelter. YesBiscuit reports today, along with the Memphis media, that “up to 14 dogs” have been taken away by rescue groups. Wow. Up to 14. Is that really the best that the Memphis Animal Shelter could do for the dogs they are responsible for?

This is just what’s been happening at the Memphis Animal Shelter in the last few months, since Matthew Pepper took over as shelter director, but the culture of blaming the public, treating dog owners with disrespect, and treating the dogs even worse, has been going on for years. Yet, if you asked them, I’m sure these people would tell you that they all loved animals.

I live in Tennessee and I keep a file on my computer solely for dog events that happen in Memphis. It’s a sickening file, frankly. What’s troubling for the rest of us in Tennessee is that Memphis legislators often try to have state laws passed based on things that happen in Memphis, and fortunately, nowhere else in the state. Compared to Memphis, the rest of the state is a cakewalk. As a result, a state legislator from Memphis like Rep. G.A. Hardaway consistently tries to have passed some of the most draconian dog laws imaginable, probably based on what goes on in Memphis. Even the U.S. congressman from the Memphis area, Rep. Steve Cohen (D, TN-9), seems to have been influenced by what happens in Memphis with regard to dogs. He has been a consistent supporter of HSUS and is supporting PUPS once again this year, the only legislator from Tennessee to do so.

Now, the Memphis Animal Shelter is still taking in local dogs. They are required by law to do so, though where they are keeping these dogs so they won’t contract distemper is a good question since they have no quarantine facilities. Are these dogs being euthanized as fast as they come in the door? I don’t know. But their kennels are empty, for the most part.

As anyone knows, you can’t allow an animal shelter to have empty kennels. Without dogs to sell, er, adopt, they won’t make any money. And they need cute puppies and dogs other than the bully breed dogs that make up a large portion of the dogs in Memphis, which the newspaper, the Commercial Appeal, complains about all the time. Their editorial staff really, really dislikes “pit bulls.” They never miss an opportunity to run a bad story about them. But where is the Memphis Animal Shelter going to get some nice adoptable dogs to fill up their empty kennels?

Well, wouldn’t you know? Scotlund Haisley, formerly Director of Emergency Services with the Humane Society of the United States, formerly of the Animal Rescue League, formerly of In Defense of Animals — the guy known for his swat team tactics and “cowboy ways,” according to HSUS’s Wayne Pacelle, is now head of ARC, Animal Rescue Corps. That’s another made-up rescue group that goes around kicking in doors and seizing dogs from breeders. It seems that Mr. Haisley’s group received some kind of tip that there was a “bad” breeder in Warren County in Tennessee, about 75 miles southeast of Nashville. Lickety-split they were on the scene, working with the Warren County Sheriff’s Office to seize the 125 dogs — and five birds. Oh, yes. The birds had to be rescued, too!

According to a news story, ARC estimates that the entire operation may cost them over $100,000, which is kind of hard to imagine. How much are they planning on spending per dog? Naturally, they have their hand out for donations. Oh, yeah, I forgot to describe the dogs to you. But you can probably do that yourself. They were living in “deplorable conditions.” They had mats. They were “encrusted with feces and urine.” And, (I love this touch), one of the dogs was found in between two dead dogs! Oh, my! The description of the seized dogs is so textbook that they could have copied it right off some old news release, and probably did. If you look at the photos on the page of the story, the dogs look pretty nice. They are small breeds and very cute. They look nice and well-groomed to me. People who saw the news stories on TV said the dogs looked nice, too. But, isn’t that always the case lately? These groups only seize dogs that are small, in good condition, and which will be easy for shelters and rescue groups to sell. So, it’s hard to imagine what ARC plans to spend that $100,000 on. If anyone donates money to them, I think it’s likely the money will go straight to an ARC picnic, an ARC Christmas party, maybe some nifty ARC gear with their logo. But I don’t see it being spent on the dogs because they don’t look like they need much help.

It does seem kind of strange that they don’t know if any charges will be filed against the breeder, yet they went in and seized the dogs. How can you seize dogs when there are no charges? I certainly hope the breeder will hire a good attorney and fight to get custody of their dogs back. I think it’s pretty clear by now that the intent of these raids is two-fold: a) take cute dogs that can be sold through shelters and rescue groups; and b) ruin the lives of breeders as much as possible to try to stop them from doing any future breeding. It’s that simple. They don’t care if the dogs are well-cared for or not. These radical groups have their own agenda and it’s not really about what’s best for the dogs.

If the breeder doesn’t get their dogs back, how much do you want to bet some of these cute, very adoptable dogs end up in the Memphis Animal Shelter and their empty kennels?

1 comment:

  1. oh please please please.. can I "adopt" one.. or two.. heck I will take five of these poor dogs living in deplorable conditions.I want the ones wiht the most mats, and for sure the most feces and urine.. I will taek the two dead dogs also... then I can tell my friends.. I rescued them..I will stand in line, pay what ever you ask and allow you to inspect my underwear drawer.. just give me a chance please.. please please,.. Oh yes Scotlund in my best friend.I gave him lots of money and he sent me a real hat with his logo. Said I was now "part of the team".. YES!! finally.. someone picked me first..Mom said it would never there you old witch..oh wait.. time for my medication