What’s up at Memphis Animal Services?

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  July/August 2011:

I wonder if you are aware of the awful situation at Memphis Animal Services in Memphis,  Tennessee?  Things have not changed there much,  if at all,  since they were raided in 2009.  Abuse, neglect,  and cruelty are still the order of the day.  The city officials continue to be stone-faced,  and animal rescuers continue to be outraged.

It would be great if you would look into it.  There is a Care2 petition to boycott Memphis until the shelter is completely overhauled.  There is a rescue blog that has been almost exclusively devoted to Memphis Animal Services since the raid.  British recording star Maria Daines,  at my request,  has produced a song about Memphis Animal Services entitled “Bad News Comin’ Outa Memphis.”  This is an appalling excuse for a municipal pound!

–M. Washington
Welcome Home Sanctuary
868 Martindale Road
Craryville,  NY  12521

Memphis findings:

The rates of shelter animal killing per 1,000 humans in Memphis and Knoxville,  both in Tennessee,  have gone rapidly backward in recent years,  directly opposite to the progress accomplished in most of the rest of the U.S. (see page 14).

Memphis Animal Services and other agencies in Logan County together killed 15.3 dogs and cats per 1,000 human residents in 2005, but the toll rose to 17.1 in 2006.  Then-Memphis Animal Services director Phil Snyder resigned in April 2007.  Under Snyder’s successor,  Ernest Alexander,  the toll increased to 20.1 by 2008.

The 31% rise in the Memphis rate of shelter killing since the 2005 low appears to be exceeded only by the 43% rise in Knoxville since 2001–since the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley returned the animal control sheltering contract to the city,  to refocus on sterilizing animals,  and the city embarked upon a high-profile plan to reduce killing by holding pit bull terriers longer in hopes of adopting them out.
While Knoxville does not publish breed-specific shelter data, the city appears to be killing more pit bulls now than ever,  along with more of just about everything else.

In Memphis,  the Ernest Alexander regime ended after an October 2009 investigation by the city shelter advisory board and a two-member team from the American SPCA discovered a 62% increase in the numbers of animals who died in their cages due to illness or injury since Snyder’s departure.  At least three dogs allegedly starved to death.  Alexander,  former shelter supervisor Tina Quattlebaum,  and former shelter veterinarian Angela Middleton were in February 2010 each indicted on six counts of cruelty.  Animal control supervisor Ivan Russell resigned in May 2010,  just ahead of an administrative hearing about his performance.

Under Alexander’s successor,  Matt Pepper,  adoptions have increased by about 30%,  and shelter killing has reportedly decreased,  but cage deaths have continued at the rate of about two per five days,  and almost as many animals have reportedly been lost or stolen.

“We are concerned about reports indicating that things have gotten worse,   not better,”  In Defense of Animals posted circa July 1,  2011.  “These reports include:  webcams installed for ‘transparency’ indicate major issues concerning inhumane treatment of animals,  including dogs lifted by catch-pole to an elevated cage and dogs dragged through shelter hallways by catch-pole;  multiple animals in the euthanasia room watching euthanasia of other animals, a clear violation of American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines and generally accepted humane procedure;  animal control officers not enforcing humane laws;  no pre-euthanasia sedation given to the animals unless they are already agitated;  and little or no staff accountability–no review process in place or in use.”

Earlier,  in March 2011,  Memphis Animal Services took an online bashing over webcam images which either showed workers using sticks to play with caged cats,  or “poking” them,  as critics claimed,  and an image showing puppies being carried in a trash can. While these situations may have been misrepresented,  Memphis mayor A.C. Wharton apologized for anything shown that was done improperly, and said that “Should we conclude that disciplinary action is needed, we will take the appropriate action.”

Under Wharton,  the Memphis City Council in September 2010 enacted a differential licensing ordinance which imposes a licensing fee of $200 for keeping an intact dog and mandates sterilization of dogs who have bitten someone or have been found twice running at large.  Differential licensing ordinances tend to bring disappointing results,  since the rate of licensing compliance in most cities runs under a third of the rate of sterilization even before the ordinances are passed.  In addition,  most backyard breeders expect to be paid more than $200 for puppies,  making the intact licensing fee more an inconvenience than a deterrent.  However,  the ordinance has been backed up by the introduction of dog and cat sterilizations for $10, using vouchers provided through a partnership of Memphis Animal Services,  the Mid-South Spay/Neuter Service and the PETCO Foundation.

Memphis Animal Services is to open a $7.6 million new shelter later this year,  with 546 holding kennels in place of 341 in the present shelter,  built more than 40 years ago.  But Pepper may have difficulty finding the budget to fully staff it.

Like many other cities around the U.S.,  Memphis is in deep financial trouble as result of repeatedly cutting property taxes, even as the cost of providing municipal services increased.  In 2008 the Memphis City Council covered a property tax cut by slashing $57 million from education.

Facing a potential deficit of $70 million in the next fiscal year,  the Memphis City Council on June 23,  2011 approved a 2012 city budget which eliminates 400 jobs,  including 125 layoffs and the elimination of 275 positions that have been left unfilled in anticipation of cuts that earlier in the year appeared likely to cost 1,400 jobs.  That would have been nearly 20% of total city staffing. Amid cuts of that magnitude,  Memphis Animal Services is a low priority.

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