Mass Killing at Memphis Shelter Makes Local News

There were a couple of pieces on the local news in Memphis last night regarding the mass killing of dogs due to distemper at Memphis Animal Services.  Both contain interviews with Ona Cooper, the local rescuer who tipped me to the story:

WREG, Channel 3

WMCTV, Channel 5

From the WMCTV article:

Memphis Animal Services Veterinarian Dr. Rebecca Coleman said 90 animals were euthanized Saturday, with 20 to 25 of them killed because of the outbreak.


Many animal advocates said this is why every dog that comes to the shelter should be vaccinated for distemper.  Coleman said only the adoptable dogs are vaccinated.

Coleman added that is because the other dogs are not at the shelter long enough for the vaccine to work.

OK, what?  Does the vaccine suddenly stop working once the dog is adopted or pulled by rescue?  I think what she may have meant to say was that the dogs are not ALIVE at the shelter long enough for the vaccine to work, since MAS kills more than 77% of the pets they take in.

The WREG article has Dr. Coleman waving the Blame The Public banner:

Dr. Coleman believes the best way to prevent such disease rests with a responsibility among pet-owners in the area.


But Dr. Coleman said that the major problem is still vaccination throughout the Memphis community.

“Open admissions shelters wouldn’t face those issues if the general population that these animals were coming from were vaccinated,” Coleman said.

Right.  And shelters wouldn’t be faced with dogs dying on the kennel floor post surgery if somebody on the veterinary staff would monitor them.  Nor would shelter ACOs allow abandoned dogs to starve to death if they would go out on calls and do their jobs.  Nor would shelters kill dogs with adopters begging to take them home if they put just a bit of effort into not killing.  If, if, if…  Is anyone at MAS prepared to take responsibility for creating real solutions to the real problems in the shelter?


Added:  The Commercial Appeal article I linked to last night has been updated.  It now puts the number of dogs killed Saturday at 40 – 50.  Some quotes from shelter director Matthew Pepper have been added as well.

11 thoughts on “Mass Killing at Memphis Shelter Makes Local News


  2. If there are rescue groups in the area, start a campaing to privatize the shelter, and take it over. Further, I cannot believe that this Coleman person is actually a VETERINARIAN!??!?!??! That’s like letting Hitler be the Rabbi!

  3. Here we go again with the “blame the public” game! Something I find VERY interesting – the shelter itself doesn’t vaccinate, so maybe people in glass houses and all that crap…. Maybe if the shelter made the first move and showed how important it is to vaccinate the general public would follow?

    Does anyone know if they have programs in place for free/low-cost vaccinations and/or spay & neuter? If so, are they publicly promoted via media of ANY sort?

    Something I found interesting is that Ms.Coleman said – “We at the shelter have been under a heightened sense of surveillance and hygiene at the facility.” So does that mean that in the past week they have changed their cleaning protocol? Doubt it! She also admits that they began to see distempter cases in JANUARY! So it takes 2+ months for them to admit it and still they have done nothing (other than kill the animals) to stop it.

    MAS is a joke of a shelter…IF you do support MAS and REALLY care about the animals then I would suggest that you do the right thing and MAKE Mr. Pepper introduce changes in cleaning protocols and intake vaccinations. This could have been prevented – it wasn’t. Even knowing what was going on NOBODY did ANYTHING to stop it from getting worse. No more excuses, no more ‘blame the public’….get with it and FIX it!

  4. I am the nation’s leading proponent of communal housing in shelters. But I am also a strong advocate of isolating intake from the adoption floor. And to eliminate cross contamination between intakes and “adoptables” by carefully monitoring who handles which animals.

    What this vet did is a cardinal sin in medical protocol in shelters. I do not even need to visit that shelter to KNOW that the distemper contagion was spread by hand. Any reputable shelter vet staff will be nodding along in agreement as they read these words.

    Their incoming animals may even be isolated – I do not know. But what is obviously apparent to the trained eye is that volunteers or staff are allowed to cross between contact with those in isolation and those in the “general population.” That must never happen. These are called Universal Precautions and apply in both animal care and human care.

    For many years it was felt that contagions were mostly spread through the air. That has been summarily disproven through a number of valid and duplicated studies. The number one cause of widespread contagion in a shelter environment is now recognized as being through physical contact.

    It is paramount in any shelter that people not be allowed to touch unvetted animals (in proper isolation) and then go and handle those animals who have been triaged and sent to the adoption floor.

    That vet needs to be fined, suspended from practice for a year and fired from that shelter. Outside of physical torture of animals I am at a loss to think of a worse error than what this vet committed.

    This depopulation should follow her all the remaining days of her career. All those beautiful animals lost through incompetence…

    1. While I know that disease is mostly transmitted via handling one animal then another…it also needs pointed out that the way they clean with high pressured hoses and NOT moving animals while cleaning that the ‘diseases’ are airborn and/or passed on by using the high pressured hoses. The food bowls all appear to be at the front of the cages so a high pressured hose that sends even trace amounts of water into another animal’s cage/kennel, especially their food and/or water bowls will have the same reaction as if a person had handled one animal and then another.

      Additionally while I keep reading about how they do not have an iso ward…there are enough empty cages/kennels that they should be able to separate the animals to some degree to help prevent this.

  5. I have three comments:

    1. How is anyone associated with this “shelter” remaining straight-faced when stating that the community is to blame for the shelter’s distemper outbreak? If any shelter is doing a proper job, all animals leaving the facility to adoption, foster, or rescue should be fully vaccinated and either spayed/neutered or scheduled for surgery. Pet owners are then tasked with keeping their new pet up to date on vaccinations and veterinary care.

    2. Wouldn’t it be less expensive and much less horrifying for everyone involved to administer basic vaccinations when animals enter the shelter than to euthanize large numbers of animals when an outbreak of illness occurs? I purchase vaccines (except Rabies, which must be administered here in PA by a veterinarian) for my dogs and cats, and I administer the vaccines myself. The vaccines are relatively inexpensive, and I’m not even buying the large quantities an animal control facility would purchase.

    3. When a facility such as MAS conducts a mass euthanization, the facility director should be present THROUGHOUT. My understanding is that Mr. Pepper had Saturday off work, while his employees did the dirty work of killing nearly 100 animals. Any other business operation going through any sort of “big, bad event” would likely be led through the hellish event by their LEADERSHIP. Mr. Pepper’s absence leads me to believe he is either not actually in charge of the facility, or he is completely disconnected from the daily activities at the shelter. Neither option gives me any confidence he could lead his employees out of a paper bag.

  6. Just another Hell Hole that “we” the public allow to continue to operate. God, people, wake up! This place needs to be shut down and the idiot director and staff thrown in the streets.

  7. STOP blaming shelter and rescues for the IGNORANCE of the general public! I vaccinate my dogs and if I had a stray or a dog with puppies, I would DAMNED sure make sure they were up to date on vaccines!! Shelters and rescues have to take the responsibilities for the public who make excuses for not properly keeping their dogs up to date on what they need!!HOW DARE anyone condemn the staff at a shelter who cries themself to sleep over loosing these animals that they feed, clean walk and love every day, while the ignorant lazy people in the public turn their cheek to it all!! WAKE UP and figure it out!! take responsibility for your animals and this WON’T HAPPEN!!!!!!!!!

    1. So because some pet owners – not the majority, but some – are irresponsible, shelters are obligated to kill pets and the majority of pet owners – people who are responsible and love their pets – are required to shut up about it? Gee, that sucks.

    2. Must be ‘another’ of those fine MAS supporters….

      Well, since “I” as a pet owner & rescuer DO vaccinate every dog/cat that darkens MY doorway…”I” feel that “I” am entitled to speak out. This “shelter” sucks! Period…there is nothing more to be said.

      Yes, it IS the point behind having shelters and rescues…to help the animals. You know, the ones they have been killing in droves at MAS. The killings that could have been PREVENTED had this shelter put in place PROPER cleaning protocols, vaccinations upon intake, hell even an iso “area” to keep newly brought in animals. But since this “shelter” is too busy killing animals to actually do the RIGHT THING…the good shelter folk at MAS, or even FOMAS, could have chosen to SPEAK UP and ASK FOR HELP when faced with an outbreak like distemper.

      Let’s see….not too long ago Robeson faced a similar situation and had been shut down due to an outbreak. Now when they opened their doors again they were faced with a huge influx of animals. So they were faced with the dilema of what to do with all the animals that survived the outbreak and pulled through the quarantine – kill them? Or spread the word that they needed help?

      What do YOU think they did, Kris? Do you think they lined them up at the euth room and killed them one by one like an assembly line? WRONG! Robeson actually reached out to rescues & and the COMMUNITY for HELP. The SAME damn community that YOU are belittling as not loving their animals enough to vaccinate them…the DAMN IRRESPONSIBLE PUBLIC! And guess what? That same irresponsible public reacted by saving EVERY single animal!

      I am so sick and tired of people jumping on here with their little blame the public game. At what point in time are we supposed to expect the SHELTERS (that were put there to help these animals) to actually do their JOB?!?!

      “HOW DARE anyone condemn the staff at a shelter who cries themself to sleep over loosing these animals that they feed, clean walk and love every day…” Yep, they LOVE the animals SO DAMN MUCH that they leave them in their cages/kennels while using a high pressure hose to clean around them – this makes quite a few illnesses airborn and if you have seen this shelter you will note that in the dogs kennels their food & water bowls are at the front of their kennels. So the water hits the dogs food & water bowls – not to mention the poor dog itself. Or we could talk about the poke stick they use on ALL the cats – that can pass around diseases as well…and I have never once seen it sterilized in between pokes. Yep, those “shelter” workers LOVE those animals so much that they clean to spread illness. Love them so much that they take one minute to move them out of the way while cleaning so they & their food/water doesn’t get doused with urine & feces from a high pressured hose. I feel the love when they fail to separate animal upon intake and NOT vaccinate them to prevent the spread of disease. Are THOSE the SAME people you are defending?

      I have an idea “Kris”…why don’t YOU personally go to the shelter and teach them how to do thing RIGHT and then we’ll talk. Until then I think it is MY right to speak up for the animals that MAS kills with their “love”!

      (Sorry, again Shirley – I am getting a bit ticked at the shelter lovers who keep coming on here with their blame game and it’s-not-their-fault arguments. Are their heads in the sand? Can they NOT see that this mass killing was NOT necessary? UGH!!!)

Leave a Reply