This afternoon I received a reply from MAS shelter director Matthew Pepper regarding the questions posed here. I am sharing it with his permission:
I will gladly comment, I would also encourage you to call me any time or come down to the shelter yourself.
I want to comment on the “blame the public” first. I think there is a big difference between blaming the public and pointing out key contributors. There are many factors in a situation like this that contribute to problems. One of those factors is a largely unvaccinated population of animals in our community and a public that maintains largely unvaccinated animals. In fact, the UC Davis School of Shelter Medicine point out distemper as a problem “especially in shelters located in communities with many unvaccinated dogs”. While a factor, it is not the sole factor. Absolutely the facility is a factor as well. We have animals in close proximity in an undeniably poorly constructed shelter. The cleaning protocol and identifying disease absolutely also plays a factor. We are constantly looking at how we can change and improve. For example, right we are working on how to group our animals in such a way that when they are removed from the cage we have large, interconnected areas of kennels that can be truly sanitized. The problems start to arise when our shelter, inevitably, fills back up and there is no space. This is a long way of saying that just because something is a contributing factor doesn’t mean it is to blame. Making a better, more humane, Memphis is a community effort.
We rely heavily on our Veterinary Medical Director to help us identify medical issues in our population and take the appropriate action. We actually have a posting for a second veterinarian here that will help greatly in monitoring of the population.
We have a few who comment on the shelter, condemn the shelter, who live right here in Memphis and that I have not seen here more than once or twice in all my time. We have people from all over the nation that comment on a web cam shots but have nothing more than a snapshot in time with a caption of what someone without knowledge of the situation is guessing is happening. Those are challenges.
Let me give you an example; there is one now where there is an Akita that is shown on the web cam being surrendered with the caption “only 36 minutes to live”. The dog was brought back and euthanised. Having only that information leads people to only one conclusion. However, what they don’t tell you is that the owner surrendered the dog because it had become blind and, by admission to us temperamental, and specifically requested that it be euthanised. Any attempts to now explain becomes “an excuse” regardless of its validity.
We can always do better. I think the reality of a no-kill Memphis is achievable. People hear the word “no-kill” and they cringe and debate is sparked on both sides. I actually think if you look at the true definition which is to consider healthy/friendly animals then it is most definitely achievable. I think it will require a better sense of collaboration with the advocates and groups that can help but that starts with us. The fact is, there has been considerable improvements at the facility – I ask that people come see for themselves. Rather than deny those positives, lets use them as springboards to something better. I think that there is room for improvement in how we use rescues and that can impact our life saving efforts. I think that there is always, as it should be, constant reviews of the facility and our procedures. I think that we can be better. However, the perception that is out there is not the reality. Take this statistic with a grain of salt and for what it is, but for year to date 2011 we are 19.8% increased in placements and 5% increase in return to owner from 2010 which was, in turn, 7.3% increased from 2009. These are only starts but are positive starts.
I attended the No-Kill Conference the year before coming here and found it to be a great experience. In fact, many of the ideas we use now are directly along those lines. Community partnerships (like the Pink Palace, Memphis Zoo and Memphis Redbirds), using social media (Facebook), utilizing rescue organizations (we have several who are regulars and take as many as they can) and off site events (we have 3 standing off-site events scheduled every month). We have also been working on grants to provide spay/neuter opportunities in our community ($10,000 PetCo Grant) as well as aggressively enforcing the spay/neuter ordinance both in the field and in the shelter. One of the struggles we have is that the animals need to be processed fast. If they are not processed (one direction or the other) on their out date we become overcrowded quickly and then run the risk of increase disease and inhumane conditions. It is a struggle and a balancing act.
I’m sorry for the delay in response.
Administrator of Animal Services
City of Memphis
3465 Tchulahoma Rd.
Memphis, TN 38118
And a follow up e-mail:
If you could add one more thing; if there is anyone in rescue who would like to be involved please have them send me their information. We do encourage rescue and a very good percentage of our placements occur through rescue. The more we can involve the better we can do. I mean it when I say that it is a community effort but starts with us; this is perhaps my opportunity to reach out and engage other organizations. Thank you.
I am going to limit my comments for now in order to give readers an opportunity to post their thoughts. So just one positive and one negative from me:
1. Reaching out and engaging rescues is great. The more rescues a shelter has on its list, the more options there are for pets in need. In theory, provided every pet in the shelter was listed online, rescues could help save significantly more pets at MAS than what’s going on right now.
2. I take Mr. Pepper at his word that the owner requested MAS kill his Akita because it had gone blind and was “temperamental”. The fact that he is concerned the explanation will be seen as “an excuse” is deeply troubling to me. The real concern, to my mind, should rest with the fact that a surrendering owner requested a dog be killed who was neither medically hopeless and suffering nor a danger to society and the shelter granted this request immediately. My understanding is that sometimes surrendering owners lie to shelter staff as a means of avoiding harsh judgment. In order to protect the lives of pets whose owners may lie when surrendering, a shelter needs to have verification protocols in place. It may be something as simple as a veterinarian confirming that yes, this pet does appear to have cancer and to be suffering, just like the owner said. Or it could be an evaluation by a behaviorist to determine what type of rehab may be best suited to a dog an owner described as snappy. But immediately killing an unevaluated dog because the surrendering owner says he’s lost his sight and is “temperamental”? Don’t worry. I do not view that in any way as “an excuse”.