A Line in the Sand

From the shelter that brought you Puppies in a Trash Can, here is Kittens in a Litterbox.

It’s hard to know where to begin in attempting to define my outrage over the many incidents of abuse and needless killing at Memphis Animal Services.  Could I say I am appalled to see shots of puppies being inhumanely hauled off to the kill room?  Of course.  But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  I’ve seen countless dogs dragged on chokepoles all over the shelter.  And just as many pancaked in fear as workers take them to be killed.  I’ve seen cats handled like they are vermin.  All of the images are disturbing and heartbreaking.

The shelter pet advocate in me reacted by attempting to shine a light on the abuse and needless killing at MAS.  That’s why MAS has been the primary focus of this blog in recent weeks and why I started the letter writing campaign.  I hoped that by bringing these images and the shelter stats to the forefront, city leaders (including shelter management) would step up and institute reform.  I was very encouraged that there were monthly public meetings where issues at the shelter could be discussed directly with the shelter management.


Apparently there are precious few public servants in Memphis who actually care about addressing the abuse and needless killing at MAS.  Most of the people who do care are regular Joes and Janes who don’t want to see pets treated inhumanely and killed needlessly at the shelter.  And the other three are members of the shelter advisory board.  Beyond that, nobody showed up for last night’s public meeting.  There was an appearance from a fourth member of the advisory board but since that person walked out after a minute and a half, I can’t count that as present in any meaningful way.  Matthew Pepper, the shelter director, was a no show.  He did not send anyone from the shelter to speak in his place.  Even his boss, who has stood in for him in past, didn’t show up.  The Mayor sent a representative to reiterate his support for Matthew Pepper.  Who, I repeat, was a no show.  The Mayor sent a stand-in to voice support for a guy who didn’t bother to show up (or send someone to stand in for him).  The mayor’s representative reportedly took a condescending attitude towards the concerned citizens who came to participate in the meeting.

I guess we know now where we stand.  There is little point in continuing to write to Matthew Pepper, his supervisor or the city council.  Obviously none of them care about the abuse at the shelter.  And there seems little point in continuing to write to the 3 members of the advisory board who share our concerns and have responded to our letters as such.  But the buck has to stop with someone in Memphis and that person is Mayor Wharton.

From this point forward, Mayor Wharton will be the sole recipient of our actions toward reform at MAS.

Email him as often as possible:  ac.wharton@memphistn.gov

Call his office:  (901) 576-6000

Send him snail mail:  Office of the Mayor, 125 N. Main Street, Memphis, TN 38103

Fax him letters:  (901) 576-6200

Tweet him.

Post comments on his Facebook page.

If you are in Memphis, make a sign and picket in front of city hall.  It doesn’t matter if there are 2 picketers or 200 – the idea is to let the mayor know that we are not going away.  Have someone take a picture of you picketing and send it to me for the blog.

Change begins with one person.  Be that person for the pets suffering at MAS.

Please keep your phone calls, letters and comments respectful and succinct.  I understand this is an emotional issue and we all have our moments.  Any sort of threat of violence is absolutely unacceptable and will weaken our progress.  If the mayor gets 5000 polite letters and one death threat, he will no doubt pick out that one and bring it to the newspaper to paint all pet advocates as wackos.

Stay focused.  We want reform at MAS.  We want an end to the abuse and needless killing of pets at the shelter.  We want shelter leaders, staff and volunteers who are committed to making Memphis a no kill community.

I appreciate there is flooding affecting some Memphis area residents right now and that is a serious concern.  I am keeping a good thought for all those affected.  But like all large cities, Memphis is equipped to handle multiple tasks simultaneously.  And it’s not as if we’re concerned about some minor issue that can safely be back-burnered until it’s convenient to deal with it – pets are being abused and killed at the shelter.  It needs to be addressed yesterday.  Not when the weather cooperates, not in an election year – NOW.

For anyone needing bullet points, here you go.  You are welcome to copy these:

Summary of Concerns at Memphis Animal Services

  • The killing of pets who are not medically hopeless and suffering nor have they been declared a danger to society by a qualified party.
  • The killing of pets when there are empty cages at the shelter.
  • The killing of pets who have never been made available to the public for adoption, rescue or foster.
  • The killing of pets due to disease outbreak without ever making a public plea for help with quarantine to save lives.
  • Failure of the shelter to vaccinate all incoming pets as per standard disease prevention protocol.
  • Failure of the shelter to remove dogs and food from cages during cleaning as per standard disease prevention protocol.
  • Failure of the shelter to utilize their Chameleon software to interface with PetHarbor so that every pet is viewable online by the public.
  • Failure of the shelter to properly train and/or enforce humane handling of pets by the staff.
  • Failure of the shelter to implement a TNR program so that the number of feral cats in the community can be reduced over time.
  • Failure of the shelter to keep cats separated from the sight, sound and smell of dogs in order to reduce stress and make the population less susceptible to disease.
  • Failure of the shelter to provide daily aerobic exercise for dogs for social stimulation and in order to reduce stress and make the population less susceptible to disease.

Videos from last night’s meeting are being posted here throughout the day by No Kill Memphis. I am unable to watch the vids so if you watch and would like to summarize something you saw, please share in the comments.

A couple of readers sent in the following transcripts from portions of the meeting (thank you!).  For those unable to watch the vids, it will at least give you an idea of the tone of the meeting.

This is an exchange between two of the advisory board members at the start of the meeting:

Dr. Tower (to Cindy Sanders):  “Do you have me as present? (pause) At this time?  Would you please record that I have been here?”

(Dr. Tower stands up and starts to walk away.)

Cindy Sanders:  “Oh you are leaving?”

Dr. Tower (still walking away):  “Yes. I want to make sure you have me as present so this will not count as an absence.”

This is an exchange between members of the audience and Mr. White, who was representing the mayor’s office at the meeting and asked that a meeting attendee who was filming turn off her camera before he spoke.  His comments are public record:

Audience Member #1:  “I volunteer for several rescues.  I rescue on my own. Ya’ll don’t even have an adoption counselor.  I’d be willing to come down there full time and be your adoption counselor for free.”

Audience Member #2:  “Me too.”

Mr. White:  “Some of ya’ll we’d rather not have down there as adoption counselor – but go ahead.”

Audience Member #3:  “Did you really just say that?”

(Cindy Sanders requested Mr. White repeat his remarks but he declined to do so.)

39 thoughts on “A Line in the Sand

  1. Sometimes when I read what happened in regard to MAS I imagine I am reading a bad movie script. No one would ever believe that the characters could possibly be this bad. But once again, truth sucks more than fiction. The arrogance and condescending attitudes are unbelievable.

  2. Mayor Wharton was elected by 60% of the vote (unofficial count). That’s 60% of the irresponsible public, the people he has accused of being no better than slave owners when it comes to their pets. Yep.
    Still more amazing–he got his start as a civil rights lawyer. Yet he seems oblivious to a major movement for social justice–namely, the no-kill movement. How can that be, Mayor Wharton?

      1. Copy on! And please post here if you have ideas for letting the citizens of Memphis know what their mayor thinks of them. And their pets. In a respectful, responsible way. I hope the people of Memphis show him how mistaken he is to underestimate their goodness and fundamental decency.

  3. Thank you. The Mayor needs to know that people care. I have told him, via email and in person when I ran into him in a coffee shop. He has hired some wonderful people for other agencies and departments. There are good people out there. We need them.

  4. Your tax money is being wasted on people that do not care to be public servants — time to get rid of all of these government money suckers and find people willing to work for what the people want.

  5. Keep it up, Shirley.

    Mayor Wharton, there’s a piece of this puzzle I don’t think you’ve quite grasped yet.

    The more these incidents occur, the longer you try to ignore this, the less you do – the HARDER these people are going to combat you. And sir, we’re an organized bunch. NO ONE networks like rescue folk. NO ONE.

    Thanks to your inactions, their collective targets are trained on YOU. Not a fun place to be. But what you will realize, if you open your eyes just a little bit wider, is that the same people who are about to make your life a helluva lot more difficult than it already is would be MORE than willing to HELP you out of this – if only you would stop acting like we’re getting upset about improper lawn care instead of the murder and abuse of innocent dogs and cats.

    WAKE UP, sir. If you did a 180 tomorrow and declared Pepper incompetent, partnered with the folks at NKN and took the recommendations of the Advisory board (correct me if I’m wrong, but this is why they exist, no?) not only would you no longer have the rescue community hovering over your head, you will find yourself with some extremely dedicated supporters.

    At this point, I’m not even asking for understanding or compassion. At this point, I’d settle happily for some logic.

    Is that too much to ask, Mayor? For some logic?

  6. I email Graceland directly (
    Graceland@Elvis.com) and told them why I won’t be visiting them this year. Email them – tell them that Mayor Wharton has made it impossible for you to go to Graceland.

    Here’s a list of attractions in Memphis –


    See someplace that you might have visited? Contact them and tell them why you won’t be there this year – tell them that Mayor Wharton’s support of abuses, cruelty, and killings at the MAS are keeping you away.

  7. Did you know there were 2,700 dogs on active duty in Afghanistan, living and working with the soldiers there? A dog went on the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. These are mostly shepherds and labs, Mayor Wharton, the like many of the dogs your city workers drag to death at MAS. Take a look for yourself–

    Stop killing our family members, friends and protectors. And stop killing the cats, too.

    Myself and MANY others hvae sent letters, emails and calls to both of the above – the one for all the horrific reasons you list here, the other for some draconian legislation they were considering. Yarmouth actually LISTENED. Keep it up Shirley – so will we.

    1. I am just in shock! Dr. Tower considers himself present for less than two minutes and expects that he will be counted present? I don’t think so!!!! How rude to the people who came to attend the meeting. How very rude to the other council members.

      The people of Memphis need to go attend the city council meetings, every one of them, until they are heard. Do not let city government ignore you. Keep it up until they hear your concerns and fix them.

      1. I have decided to change my vet, who was an employee of Dr Tower, because of this and also because of the way they treated Rudy the last time I took him up there to be groomed!!! When they brought him out to me he was shaking really hard and was also limping on his hind leg. Not to mention they did a CRAP job on his groom!!!

  9. Watch this video of Ryan Clinton from Fix Austin. …about moving your local animal control to the no kill model, whether or not they are on board with your effort.

    1. I’m watching this video right now. Hope everybody who hasn’t seen it yet will get a chance to watch it, too. Ryan Clinton is talking about how you know when you’re winning the fight against the status quo, and he says, “The opposition stops showing up for public debates.” Hmmm. Is it possible?!

  10. Is there an animal lover to run against him next election? Because these shots would make compelling television spots as an example of the behavior the mayor endorses. If I were him I’d be doing some serious thinking about my position and if I wanted to keep it. Animal abuse is not a good way to win hearts and minds, and votes.

  11. I just got my letter back from the Mayor – he has “every confidence in Matthew Pepper and the job he is doing” and in the last year, “we have seen our adoption numbers increase, forged new partnerships with rescue groups throughout the nation and utilized the ‘social network’ to assist in our commitment to find homes for these animals.”

    Wow, someone is living in La-La Land, isn’t he? He goes on to say, “I hope that those who are vigilant about these issues will be equally vigilant in encouraging citizens to adopt shelter animals, to spay and neuter their pets, and to be responsible pet owners.”

    No mention about the cruelty at the shelter, I notice.

    I think more letters are in order. Shorter ones. Single question ones. Demanding answers, not “we’re doing good enough, it’s the bad public you need to focus on” form letters.

    I’m going to start with “Dear Mr. Mayor, why are you allowing animal shelter workers to abuse pets every day?”. One question per letter. Keep it simple, keep it direct.

    And don’t forget to tell Graceland and other tourist attractions why you won’t be visiting them this year. Because Mayor Wharton allows abuse of animals and needless killing of pets every day at MAS. It’s on him.

    1. I’m going to admit that I didn’t write the Mayor today. I only tweeted him. The reason is that I didn’t want one of those letters. I am just not prepared to get that letter today. “Our commitment to find homes for these animals”. *GONG*

      1. Do you think he’s drinking the Matthew Pepper Kool-Aid or does he just not give a rat’s ass?

    2. That sounds just like the letter I got from the mayor. I like your idea of a one question letter. Guess the post office needs some business, too . . .And I’ve got lots of questions.
      Maybe we should offer a question of the day here.

  12. At the meeting someone also gave Mr. White the book Redemption to read. That was my first meeting I’ve been too, and even though I was silent the whole time I was extremely enraged. Have all the next meetings marked down. I hate the feeling that you are talking to a brick wall. That’s what it felt like last night talking to Mr. White. Before he left. Ohh and he said “I can tell you guys are really passionate because there is a Grizzlies game on tonight and you are here instead.”

    Yeah I forgot a basketball game is more important then the sensless amount of animals dying at the shelter.

    They also discussed how they take multiple dogs into the kill room at a time and tie them along the wall (not sure if that has been mentioned on here). I wanted to cry…

    1. We should have checked the garbage cans as we left the library…we could have retrieved the book given to Mr. White.

  13. I twittered (pls RT): Attn: @MayorACWharton “Dear Mr. Mayor, why are you allowing #animalshelter workers to abuse #pets every day?”

  14. I think writing to the Mayor is going to be a longer uphill battle than say writing the Governor considering he’s deleting comments off his FB page and then when he DOES write back on an email its to support Pepper, but Ill do it again if I have to…
    I hope that whoever the volunteer was did not mark him down as present.

    1. Jessica, Please feel welcome to write to the governor and/or anyone else you think would be useful in getting the shelter to stop the abuse and killing. I think all letters are worthwhile. I have written to the governor too but never received any reply.

  15. If the mayor is unsympathetic, can you go up a level to the state’s senators or representatives?

    1. You can certainly work your way up the chain of command Amelia. But the higher you go, the wider the breadth of responsibilities that person has and as such, Memphis will seem a smaller matter to them. The mayor is directly responsible for the city – he hired the director and the staff are city workers.

  16. The buck does stop with the mayor. It would be great to find an ally in the business community–when the Chamber of Commerce starts asking the Mayor what he is going to do about MAS, then things will start to happen. Three that I remember are FedEx (of course!), AutoZone, and International Paper. If we can identify a senior executive who is an animal lover it could help a lot.

  17. I’ll be sending my letters to Mayor Wharton with a cc to the Sheriff of Shelby Co. Here’s the one I sent tonight:

    Mayor Wharton:

    Why is MAS failing to meet the shelter standards
    set out in this seminal document from the Association of Shelter Veterinarians?


    In particular, why does MAS permit injured or sick animals to lie untreated and suffering in their cages until they die? Why do you allow this to go on? And how can you continue to express your confidence in shelter director Matthew Pepper when he is clearly failing in this responsibilities to the shelter, the animals and the community?

  18. I am actually the audience member that offered to be the adoption counselor. I was so disappointed by his response. I am more than willing to go down there and help, as are most of us rescuers here, but we are not allowed to do so.

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