Let’s Dance

Today I mailed the following letter to the Attorney General for the state of TN:

The Honorable Robert E. Cooper, Jr.
Office of the Attorney General and Reporter
P.O. Box 20207
Nashville, TN 37202-0207

June 20, 2011

Dear Attorney General:

I write a pet related blog in South Carolina.  In recent months, the primary focus of my blog has been on the mistreatment and needless killing of pets at Memphis Animal Services (MAS) in Tennessee.  Despite being raided by sheriff’s deputies in 2009 and promises to clean up its act, MAS is still killing 77% of the pets in its care and webcams within the facility have captured the mistreatment of pets by staff on numerous occasions.  Most of the dogs that come to the shelter are kept behind closed doors and never offered for adoption.  I have initiated letter writing campaigns to the Mayor’s Office which oversees MAS in an attempt to effect change. These blogs have received significant local and national attention.

In an effort to try and help more pets make it out of MAS alive, I also started collecting donations from my blog readers to be used to pay for veterinary care and related expenses for pets rescued from MAS. At no time did I misrepresent the purpose of it or suggest I was affiliated with MAS. Nonetheless, on June 17, I received a letter from the City Attorney, Herman Morris, threatening legal action against me (see letter from the Memphis City Attorney’s Office, dated June 3, 2011, attached). According to his letter, a South Carolina law prevents the unauthorized solicitation of charitable funds on behalf of MAS. To repeat, I never solicited funds on behalf of MAS.

Since I very much doubt that the City Attorney reads my blog, I believe the Mayor’s Office may have directed the City Attorney in this regard. Moreover, the Memphis City Attorney has no jurisdiction to enforce a South Carolina statute. In addition, even the most cursory reading of that statute by a layman, let alone an attorney, would indicate it does not apply.

I believe the threat from the City Attorney was designed to intimidate me, in violation of my First Amendment rights.  I’ve also since learned that the Memphis City Attorney and Mayor’s Office have allegedly intimidated other bloggers who have spoken out against city policies (see letter from the ACLU to the City of Memphis, dated June 14, 2011, attached).

I ask that you investigate whether the City Attorney’s actions violate the TN Anti-SLAPP statute and whether his actions constitute a breach of 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. I further request you investigate whether the Mayor’s Office directed Mr. Morris to send me this letter, since that person (or persons) may be complicit in these possible violations of law.

For additional background on how I have used my blog to expose the mistreatment and killing of pets at MAS, please visit the following links:










Respectfully Submitted,

Shirley Thistlethwaite

I also sent out a press release to members of the media, contacted the TN chapter of the ACLU, and did a telephone interview with Jeni DiPrizio of ABC News in Memphis.  Memphis Magazine has posted on its blog about the city attorney’s letter.

I will update this post with Ms. DiPrizio’s story once it gets posted online.  Memphis area TV viewers can tune in to the 5 and 6 o’clock broadcasts (our story will be on one or the other).

AddedHere is the ABC story.  Please leave a comment on Ms. DiPrizio’s piece as the station uses the number of comments to determine which types of stories she can do more of.  And we definitely want her doing more on MAS.

94 thoughts on “Let’s Dance

  1. Most excellent writing, as always, YesBiscuit! You know that when they get riled, they always get nasty. This simply means they have noticed and you’re getting to them. Good!

    1. I totally agree! Shirley, you are AMAZING!!! Thank you for not backing down- we WILL win this battle- the animals are the ones to benefit! Thank you!

  2. I love that you don’t back down and that there is never any question as to what/who you stand for! Keep it up. The greatest reward for all of your effort will be manifested in positive change taking place at MAS along with the many, many lives that will be saved! I can’t wait…

  3. Brilliant letter. Why do idiots always work so hard to call attention to their idiocy? Why does it so often backfire?

  4. Shirley,

    Good work.

    PS, every day I become happier that you are not an ex-girlfriend of mine who I cheated on.

  5. Shirley, I have photos and much more of my correspondence with MAS, the board of directors, Lucy Shaw, etc from the first time MAS was dealt with on an animal abuse case caught on camera. I am the one that coordinated the rescue of the dog that came to be known as Beale. If you need to contact me, please feel free to do so. My email address is navyintrigue@msn.com. I too live in SC and am in Charleston.

    Ellen Bishop

  6. That’s our girl! Mr Morris/AC Wharton had no idea who they were messing with! Beautifully written and I think this could be their undoing (at least I hope so).
    Stand behind you 110%+!
    You go girl!

    1. I know db and others will be happy to hear that Memphis city officials are very cross over all the e-mails we have sent them. They need to harness our passion and make us use it for good instead of eebil. Just imagine how many pets we could help them network if they became our friends instead of digging in their heels.

  7. Just sent my letter to Herman and Wharton. Virginia Beach is standing by and ready to support your efforts Shirley.

  8. woo! stay strong Shirley. Your level of advocacy for those animals at MAS should never be threatened by anyone in Memphis.

  9. Woke up with a heavy head
    And I thought about leavin’ town
    I could have died if I wanted to-
    Slipped over the edge and drowned
    But, oh no baby, I won’t give up so easy
    Too many tire tracks in the sands of time
    Too many love affairs that stop on a dime
    I think it’s time to make some changes ’round here
    Yeah, I’m gonna tear it up
    gonna trash it up
    I’m gonna round it up
    gonna shake it up
    Oh, no, baby, I will not lie down
    I’m brave enough to be crazy
    I’m strong enough to be weak
    I see all these heroes with feet of clay
    Whose mighty ships have sprung a leak

    Yeah we’re gonna tear it up
    we gonna trash it up
    gonna round it up
    gonna shake it up
    Oh, no no no, I will not lie down
    Turn this thing around
    I will not go quietly
    I will not lie down
    I will not go quietly
    I will not lie down
    I will not go quietly
    I will not lie down
    I will not lie down

    Go Shirley!!

  10. Why don’t the City Fathers just address the problem at MAS, whether they acknowledge it or not on social media, rather than wasting taxpayers’ money on having this guy hound you? This will not solve their problem. They need to acknowledge it and fix it. Wouldn’t that be so much simpler for them to do?

  11. beyond awesome. fantastic letter, and plan of attack. THATS the way to seize an opportunity from a huge mistake your enemy makes.

    This is going to spiral, I hope and believe.

  12. .
    As I have said in the past…..that if I ever felt I was wrong about the Memphis Animal Shelter, I would be the first one to admit it. I think that time has come.

    There have been numerous photos from the shelter cam that I believe show a lack of compassion and empathy….. at the very least.

    One of the saddest to me was the light to medium blonde colored dog being dragged in the middle of the aisle. . He/She was flat on her stomach, her head and belly flat against the floor and her four limbs and paws out flat, by her side. She didn’t want to go where she was being led. The dog was terrified!! Couldn’t someone have comforted her?! I wish I could have. Seems like that would have been the time. It broke my heart. No one showed this dog any compassion whatsoever!

    There have been many other photos that I have found hard to look at. One was of a large dog being raised by the neck by the poll and put into an upper cage. There have been many others that were hard to look at, that have already been mentioned by other people on this blog.

    I have heard animal advocates, for years, asking for more compassion for all the animals at the shelter. I recently learned that Jody Foster was asked to “take a break” from the shelter. I heard Mayor A.C. Wharton’s Chief of Staff, Bobby White, tell the advocates at one of our recent meetings that they didn’t want “people like us” down there volunteering…. for example, as adoption counselors and various other volunteer positions. Now they don’t want donations and the city attorney, Herman Morris, is trying to strong-arm and intimidate Shirley Thistlehwaite, the writer and originator of this blog. How shameful. They didn’t mind when the Kuranda beds were donated. They didn’t mind asking for food, treats and leashes to name a few…. because they “didn’t have the money.” They received what they asked for….from the public….from “people like us.”

    Clearly, Memphis wants business as usual at the shelter…..with no interference from our kind. There are salaried people in this city who are in a position to help the animals at the shelter. I don’t see them coming forward. I see them trying to do everything they can to keep “people like us” out of the picture. I see them attempting to stop the work of animal advocates in this city. Of course, that will never happen.

    So, as I said I would………”I was wrong.”

    I hope that the shelter can first of all be privatized. A union does not belong there. I hope the shelter will soon go from being a place that people are ashamed of to a place where citizens are welcome, where new ideas are considered, where volunteers with a new view can at least be listened to rather than shown the door, where citizens are encouraged to donate money and have fund raisers and benefits on behalf of these animals…”the least among us.” The Zoo did it. So can the “shelter”.

    1. It is very hard to swallow your pride and admit you’re wrong and you did it with grace and dignity. I hope that the people who can change the MAS system have the same epiphany.


    2. Diane,
      A good letter and from a good woman who calls it as she sees it and is not afraid to say she called it wrong. Please post this on the ABC 24 comments.
      Especially the part about how MAS happily asked the public to donate items to MAS.
      Thank you.
      I hope your letter is an inspiration to others.

    3. Diane,
      Thank you for following through where most people wouldn’t. You are in a rare group of honest, critical thinkers and I’m happy to have you on board with our mission for reform.

    4. Dianne, thank you for your post. It takes a big person to write what you did. I wish Mayor Wharton would just swallow his pride, admit that he has failed the animals and the citizens of Memphis, and make the much needed changes at the shelter. If he did, he would be a hero.

      1. It takes a lot of courage to admit when you are wrong. Not everyone could/would do that. Thank you for being the kind of person who could . . . and did.

      2. The thing is Beverly, he could spin it as a positive. He could have an epiphany, a revelation – whatever. He could say he’s educated himself about saving the lives of shelter pets and he wants to implement the lifesaving programs he’s learned about. He could be a hero, if only he would.

    5. Diane- I knew you would come around! You are filled with so much compassion! Unfortunately, you were temporarily brainwashed but you now see the light! It takes a big person to admit threy are wrong- too bad Pepper, Wharton, and others, can’t follow suit!

      1. I don’t at all look at it as brainwashing. It was just poor judgement on my part. If any of you take away one thing from what I have said, PLEASE know that I have the greatest respect for the volunteers who work day after day to help the animals. I know that none of them would ever do anything to hurt an animal or even handle them carelessly.

        There is also one employee of the shelter that I would also have to defend. I believe that he has gone above and beyond what he is expected to do in order to foster, socialize and get animals adopted.

        There is another that I believe to be a good person who would never hurt an animal. There may be more but hose are the only two I have ever really spent any time with or have formed an opinion of.

        When I saw the webcam pictures, some of them heartbreaking and some which could not possibly have been “taken out of context” and heard of one of the volunteers being shown the door because she disagreed with shelter policy, I knew there was a problem. Then to see the way officials responded to new and caring ideas…. I knew that I had to admit my error in judgment and take my own stand.

        I truly hope that the “shelter” can be privatized. I believe strongly that a union has no place in a “shelter” which serves animals at their most vulnerable time.

        I hope that positive changes can be made. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one day Memphis could have a model shelter. There are people who would love to see this happen. One thing that I do know is that those who advocate for the animals in what is erroneously called a shelter….are not going to go away.

  13. Very eloquent letter. It is factual, succinct, and thorough. I’m impressed! Let’s hope that Tennessee’s Attorney General takes the appropriate action in this issue. MAS is out of control and they MUST be reigned in. The wrongs being done there are nothing short of atrocities and they come at the expense of all the sweet, loving animals. I just cannot believe the city of Memphis and its citizens have allowed it to continue as long as they have. That’s very disappointing.

  14. Both Channel 24 stories are up on their website and available for viewing and COMMENTS.

    It is very important to leave a comment. The web hits given a story determine if more of that kind are done.

    PLEASE leave a comment. I spoke with Jeni and though she said the emails are nice. what she needs is comments on BOTH stories. She loves doing animal stories, just wants to keep the station on the same page.

    PLEASE if you read the stories, leave a comment. It is vital. Without Jeni, nothing regarding animals in Memphis would make it on air.



    1. Gotta register to comment dang it. I don’t mind giving them my email, but going through the registration process is always annoying. Shall have to wait till I’m home to do it. Btw, blogged on this myself, I don’t have tons of readers, but I did pass it on to some others who do.

    2. Could not get registered – kept giving me some error – probably knew I am a yankee….anyway, here’s a bit of huimor, though I could not find anyrhing from Memphis, but is Atlanta, it is against the law to tie a giraffe to a telephone pole or a street lamp! Oh, and in NC, it is against the law to use an elephant to plow cotton fields. In my home state, donkeys are not allowed to sleep in bathtubs. Haha for today.

  15. I shared this story and the mayor’s lovely little website page touting his success in lowering their kill rate at the shelter by 4% in the past year (http://memphistn.gov/framework.aspx?page=1321). Wow! A whole 4%! They must be doing good things there!
    One of my friends just happens to be a former vet tech who worked at the shelter I volunteered at for 8 years. She was completely appalled by the pictures that Shirley caught from the camera at the shelter. She was even more horrified by the kill rate. Her words? “This is the type of ‘shelter’ that really gives of the good shelters and impound facilities a bad name.”
    This is from a woman who had to euthanize dogs and cats at our shelter – because they were sick, dying or dangerous. Not because they were breathing. (Our shelter had an extremely high adoption rate and very low euthanization rate.) It seems to me the mayor and city attorney should be focused on dealing with the real issue instead of trying to cover it up with a bunch of threats.

  16. Nice reply! At no time did I get anything like the impression claimed by Atty. Morris, and I’m fer sher willing to go on record with the ACLU or whoever. Keep up the great work!

  17. I was laughing the entire time I read this. It made me so happy. This. This was just awesomeness.

  18. Though I am not a lawyer, I was pre-law for several years and know more than enough about the law to state, without reservation, that you CAN collect money to help rescued dogs as long as it is clear that you are not collecting said funds in the name of, or on behalf of, the shelter.

    1. She was using the shelter’s name as the fundraiser title. She could have named it anything in the world (I thought of at least a dozen titles off the top of my head that didn’t include MAS), but she chose to include the full name of the shelter in the fundraiser’s name. Hmm.

      1. @ Heather – you just never give up, do you? Why don’t you go play somewhere else?

      2. Instapoll: Readers, is it unfair of me to post a snarky reply to someone who does not know the definition of the word FROM?

      3. Yes, “FROM” was in the title. Along with the FULL NAME OF THE SHELTER. You can’t weasel the law into what you think its interpretation should be. On another note, do you have permission to reproduce the webcam pictures you capture on your blog? Aren’t those pictures property of the person (the City of Memphis) who takes them? Do you have written permission that it’s okay to capture them and use them however you please? They are not your property.

        You misrepresent situations daily on this blog. You take a screenshot of a 15 second webcam image and make up your own story. I have asked for verification before, I have asked you to show me that a dog you claimed was going to the “kill room” has, in fact, been euthanized. You have NEVER given me proof. I have asked for your sources on numbers when you post them. You tell me it’s all open to the public. That’s GREAT. Where did you find them? What website? That entire law Morris sent to you was about misrepresentation. You do it daily. And THAT’S why I won’t “go play somewhere else.” I’m at the shelter every week. I’ve adopted from the shelter. I know the truth and I am SICK AND TIRED of the flat-out LIES posted here by people who have never even step foot in the building! Your fundraiser got one dog out of the shelter. That’s great! I was there for 8 hours this past Saturday and saw over 20 adoptions. That’s leaps and bounds above what you’ve done for the MAS pets in your years of blogging. Your false words and camera stalking aren’t finding these animals their forever homes. You say you won’t go away, and I won’t either.

      4. OK then, I guess it’s you and Herman Morris against the world. Good luck to you Heather. And yes, you will be going away from this blog.

      5. Regarding YesBiscuit’s response to @Heather–Thank you! Thank you! You just made this little corner of the blogosphere a better place and also saved me from posting profanity .

      6. First of all, where does this broad get off sullying a perfectly good name?

        I lurve the “hmm.” Yep, definitely something nefariously deceptive afoot here. I will imply this with a content-free “hmm.”

        So if my Amnesty International chapter wants to run a fundraiser for, say, Libyan refugees, we have to get written permission from Khadaffi to use his name (however that may be spelled — may have found a loophole here!)?

        “Uh, we’re raising money to benefit some people who have escaped from a North African Dictatorship that we’re not allowed to name, ‘cuz it would piss off the guy who was dropping bombs on them, and some pinhead thinks that there is a member of the public so stupid that he’d think we were giving the money to the guy dropping bombs and all.”

        I think the anti-Heather went to the same law school as Mr. Morris. Or at least got her GED same time.

        Here’s a challenge for the Great Debater:

        Produce the evidence that ANY of the dogs seen being dragged off to the kill room were offered for adoption. Petfinder listing? Adoption contract with photo?

        I believe you know that the stats are stacked against you.

      7. I know of at least 14 cats that have been rescued FROM Memphis Animal Services because of this blog.

      8. Why do you care if we raise money for MAS animals?? What is wrong with you. Nobody did anything wrong. I am in Memphis and I have been to the shelter and adopted from there. What is wrong with YOU??

      9. Actually, as the webcam shots have absolutely no commercial value and her purpose is a journalistic one, she most certainly can post them under the fair use clause of US copyright law.

        Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 107 states:

        17 U.S.C. § 107

        Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 17 U.S.C. § 106 and 17 U.S.C. § 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

        1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
        2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
        3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
        4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

        The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.[1]

        As for the wording of the ChipIn title, that is easily changed, though whether or not that is necessary is not so clear cut. For example, a telemarketer may not say “This is Tom calling from the NY State Police.” (unless he is in fact calling FROM the NYSP). However, he may say: “This is Tom calling for the NY State Police.” (presuming that he is in fact authorized to be calling on their behalf). Now if the ChipIn was titled “Money for the dogs rescued from the MDAS”, I don’t see a legal issue. It is clear from that title that no relationship with MDAS is expressed or implied. MDAS may not like it, but just because a person or entity doesn’t like something doesn’t make it illegal.

  19. I’m trying to register to write a comment on the 24 News website, but can’t seem to get the “password” I need. Are they slow to respond?

      1. Thanks – finally got it and wrote comments on both your story and the kitten story. Poor little wee one . . . sounds like massive incompetence and corruption in Memphis.

  20. I have commented, and also Diane, kudos to you for your statement as well. Together, we cAN and WILL change this horrific situation!

  21. this part of the story kind of sucks
    “The city attorney’s request worked, however. The blogger has now removed the “chip in” from her site, though she says she’ll continue to be critical of the Memphis Animal Shelter.”

    The city attorney’s REQUEST worked. Request. Really? Threat. How about threat.

  22. I wrote my letter to Morris yesterday. I said that if and when the Mayor’s office wanted to harrass Shirley, they could count Ranger and I in. I think we ALL need to make it clear that whatever they do (or think they;re doing) to Shirley, they are doing to ALL of us, that we will stand shoulder to shoulder with her. Let them get the idea finally, that there are more people than they thought on this, and that we are all willing to take whatever they dish out.

    1. Totally on the same page as you Morgana! Hope that cute Ranger is doing well! He is a prime example of putting those funds to great use once he was out of that hell hole shelter.

      You know we are all behind you, Shirley!

  23. Please note that this is also an INTERNATIONAL story. I made sure to mention that when I commented on the ABC News site. Keep up the good work!

    Memphis deserves better. When you [the City] ignore cost-effective, life-saving solutions that have worked elsewhere, you should EXPECT people to be outraged! Historically, when people know when something is wrong, they fight for reform. People want things put right in order to make Memphis a better place. Are officials more interested is protecting themselves and their cronies than doing what’s best for the City? By the looks of things, I would have to say yes. I can’t recommend that anyone support or stand for such corruption.

    The sinful lies coming from the City are self-evident; they spring from mouths like horrible unnamed things and fall flat on the ground, writhing in the sun for all to see. The ugly truth is those who kill pets defend their killing ways and ignore successful alternatives because it protects those in power. But killing = failure. Memphis is in dire need of “Redemption”.

    I hope it happens soon.

  24. Dear Heather,

    The 77% of the animals killed at this shelter want to know from Heaven, why didn’t you care about THEM? Were all 77% of these animals vicious or ill beyond vet care? Why are catch poles used to raise, drag and pull dogs? Why was the page explaining how to properly use a catch pole in the MAS employee handbook missing??? You know the one with the pictures with the huge red X’s over the picture displaying the wrong way to use a catch pole, i.e dragging, lifting, pulling…

    Good day!

    On another note, you rock Shirley!

    1. Heather,
      When the webcams were placed at MAS by the mayor, it was to let the people see what went on there that had resulted in starving and dead dogs and to insure it not happen again. Bet he never dared dream that the cameras would show the continued abuse of the dogs and cats by the staff! However, he nor you can complain now that people watch what’s going on there and do not like what they see. You must realize that people will be outraged and take action. We will not stop. As for proving anything, it is up to you that you prove your allegations.

      This is not about the staff nor the volunteers. It is all about the dogs and cats that are being abused and killed every day. It is for them that all of us are here and believe me when I say that we are not going away.

  25. A compassion and love for animals has brought all this together, for those who cannot speak for themselves and who time after time offer unconditional love, YesBiscuit, you are hope!

  26. I’m kind of wondering why only 16 people have contributed to the chipin… if everyone who reads this blog would chip in a couple of dollars, there’d be lots of money to help more dogs. COME ON! Don’t feel you need to contribute a large amount: the principle behind chipin is that those $1 and $5 dollar donations mount up

    1. EmilyS is right. If everyone who could spare a buck went ahead and donated to the ChipIn, we could prolly build our own shelter in Memphis.* Or at least, we could bail more dogs out of MAS.

      The other thing that goes hand in hand with the donations is people willing to foster. We can’t spring any pets without a plan in place to care for them. So if you are in the Memphis area, or even if you aren’t, contact Meows and BowWows about fostering. Depending on the situation with the individual pet, all sorts of things may be possible!

      *possibly an exaggeration for dramatic effect

      1. Did you know that it is now legal to claim FOSTERING an animal (hence its expenses) on your yearly tax returns, just as long as it is for a verified 501[c][3].

      2. I am a student on limited funds and could not donate much, but even I chipped in because the number of donators seemed just as important as dollar amounts.

        And for the record, not once did I think the money was being solicited on behalf of MAS. As it clearly states on the Paypal and the Chipin link, the money was going right to you, Shirley, whom I trust to spend way more judiciously than city officials who apparently have trouble with basic reading comprehension.

      3. Thank you M.C. That’s the idea behind the ChipIn. If everybody who thought a tiny donation wouldn’t make much difference actually made that tiny donation, it would make a huge difference.

  27. At the request of the “shelter” …the public has donated koronda beds for every cage, blankets, food, treats, leashes and other things. I’m sure we would all do it again. So, Memphis officials….you have an empty argument on your hands. Now, Herman….what’s next for consideration. As Spike Lee said….just “do the right thing.”

  28. Hell no, we’re not going anywhere, except to sit at the Mayor’s door. Anyway, We’re ALL Spartacus!

  29. Oh, the hell with Spartacus….that wimp. We are a lot stronger than that.
    We are “Mama Birds”.

    All joking aside , Mr. Mayor, join us. On your first day of office, we were so in hopes of real improvement at the “shelter.” You will have men and women all over this city flocking to the voter booths to pull that lever for you.

    Please stop fighting with us. Please stop trying to bully us. You know it’s the right thing to do.

    1. Ok, then, never mind Spartacus or Mama Brids. We are Satyagrahi’s – warriors for the TRUTH.

Leave a Reply