MAS: Black Hole Sun

An incoming dog at MAS.

Although Memphis Animal Services does offer a small percentage of its dogs to the public for adoption, most of the dogs are kept behind closed doors. They are either taken directly to the kill room upon intake or held for a few days in a cage in the stray area and then killed. They are not taken for walks. They are not touched by humans. They are not even removed from their cages when the workers come around with the hose.

And so, when I look at the dog in this shot, I have little hope. I know that most likely, he is feeling the sun on his face for the very last time. Most likely, he will be killed by those who are supposed to be protecting him from harm, never having been offered for adoption. To my mind, it’s abuse and betrayal and should be prosecutable under the law.

And this will continue. The abuse and the betrayal and the killing will go on, unabated, until someone in Memphis does something to stop it.  I believe with all my heart that someone will.  The only thing I don’t know is how many more pets must get sucked into the black hole that is MAS before that happens – 100?  1000?  10,000?  It could be zero – if someone in Memphis decided that this moment is the moment they are stepping up to wage a political campaign to force the city to reform MAS.

In Austin, the local pound was needlessly killing the community’s pets and animal advocates were horrified and outraged.  One of those advocates wanted to do something.  He was an appellate attorney with an extremely demanding schedule and most people would understand if he said, “It’s not me”.  Another taught remedial reading to special ed students in the poorest area of Austin.  A third was battling a terminal illness.  All three had their own pets to care for as well as commitments to their foster pets.  On the face of it, they were three individuals who simply didn’t have the time to wage a political campaign against the city to force the shelter to reform.  But while acknowledging the demands of their daily lives, they also realized that if they didn’t step up, no one else would.  Maybe no single one of them had sufficient time to devote to fighting for the community’s pets but if they coordinated their efforts, it would mean someone was doing something.  And that was infinitely better than no one doing anything.  They had nothing to lose and everything to gain for the homeless pets in Austin.  And they did something.

If you are a Memphis resident who wishes someone would do something to stop the killing at MAS, I hate to be the one to break it to you but that someone is you.  There are no doubt, very good reasons why people would understand if you said, “It’s not me”.  You probably have personal commitments and/or a job, etc.  It would be ideal if someone came along who said, “I have no job, no pets, no friends, no family, no health issues, no financial concerns, no personal commitments and all I want to do is reform MAS.”  Please let me know if that person contacts you.

In the meantime I would ask you this – Do you have any time to devote to waging a political campaign for reform?  Because if you do, that would be more than what the pets in Memphis have right now.  And there may be several people who each have some time to give and would be willing to form a coalition with you.  In which case, someone would be doing something.  And I know a blogger who would give you all kinds of support, just for starters.

Essay Question

How about a little break?

Random:  Taxidermied pets – Have you?  Would you?  Explain.

Amnesty and Killing – They Just Go Together

In Australia, the towns of Campbelltown and Wollondilly place heavy restrictions on owners of Pitbull type dogs.  The city councils are concerned that some owners may not be in compliance with the law and are keeping Pitbulls they haven’t registered.  As such, and in response to the tragic death of a child who was killed by a Pitbull type dog in Melbourne recently, the city councils are offering amnesty to unregistered Pitbull owners.

It’s really a swell deal.  The owner turns in the unregistered dog and gets a fabulous prize:  no charges will be filed!  But that’s not all.  The dog too gets a fabulous prize – well, actually the dog just gets killed.  But did I mention no charges will be filed against the owner?!

Memphis: A Public Trust Betrayed

August 25, 2011

The Honorable Robert E. Cooper, Jr.

Office of the Attorney General and Reporter
P.O. Box 20207
Nashville, TN 37202-0207

Dear Attorney General:

Because of widespread malfeasance at Memphis Animal Services (MAS), which implicates the staff, the director, the city council, the city attorney, and the Mayor, we are calling for your office to initiate litigation with the goal of placing the agency into receivership. The revelation that the President of the Memphis Rotary Club was arrested for drunk driving, reckless driving, and public intoxication, and repeatedly asked to see Memphis Mayor AC Wharton during his arrest, is only the latest embarrassment to plague the Wharton Administration and implicate MAS. (See attachment 1.)

The Rotary Club had offered to do a management audit of MAS at no cost in response to sustained controversy involving neglect, abuse, and rampant killing at MAS. Given the Rotary Club’s apparent lack of expertise, we were suspicious of the impartiality of the review. But the recent scandal involving the Rotary Club’s President reveals the offered review to be a partisan ploy, a favor between two friends.

Tragically, MAS is a badly mismanaged house of horrors where roughly eight out of every 10 animals are put to death; where animals have been starved to death; where known felons are hired who then turn around and commit animal cruelty; and where animals have been neglected and abused by those who were supposed to protect them. Unfortunately, neither the Mayor’s Office nor the City Council appears willing or able to protect the animals from further neglect and killing.

During Wharton’s tenure and despite promised reformed, the City has embarked on an illegal campaign to intimidate and silence critics by threatening them with spurious litigation in violation of their federal civil rights. (See attachment 2.) And rather than correcting widespread problems, the Mayor announced he was removing the cameras at MAS’ shelter that allowed the nation to see what the animals there must endure, violating his promise of transparency and leaving the animals at the mercy of those who have demonstrated, time and time again, that they do not care about them. (See attachment 3.) Any hope that the City Council could fill the lack of oversight has proved to be without basis. Despite the rampant neglect, abuse, deaths, disappearances, criminal behavior, and killing, as the pound’s controversial director announced his resignation, the city council commended his leadership, said he was doing a “great” job, and requested that he withdraw his resignation. (See attachment 4.) In addition, the City’s Advisory Board which helps set policy for MAS has closed its meetings to the public, which we believe is not only illegal, it shows a disregard for transparency and democratic principles of government. (See Tenn. Code. Ann. 8-44-101 et seq.) In short, city officials are complicit in hiding the mistreatment and needless killing of animals when they should be fixing it. Because of that, we believe the city is not qualified to run the animal services program.

Placing an institution in the control of a receiver, a person “placed in the custodial responsibility” for the agency, is appropriate and warranted when the agency falls below minimally acceptable standards of conduct, repeatedly fails to make needed reforms, and causes ongoing irreparable harm. In California, for example, a receiver has been appointed to oversee the state’s prison health-care system after years of promised reforms that were not made. We are requesting your assistance as it is the job of the state Attorney General to investigate malfeasance and misuse of taxpayer funds by municipalities and their agencies. As repeated entreaties to local officials have been ignored, we believe the only effective recourse would be for your office to begin an enforcement action in order to place the agency into receivership. Quite simply, the neglect and abuse of animals constitutes irreparable harm, and the killing of thousands of animals needlessly every year can never be undone.

In October of 2009, for example, Sheriff’s deputies raided MAS after a puppy was “non-accidentally” starved. (See attachment 5.)

Puppy at the time of impound at MAS.

Puppy after several weeks in the MAS shelter.

This was not an isolated incident. Citizens had been complaining of neglectful conditions in the facility for years. (See attachment 6.) In fact, a live dog was buried beneath dead dogs, and sent to the incinerator to be burned alive. (See attachment 7.) Hundreds of animals die in their cages at MAS every year, and hundreds of others simply go missing. In 2009, 255 animals were found dead while in the custody of MAS. In 2010, that number rose dramatically to 357. In 2009, 282 animals disappeared. In 2010, it was 155. In 2007, after dogs were seized from dog fighters, the dogs disappeared from MAS. According to reports, “There were no obvious signs of a break in from the outside. No broken glass or windows, but police said the break in happened over the weekend and was discovered Monday morning.” (Fox News Memphis, November 12, 2007.) Installed webcams have also captured mistreatment of animals and inappropriate conduct including puppies being tossed into a trash can before being wheeled to the kill room and staff poking late-term pregnant cats with sharp objects.

Problems plaguing MAS include:

Inappropriate, neglectful, and even abusive handling. Dogs are lifted off the ground by a hard-wired noose around their necks, cats are lifted by the neck using tongs, and dogs are dragged to the kill room to be put to death.

Rampant killing. In 2010, despite only taking in 17 animals for every 1,000 human residents, MAS killed 11,930 of the 15,404 animals it took in, nearly eight out of 10 animals. (See attachment 8.) By contrast, many communities with higher overall intake rates and higher per capita intakes (as high as 35 animals for every 1,000 human residents) are saving over 90% of the animals. (See By refusing to follow basic protocols for finding animals homes, thousands of animals are being needlessly killed.

Animal cruelty. MAS hires known felons, fails to train them appropriately, and then fails to supervise them adequately. Kapone, a family dog, “disappeared” after being picked up by MAS staff. Although the staff member, hired despite past convictions for crimes of moral turpitude, has been charged with two counts of animal cruelty for allowing one dog to die of heatstroke by leaving the dog in extreme temperatures and in relation to Kapone’s disappearance, the whereabouts of Kapone and 155 other missing animals remain unknown. (See attachments 9 10.)

Failure to provide prompt and necessary veterinary care. Just as examples, a suffering, emaciated dog was not provided any veterinary care for three days before being killed, and another dog (pictured earlier) came in healthy but was starved by MAS. Failure to provide food and necessary veterinary care would violate anti-cruelty laws by private citizens. Such conduct by MAS is no less reprehensible and no less a violation of such laws.

Failure to train and hold staff to minimally acceptable standards of care. Because of incompetent cleaning, handling, and care, frequent disease outbreaks lead to mass killing. For example, one distemper outbreak that cost 60 animals their lives. (See attachment 4.) It has also led to fights. By way of another example, a staff member not only allowed two unrelated dogs in the isolation ward to come into contact and fight, he also showed no knowledge in how to respond appropriately. In fact, another employee became abusive by repeatedly hitting one of the dogs with a pole.

While initially giving lip service to reform, the Mayor now excuses and defends the agency, arguing that all the incidents of neglect, abuse, criminal behavior, and rampant killing are the result of isolated incidents of poor judgment or are even necessary and proper. Rather than investigate conditions or fix widespread problems, the City has chosen instead to intimidate concerned citizens into silence, in violation of their constitutional and federal civil rights. The City Attorney recently threatened spurious litigation against a public critic of the agency, in violation of 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983. (See attachments 2, 11.) This followed revelations that the City attempted to intimidate another blogger in a separate incident. (See attachment 12.)

At MAS, tens of thousands of animals have been either neglected, abused, killed, have died, and/or come up “missing.” The Mayor, the City Attorney, the City Council, and agency staff seem unable and unwilling to reform MAS. The City has attempted to cover up agency malfeasance by violating the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens. And its current plan to remove webcams will further conceal ongoing neglect and abuse. As a result, we believe that an investigation and litigation in the hopes of placing MAS under the control of an outside party is warranted in this case. If the Attorney General’s office fails to act, animals will continue to suffer, the taxpayers will continue to have their money squandered, and further criminal behavior will likely continue, while the City condones, rather than corrects widespread problems.

Very truly yours,

Nathan J. Winograd

Shirley Thistlethwaite

Is Anyone Laughing?

MAS webcam watchers are bearing witness to the abuse and killing that goes on at the pound.  They are giving faces to pets who would otherwise be known only as a statistic in a year end killing report.  For this, I am grateful.

This beautiful dog looks so happy to finally get out of his cage.

Goodbye beauty.

It takes a toll on those who watch the webcams, just like it does on everyone who looks at the shots posted here. Who among us could watch pet after pet being needlessly taken to the kill room, knowing they were never even offered for adoption, without suffering for it?

This dog comes out of his cage, probably hoping he's found a friend.

He seems to know immediately something is wrong. He tries to hug the wall.

He tries hugging the opposite wall.

It's no use. I'm sorry.

Without webcam watchers, there would be no photographic evidence of what goes on behind closed doors at MAS. As awful as it is to see, I won’t look away.  And I am thankful there are others who won’t either.

All the pets in this post appear to have been killed by MAS on Friday, August 26, 2011. There were others as well. While webcam watchers were documenting the horrors of needless killing at MAS on Friday, someone there thought it would be funny to send a message of sorts.

Congratulations morons. You guys are just hilarious. I’m sorry I can’t laugh at the moment because I’m throwing up after looking at pictures of all the pets you just killed. It’s good to know Memphis has professional, caring people like you to look after the community’s pets.  Well done Mayor Wharton.

Shelter Pet of the Day – North Carolina

Submitted by reader April who writes:

My name is Miss Priss. I am about a year young beautiful calico (as you can see below!). My foster mommy rescued me out of what they call a “high-kill, gassing animal control shelter”. Sounds bad to me but it wasn’t my fault! I was just out walking, got lost and ended up in that horrible place!

I am a very quiet & sweet natured girl. My favorite thing is sitting at your feet while you talk to me. I cock my head to the side purr and “make biscuits” during a conversation. I really try to understand what you’re saying! I would make a GREAT companion for someone looking for a lap cat that loves to be stroked. Perhaps someone retired or someone that works from home? I just love to be around people! I don’t have to be the only cat as long as I get plenty of love. I’m even learning how wonderful it feels to be brushed and to play with catnip mice. C’mon! Love me! All this happiness and joy can be ALL YOURS! I’m Sweet. Pettable. Purring. Social. Soft. Adorable. What more could you ask for? I have plenty of love to go around! I’m all up to date on my vaccinations and I’m already spayed & microchipped. I have a “cauliflower ear” from an old ear infection that went un-checked. The ear is just fine now and my folded ear just makes me cuter!

So, let’s cut to the chase. I’m Priss and what I’ve got is bottomless love. And what I’ve got, you’ve got, if you just take me home. Now, wasn’t that simple?

Please email my foster Mom at or call 704-618-7528

I love this picture.

A Day in the Death

Memphis, please – open up the stray area so that people can see and touch your dogs.  Stop the killing.

Open Thread

For Friday night chit-chat.

Also, your mission, should you choose to accept it:

Spread the word about the mass kitty adoption event in Gainesville, FL this weekend. Most of the east coast is worrying over Hurricane Irene but FL is not expected to be impacted. If you are an east coaster and have to evacuate, why not head for Gainesville and pack a cat carrier?

Ohio City’s Policy on Handling Stray Pets Comes Under Scrutiny

A Lebanon, Ohio couple’s cat, named Haze, didn’t come home last Friday.  On Saturday, unbeknownst to the owners, Haze turned up in a neighbor’s yard and appeared to be sick or injured.  The neighbor planned to knock on doors in the neighborhood to try and find out where the cat lived but before she could do that, another family member called the local police.  An officer responded to the call, shot Haze to death in the neighbor’s yard and the family member dropped him in the garbage can.

When the owners, Dori and Randall Stone, found out what had happened the next day, they rushed to the neighbor’s house:

“We love our cats, do you know what it was like to pull your pet out of the garbage can and then pull him out of the garbage bag and his head is bloody with a bullet hole in it?” [Mrs. Stone] said. “It’s so violent that they did this to our animal and made no effort to call the humane society or find his owners.”

The city not only stands behind the actions of the police officer, a spokesman says the brutal killing complies with departmental policy:

The police policy manual states that the animal will be destroyed where it is located if it is safe to do so and under no circumstances is an officer to transport the animal in a city vehicle.

The JournalNews reports that the policy appears to be illegal:

The policy, however, appears to violate Ohio Revised Code. Cats are one of a number of animals protected by the code that says no one shall “maliciously, or willfully and without consent of the owner” injure animals. The violation is a first-degree misdemeanor.

Haze’s owners would like to see the policy changed:

“Something needs to done, if this is common practice it needs to be changed,” Dori Stone said. “My husband and I have not eaten since Sunday morning. We are just sick. We close our eyes at night and see his little face and to think as good of care we took of him for almost seven years, these were his last moments and that was the way he had to die, it’s unbearable.”

There is a county humane society and a county dog warden but neither respond to calls about stray cats.

Snapshots from MAS

Goodbye kitties.

Chokepole used to pin this dog down in a puddle during cleaning.

Can anyone offer this person assistance with this puppy?

Canine body language.

Dogs in the stray area are not offered for adoption. The public is not allowed to see or touch them. After their mandatory hold expires, they go to the kill room.

Owner surrendered dog appears to have something tied around his mouth. Taken directly to the kill room.

On Wednesday afternoon, a visitor to the MAS adoption area heard this puppy crying incessantly for 45 minutes. He had feces on his belly, no water in his bowl and his cage was filthy. Despite several staff members and volunteers visible in the adoption area, no one paid attention to the puppy's cries.

Is there anyone in Memphis willing to wage a political campaign for reform?