I want to address some questions regarding the rescue of Mari from MAS since there appears to be some incorrect information circulating.
1. Tammy, the reader who initially sought to adopt Mari after seeing the webcam images of him being dragged down the hall at MAS, was under the impression that this was a pet – not a feral dog. Upon learning that MAS had known all along (but failed to disclose) that Mari was a feral dog, she indicated to me that she lacked the expertise needed to provide appropriate care for Mari. I understood and we agreed to continue to advocate for Mari by attempting to find a spot for him with a rescue group who has the necessary experience to handle a feral dog. At no time after MAS finally disclosed that Mari was feral did Tammy seek to continue her initial plan to personally adopt the dog. Her involvement after that point was as an advocate only. She networked for Mari and offered to assist with transport to sanctuary if needed. Any claim by the city that it was considering killing Mari because of the liability issues involved with adopting a feral dog to Tammy is false. That adoption was never going to happen and the city had no reason to kill the dog based on this false fact.
2. Jan, the person who helped Mari get out of the cage at MAS when the city’s trained animal handlers refused to help, was not bitten or otherwise injured by Mari. She has provided her account of the experience here. And for further clarification, I asked Jan specifically for this post if she was bitten or otherwise injured by Mari. This is her response:
I was not bitten nor otherwise injured while helping Mario out of the cage. This dog was very frightened but I sensed absolutely no aggression towards me and that’s why I got in the cage with this dog. It’s a shame that supposedly trained professionals who are used to being around animals at Memphis Animal Services were unable to recognize the difference between aggressive versus frightened behavior in this dog, nor were they able to recognize that this animal was a male and not a female.
This seems to fall in line with Steve Markwell’s description of feral dog behavior. He told me:
Feral dogs are fearful, and they behave defensively until they can be brought out of that fear, but most of them are not serious biters. If they do bite, it’s only in perceived self defense, and it’s done to create space between them and the person they believe wants to hurt them. They don’t actually want to make contact with people in stressful situations, so they may snap at us, but they’re bluffing. I’ve been working with feral dogs for years, and I’ve never had a serious bite from one.
3. A member of the media asked me in an interview Monday regarding Mari, “Doesn’t MAS deserve credit for working with rescuers on this dog?”
Let’s be clear:
- MAS appears to have abused this dog by dragging him by a noose around his neck upon impound.
- MAS failed to disclose to a potential adopter that this dog was feral and allowed the adopter to send a behaviorist in to evaluate the dog for adoptability (which of course was useless).
- Once MAS finally disclosed Mari was feral, they jerked us around by giving us multiple “We’re killing the dog at 5pm if you don’t get him out” deadlines, with very little notice, and on one occasion as we scrambled to meet their deadline, advised us that the city attorney was reviewing the matter and the dog may not be released to anyone.
- When Mr. Markwell’s agent appeared at MAS to adopt Mari for him, she was given a waiver to sign which said basically that the city was released from liability and Mari was to be ridden out of town on a rail. After signing, Ona and Lou Ann were advised that, oh gee by the way, we trained professionals won’t be getting the dog out for you like we do for all other adoptions. You untrained ladies will have to get him yourself. And if you can’t figure out how to get that done by 5pm, we’ll get him out ourselves – but not to save his life, to kill him.
So uh yeah, I guess MAS gets some credit for working with rescuers here. But if this is the city’s idea of working with rescuers, I’d hate to see them work against rescuers.
4. Lastly, I want to address the concern that some people apparently have as to whether the resources and efforts invested in saving Mari couldn’t have been put to use saving several friendly pet dogs at MAS instead. It’s a fair question. The short answer as to why Mari was worth saving is this: Because every dog has a right to live. And I have a longer answer, natch.
First though, I want to clear up any misconceptions about whether feral dogs can ever be matched to an appropriate owner and adopted out – yes, it’s possible. I asked Steve Markwell to comment on this issue:
As far as rehab, they are all different. I’ve seen them take to human contact in a matter of hours, and I’ve seen it take years. Mario is already being hand fed and licking people’s fingers, so I don’t expect there to be too many problems getting him adoptable.
Back to the issue of utilizing resources for Mari. We have no way of knowing anything about most of the dogs in the stray area at MAS. Sadly, they are kept locked away from the public and they are not listed online. If a reader is lucky enough to capture an image of a dog in the stray area, and is able to get information from MAS regarding that dog, we make an effort to save that dog’s life, utilizing the funds donated by readers. That’s what happened with dogs such as Sam, Ranger, Henry and Jane. When it happened with Mari, there was an unexpected twist – the disclosure late in the process that he was feral. That didn’t mean we were going to give up on our efforts to save that dog’s life. He was still worth fighting for, just like every other unknown dog at MAS.
Ideally, the MAS staff and volunteers would have advocated for Mari. MAS would have contacted feral dog rehabbers to arrange placement as soon as Mari was on the truck. He would have been listed online so that his information could be shared with the appropriate people. But that didn’t happen. Mari had no one at MAS advocating for his right to live, just like all the other dogs hidden in the stray area who aren’t selected for the few designated adoption cages. In Mari’s case, we got our hands on the ball. So of course we ran with it. There was no other morally acceptable option.
Now if it had been the case that MAS was advocating for Mari and all the dogs in the stray area were listed online and available for the public to see and touch, yes we could spend our efforts trying to help more dogs. (In fact, we’d love to do that!) Maybe with the amount of time and energy we spent on saving Mari, we could have saved several friendly pet dogs. But that was not the case here and there was no such option to help other stray impounds. We did not have information on any other dogs in the stray area. We only had information on Mari. And Mari had no one at MAS advocating for him. So we advocated for him.
I am thinking at this moment of something Ona told me she said to a staff member at MAS just before leaving with Mari: “No hard feelings. But we’ll do it again.”
And we will. They can throw up roadblocks, fire volunteers who advocate for the strays, shut off the webcams – whatever they want to try. But we will still be here, using our voice to advocate for all the pets at MAS – not just the lucky few selected for the adoption area – until the city officials get it through their heads that all these pets have a right to live. They are wanted and loved. They are worth fighting for.
Memphis, please – stop the killing. Unlock the doors to the stray area and let people in to see and touch your dogs. Post every pet online so that people can network for them. Advocate for your pets and let people who want to help do so. There is a better way.