When discussing shelter reform, we often hear that we must be patient and allow management time to make improvements at the shelter. In some areas, I agree that this is reasonable. For example, it takes time to amend the union contract which covers staff. It takes time to update an employee manual. It takes time to get employees to continuing education classes. It takes time to institute the programs of the No Kill Equation.
But this is not to say that the time allowance should be open-ended or to be considered in any way a pass on requiring accountability. Nor should these reasonable allowances be used as an excuse to avoid taking immediate action where the well being of shelter pets is concerned. Some things can not wait for months, weeks, days or even hours.
I offer that the most urgent issue at any shelter is the suffering and killing of pets. There can be no more pressing matter for any shelter director than putting an immediate and unequivocal end to the abuse and killing of animals at the facility. If abuse is suspected of happening at any shelter, rooting out the abusers must be the top priority. If there is solid evidence of animal cruelty, such as is the case in Memphis, the abusers must be removed from having contact with animals immediately. There is no retraining, no policy manual update, no test score that can reform someone who doesn’t inherently know it’s wrong to hurt animals. They must be immediately removed from having contact with animals and criminal charges should be considered by the authorities.
If the leadership in Memphis is truly interested in bringing meaningful reform to the pound, I offer a basic plan for consideration which can be fleshed out and expanded upon as appropriate.
1. Stop the abuse. Immediately remove those workers who are documented on video abusing pets. Turn their cases over to the DA and request a review for criminal charges. Suspend the use of chokepoles until the remaining and newly hired staff (after the abusers have been removed) can be trained on their proper use by a knowledgeable trainer.
2. Stop the killing. Immediately end the practice of killing healthy/treatable pets.
3. Shout it from the rooftops. Hold a press conference, reach out to local and out of state rescue groups, former and potential volunteers, all forms of media, and the general public to announce that MAS has removed the abusers and ended the killing. Let people know that MAS is implementing every program of the No Kill Equation and that they are part of those programs. Tell the public that help is needed, wanted, appreciated and will be accepted in order to save the pets who are at MAS today and while the city works to get the No Kill Equation programs fully functional.
4. Utilize the Chameleon software to upload every pet at MAS to PetHarbor. This can be done immediately, with no extra effort, since MAS is already using the program but purposefully preventing the pet listings from being uploaded to PetHarbor. Simply stop preventing the uploads.
5. Open up the shelter to the public 7 days a week. In order to get people in the door and pets out the door to foster, rescue and permanent homes, MAS needs to be open when the public can get there. This means both weekend days and every weekday.
6. Open up the entire shelter to the public. Save for obvious rare exceptions such as rabies quarantine or sick pets under treatment who can not tolerate visitors in their present condition, all pets at the shelter should be available for people to see and touch. Petting and holding animals is how people fall in love. Let them.
7. Put the security camera feeds from the areas which show animals online for the public to view. This will reassure potential donors, volunteers, foster homes and others that they are contributing to a transparent and positive effort to reform MAS. And it offers a measure of protection for the animals who have been abused at MAS in the past.
8. Attend the No Kill Conference on August 11-12 in Washington D.C. I have offered privately to help raise funds for the new interim director to attend if he has an interest but he did not reply. The offer stands. Attending the conference provides an opportunity to hear from open admission shelter directors and rescuers who save more than 90% of their pets. In addition, there are many other workshops which would provide valuable and useful information for MAS.
These things take time. We get it. But some things take no time at all (such as utilizing the PetHarbor upload capability from Chameleon) and other things can not wait (such as animals being abused and killed). Pet advocates would be eager and very willing to support MAS in the long haul if we were given a reason to believe that meaningful reform was happening. Removing the animal abusers and stopping the killing at MAS would give me a reason to believe.
I would love to offer my support to Memphis as the city transforms the shelter. Give me some hard-to-place pets to post. Give me some public security camera feeds to watch so I can see that the pets at MAS aren’t being hurt anymore. Give me something to believe in.
I’m available to believe in you now, Memphis. I don’t need time. I’m ready to help you this hour – this minute. What is the city of Memphis prepared to do right now?