Unraveling a Cover Up at the Memphis Pound

On April 2, 2015, animal advocate Beth Spencer contacted James Rogers, director of Memphis Animal Services, indicating she would like to photograph a dozen adoptable pets to be featured in a local magazine.  Her email reads, in part:

The tricky part here will be to make sure the animals we feature are not euthanized when the article is published on May 1. Can I send you the ID numbers after the photoshoot, then we can make some kind of notes on their cards and in the system, so they won’t be euthanized when the article is published? I can photograph extras, in the event the ones we’d photographed are adopted.

Rogers replied to Beth that same day:

Hello Beth,

Yes. Please provide the numbers so we can ensure we have them fully vetted and prepared for adoption.
Thanks for your help.

James M. Rogers
Administrator, MAS

After the 12 animals were selected and photographed on April 11, Beth sent this email to alert several people, including Rogers and MAS supervisors, that these pets should be kept alive:

From: Beth Spencer
Sent: Saturday, April 11, 2015 8:25 PM
To: Rogers, James
Cc: Tunstall, DeKeishia Masha; Edgeston, James; graycat13@yahoo.com; mingostar@aol.com; DebbieLFraser@bellsouth.net
Subject: Re: MAS in Click Magazine

Good evening,

Below are the ID’s for the animals that will be featured in Click Magazine. Please do not euthanize these animals. Per Mr. Rogers, the 6 dogs and cats below will be ready for adoption by the publishing date of 05/01/2015.

Dogs

A276251

A276091

A275930

A276371

A276559

A276264

Cats

A261116

A276152

A275657

A276289

A273887

A273889

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Best,
Beth

MAS supervisor DeKeisha Tunstall confirmed that she had added the appropriate notes to each of the 12 animals’ records.

Since MAS kills the majority of its pets, it would indeed be “tricky” to keep these 12 animals alive from April 11 until after the magazine article was published on May 1. And as it turned out, too tricky.

On April 21, Beth says she learned from an MAS clerk that one of the dogs on her list had been killed because “no names were on the dog”. Dog ID #276371, a rottweiler she called David, had been killed by MAS on April 20. She emailed Rogers to request verification and to ask what had happened. Rogers replied, in part:

I am investigating to find out what went so terribly wrong with this one pet.

Beth asked the names of the 2 supervisors who signed off on the kill list for April 20. Rogers did not answer that question in his response but did include this:

Five people reviewed the list and did not catch this pet.

Beth again asked for the names of the 2 supervisors. Rogers replied, in part:

[T]he pet was signed off for euthanasia by the operations manager and me. There were extenuating circumstances identified by our staff concerning this pet that we should have communicated to you, but did not.

Local media covered the story of David’s killing and Rogers issued a press release on April 22 which reads, in part:

One of the pets selected by Ms. Spencer was not a good candidate for adoption. The pet was reviewed by the kennel staff and the clinical staff on Sunday, April 19, 2015.

Beth asked what the “extenuating circumstances” were which resulted in David being killed. Rogers wrote back:

On Fri, Apr 24, 2015 at 7:46 AM, <James.Rogers@memphistn.gov> wrote:
Ms. Spencer,

Your request to house 12 pets for 21 days was a unique request to say the least. We have accommodated 11 of the pets on your list. I have apologized for the humane euthanasia of one of them because we did not inform you prior to euthanasia. MAS pets are reviewed daily, by kennel staff and clinical staff. A pet kept in this environment for extended periods of time is not good for the pet. Extenuating Circumstances; the pet was found to be heart worm positive, growling, having to have a muzzle to perform clinical interaction and was here past the review date. Your note to have the pet networked for CLICK Magazine was missed by the staff and the pet was humanely euthanized without notifying you.

James M. Rogers
Administrator, MAS

My, how quickly we went from “investigating to find out what went so terribly wrong with this one pet” to FFS lady, we kept 11 out of your 12 animals alive – isn’t that good enough for you?

Obtained via FOIA request, MAS records show that a note was placed in David’s record indicating he should not be killed as he was being featured in a magazine article. Records further show that David was killed, not for health or behavior as Rogers contended, but for “time”.
david MAS kill record

david MAS kill record2

There are no notes indicating that 5 people reviewed and approved David’s killing. There are no notes indicating the dog had any problem with aggression. He is described in the records as QAR and BAR (quiet/alert/responsive and bright/alert/responsive). The tech muzzled David before drawing his blood for the heartworm test on April 4 and there is a note that he growled during his vet exam that day. There are no notes indicating the dog was ever evaluated for his behavior by anyone. There are no notes indicating the dog was “reviewed by the kennel staff and the clinical staff on Sunday, April 19” for suitability as an adoption candidate. The sole note entered on April 19 says that the animal’s time has expired and there are no holds on the dog.

Beth said she specifically chose David, along with the other 11 animals, because of his solid temperament, describing him as a calm dog who would make an excellent pet. Photos taken by Beth on April 11 show him being handled by a volunteer:

David at MAS.  (Photo by Beth Spencer)

David at MAS. (Photo by Beth Spencer)

David at MAS.  (Photo by Beth Spencer)

David at MAS. (Photo by Beth Spencer)

Since this was not the first time a pet whom Beth had been trying to get adopted was killed by MAS, she asked Rogers what steps are being taken to prevent these types of killings from continuing to happen. Rogers finally answered her question on April 30, adding that he doesn’t want any response from her and that he considers the matter closed. These are the steps Rogers states he has taken in the aftermath of David’s killing:

The request by Beth Spencer to hold 12 pets she identified for 21 days for a magazine article was a unique occurrence.

This is something we haven’t done before and will definitely think about before approving again.

I have discussed thoroughly with the management/clinic staff and resolved to

1.) ensure memo is input and not a comment,

2.) check pets with a request like this daily and inform customer of changes in status

3.) ensure management/employees check comment box before disposition,

4.) MAS make recommendation of pets to be advertised as opposed to outsiders.

I guess it hadn’t occurred to me before how the word “outsiders” could be made to sound so… dirty. Ew. But yeah, looks like Rogers has learned some important lessons here. Agreeing to not kill pets is stupid and we won’t be doing that again. And don’t give up on that lame ass aggression story, even when there isn’t a shred of evidence to support it.

Beth would like to see James Rogers removed as MAS director. Respectful letters condemning David’s killing (in strong but polite terms) as well as the needless killing of thousands of other pets under Rogers’ leadership and calling for Rogers to be removed may be sent to Rogers’ bosses:

Mayor A C Wharton, Jr.
City Hall
125 N. Main St. Room 700
Memphis, Tn 38103
(901) 636-6000
mayor@memphistn.gov

Janet P. Hooks
Director, Parks and Neighborhoods
125 North Main, Ste. 200
Memphis, TN 38103
(901) 636-6564
Janet.Hooks@memphistn.gov

LaSonya Hall
Deputy Director, Parks and Neighborhoods
125 North Main, Ste. 200
Memphis, TN 38103
(901) 636-6564
LaSonya.Hall@memphistn.gov

(Thank you to everyone who sent me info on this story.)

Treats on the Internets

A family who took in a stray dog in Glynn Co, GA had her spayed and vaccinated but ultimately surrendered her to the county pound due to destructive behavior.  As sometimes happens, the family changed their minds after surrendering the pet and returned the next day to retrieve her.  Pound staff had already killed the dog for being “timid”.  After a citizen’s complaint was filed, the county terminated the director, who had been on the job less than 2 weeks.  But the county has 1001 excuses for killing animals so I wouldn’t hold out too much hope for whoever is hired next.

Amarillo, TX – Four ACOs working in the field lack current certifications and haven’t had them in years.  (Thank you Clarice for the link.)

In Las Vegas, AC impounded a puppy with a severely mangled leg in need of amputation.  The surgery was delayed for 72 hours with the shelter citing the stray holding period as the reason.  The puppy has since been rescued, had her surgery and been adopted.  (Thanks Clarice.)

Feline audiogenic reflex seizures aka “The Tom and Jerry Syndrome” connects sound sensitivity to seizures in senior cats.

Fifteen bison who escaped from a NY farm were shot to death by “hired guns” under supervision of county deputies and with permission from the owner.  Determined to be a public safety risk, one animal was left “flailing in the creek” after being shot.  (Thanks Susan.)

The state of MN has ended a $1.7 million moose research project which involved fitting both newborn calves and adults with GPS collars.  More than a dozen of the collared calves were abandoned by their mothers and five of the collared adults died.  (Thanks Clarice.)

Dog Runs Home After Being Shot by ACO 5 Times, ACO Hunts Him Down

Max with family, as shown on the WVVA website.

Max with family, as shown on the WVVA website.

West Virginia – On April 21, Tamara Curry’s dogs Max and Tyson accidentally escaped the family’s fenced yard and were roaming the neighborhood.  Someone called Greenbrier Co ACO Robert McClung about the dogs.  ACO McClung loaded Tyson into his vehicle but says Max was growling, showing his teeth and coming towards him so he shot the dog 5 times.  The wounded pet went to his bed on his porch to lay down.  ACO McClung says he then dragged Max off the porch.

Ms. Curry, who had been asleep inside the house with her children but was awakened by the gun shots, heard ACO McClung tell Max, “That’s what you get for being stupid.” She then heard more gunshots and the sound of a vehicle driving away. Curry, who had not come outside during the incident because she did not know who the lunatic with the gun was or what he might do next, found a note slipped under her door by ACO McClung which read “We have removed 2 dogs from your property.”

Ms. Curry is heartbroken because Max was family.  She says he was never aggressive and was a good dog.  She doesn’t believe McClung should stay employed as an ACO because he’s not doing his job:

“I feel that there should have been some other step done first. I don’t feel he’s compassionate. I will quote his business card. It says serving and protecting man’s best friend. I don’t feel he did that. I don’t feel he did the steps to protect my dog.”

I would agree that an ACO whose one and only tool in the toolbox for dealing with growling dogs is GUN should not be on the job.

McClung tells WVVA that there was nothing he could have done differently, especially with Max coming at him. While some outraged citizens worry he isn’t trained, McClung says he is only one of 100 people nationwide that has the level of training he does from the National Animal Control Association.

What special NACA training is he referring to?  And where are the other 99 bozos we have to protect our pets from?

Greenbrier Co has fined the Curry family for having dogs off leash and for expired licenses and rabies tags.  There are still blood stains on their porch.

Concerned citizens are expected to attend tonight’s county commissioners’ meeting to demand that McClung be fired.  McClung is confident that won’t happen and in fact, isn’t even bothering to attend the meeting.

(Thanks Julie and Clarice for sending me this story.)

Chicago Pound Leaves Dog in a Van for 5 Days

"Waaaaaateeer" Missy, as pictured on the NBC Chicago website.

“Waaaaaateeer”
Missy, as pictured on the NBC Chicago website.

That pillar of animal care and control, the Chicago pound, is once again pillaring all over the animals.  Pound staff brought 14 dogs to the Chicago Wolves hockey game for an adoption event on Saturday, April 18.  A dog called Missy was reportedly “having problems” at the event and was taken out to a cage in a city vehicle.  Missy was left unattended in the cage for the remainder of the adoption event and for the next five days.  A volunteer found Missy on Thursday night, April 23, “barely alive” and still caged in the van which was parked in a city lot a mile from the pound.  Someone called the police, who immediately went into corrupt enabler mode:

Police said they do not know specifically how many days the dog was left inside the van.

[…]

Police say it was an accident and they do not expect any criminal charges.

We don’t know how many days the dog was left in the van because math is hard and also a very inexact science.  But we don’t need to know how many days it was because even if it was 5 or 3 or 53, we know it was just an oopsie.  And oopsies are not crimes when committed by city employees I guess.

Pound spokesmen describe Missy as “playful” and suffering “no health issues” after being neglected for 5 days.  Which totally gels with the “barely alive” thing.  Maybe she was too weak to stand and had to be carried and they figured she was “playing dead”, I don’t know.

Anyhoo the pound will investigate itself in the matter and depending on the findings, may go so far as to take disciplinary action against someone.  Which is exactly the same punishment as would be doled out to a regular citizen who neglected a dog so egregiously no doubt.

In addition to determining who left Missy in the van instead of returning her to the pound after the adoption event, I have more questions.  Who signed off on feeding Missy every day from April 18 through April 23?  Who signed off on walking her?  Who made the daily notations in her records about her general well-being?  Are any of those people going to face the dreaded disciplinary action?

Chicago taxpayers need to demand that pound employees do their jobs and be held accountable when they don’t.  For whatever that demand might be worth.

(Thank you to everyone who sent me links on this story.)

Weekend Jade

Open Thread

Post anything animal related in the comments, anytime. New Open Threads are posted weekly.

Artist:  Lorraine Loots (via Instagram)

Artist: Lorraine Loots (via Instagram)

Citrus Co: If It Ain’t Broke, Break It

Volunteers at the Citrus Co shelter in Florida say they have been instrumental in increasing the save rate and decreasing the length of stay at the facility.  This week, the board of county commissioners held a workshop regarding the shelter and there was a packet of information posted online which included various statistics.

Portion of material presented at the Citrus Co Board of Commissioners meeting on April 21, 2015.

Portion of material presented at the Citrus Co Board of Commissioners workshop on April 21, 2015.

Portion of material presented at the Citrus Co Board of Commissioners workshop on April 21, 2015

Portion of material presented at the Citrus Co Board of Commissioners workshop on April 21, 2015

Volunteers were stunned to learn during the workshop that the county is considering a change in policy that would almost certainly result in increased killing at the shelter and that county commissioners appear to be in favor of it.  I requested a copy of this policy change from Citrus Co Public Information Officer Tobey Phillips but haven’t received any response.  However Ms. Phillips appeared on the local news to explain the proposal:  Kill animals after 10 days.  Since the average length of stay for both dogs and cats at the shelter is currently more than 10 days, the likely result of this change would be a significant rise in pets leaving the shelter in garbage bags.

The packet presented at the workshop looks like it was put together by someone who hates animals.  There is support for MSN (a punitive law which has failed to decrease killing everywhere it’s been tried), opposition to TNR (in the form of old articles from cat hating groups), and documentation of a minor incident between a child and a dog at an offsite adoption event (which is the reason the county has suspended the offsite adoption program).  Much of the remainder is focused on money.

What the Citrus Co board of commissioners doesn’t seem to be taking into account here is that increased killing goes hand in hand with decreased community support.  If the volunteers who have worked so hard to get more animals adopted and rescued start watching their animals go into the dumpster, they aren’t likely to continue raising money and donating their time to the shelter.  The public will likewise be turned off, as is commonly found in many communities where the residents know the local shelter is a depressing death house.  Compassionate donors don’t like to give money to places that kill animals.

Shelter volunteers are advocating for the animals by speaking out publicly and contacting the board of commissioners with their concerns about the proposed change.  Let’s hope it’s enough to force the board to see reason.  Citrus Co has some good things going for it at the shelter, no need to flush it all away.  And while continued improvements would be the preferred route, even if all the board manages is to do nothing at all, that would be better than implementing this arbitrary kill order.

Treats on the Internets

An owner surrendered her house cat to a vet clinic in GA and staff called DeKalb Co AC to pick up the friendly pet.  When a rescue group contacted the pound to ask about helping the cat, they were told the AC worker had dumped her in a park instead of bringing her to the pound.  (A scenario which will undoubtedly delight the so-called animal welfare groups in favor of abandoning cats instead of sheltering them.)  DeKalb Co says it was an oopsie, never happened before, workers will receive additional training… you know the drill.  (Thanks Clarice for the link.)

Fourteen pitbulls were “rescued” from what appears to have been a dogfighting operation in LA. Police were conducting a drug raid when they discovered the injured and abused dogs. The dogs were taken to East Baton Rouge Animal Control where they were immediately photographed as evidence then killed. Ignorant bastards.

The USDA APHIS Wildlife Services killed 2.7 million animals last year, including 16 “pets or livestock” and 1001 “feral or free-ranging” dogs and cats.  (Thank you Arlene for the link.)

Poland – Resident shelter cat helps pets receiving vet care to heal.  (Thanks Lisa.)

A few brief excerpts from the 2015 International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants Feline Behavior Conference.

The most interesting cat paintings of artist Louis Wain, who was schizophrenic.

Animal sculptures made of salvaged plastic

Computer bugs

Name That Animal

This is just for fun and the only rule is:  no researching.  Post your best guesses on this obviously awesome animal in the comments.  Reading other people’s answers before posting your own is obviously not awesome optional.  Answer will be posted in the comments tomorrow.

nta

Yellowstone Co AC in Need of Reform by Way of Gasoline and a Match

The Yellowstone Co Sheriff’s Office in Montana supervises the animal control division for the county – which is not something I’d disclose on a resume or while being waterboarded, even.  Yellowstone Co’s AC is a putrid pile of slack-ass fraud designed to kill animals while putting forth the least possible amount of effort – all on the taxpayer’s dime.

John Fleming, the county ACO, picks up lost and homeless animals – that is, when he’s working, which is just 7am – 2pm Monday through Friday.  People looking for their lost pets or needing help with animals at any other hour are referred to the sheriff’s office.  This is the scam that the county has been running, reportedly for years:

Dogs are picked up by the ACO and taken to a local vet/grooming/boarding facility.  The ACO fills out some sort of DIY spreadsheet with info on each dog (where found, gender, whether the dog was killed or adopted, etc.) that possibly no one else knows how to read.  Oh and this is when he gets around to it, which might be several days after impound or after he’s already killed the dog.  And the spreadsheet is full of holes where he fails to document basic information such as whether the dog was wearing a collar and what exactly happened to the pet.  Photos are not taken, nor are animals networked online, despite having volunteers with a proven record of success willing to perform these tasks.  ACO Fleming said in an interview:

“I think it would be more of a hindrance to put dogs online… . We don’t run a humane society or an adoption agency.”

Aaaaanyway, when owners call the sheriff’s office to ask if their lost dog has been picked up, they are generally told no since the documentation is either non-existent or contains erroneous and missing data on the spreadsheet (which it’s unclear if anyone can read).  Owners may know that impounded dogs are taken to the local vet facility but the vet there, who gets paid $17,000 a year by the county for use of his facility, won’t allow people to come in and look for their lost pets because he’s running a business and they are not paying customers.  But if an owner is willing to pay an “estimated boarding fee” at the sheriff’s office, they could take the receipt to the vet facility, be allowed to look at the impounded dogs and if their pet was not among them, drive back to the sheriff’s office for a refund.

That’s the thumbnail version of the fraud being perpetrated by the county with regard to dogs.  Who are lucky when compared to the hundreds of cats picked up in Yellowstone Co every year:

Fleming, in an interview with Last Best News, said there was no county ordinance on cats, and that “we don’t allow impoundment of cats.”

“They’re treated no differently from skunks, raccoons, coyotes—a nuisance animal,” Fleming said. With rare exceptions, he said, when he picked cats up they were taken to a small shed behind the county shops, just west of the jail, where he would euthanize them.

Even cats whom rescue groups offered to take were reportedly killed instead of live released.

Although Fleming may have been certified to kill animals at some time in the past, he is not now and, after being questioned by the local news about it, reportedly stopped killing animals in January.  Apparently that took all the fun out of it because after 24 years as an ACO, Fleming put in for a transfer within the sheriff’s office and will be working as a process server as soon as the county hires a new ACO.

Animal advocates say they met with County Commissioner John Ostlund 3 years ago to discuss their many concerns over the needless killing of owned and homeless pets by Fleming.  Changes were promised but never materialized.  After the recent local investigative reporting on Fleming’s abuse of power went public, Ostlund claimed he was shocked, shocked I tell you, to hear such things:

“I have been under the impression that he (Fleming) is doing a bang-up job,” Ostlund said. He said he hadn’t heard any new complaints about the division, and “complaints and compliments are the only way we have of getting a grip on what’s going on.”

Right.  Because it would be completely impossible for anyone to actually check.  Like, look at the county records or ask some questions or something, especially after complaints were recorded.  Nope, the default position is apparently assumed excellence.  Nice work, if you can get it.

Yellowstone Co is paying a guy who for 24 years was picking up cats and literally taking them to the woodshed for killing.  He’s been impounding dogs, leaving a paper trail that any 3rd grader would be embarrassed to turn in, stashing them in a vet’s office under some kind of pay-to-play scheme then killing them based upon his unqualified behavioral assessments while lacking the appropriate certification.  The county pays a vet $17,000 a year to house lost and homeless dogs while allowing the vet to turn away anyone and everyone who might be interested in getting the dogs out alive, including their owners.  The county commissioner, who has known about the problems for years, now says he assumed everything was pie in the sky because hey, everybody likes pie.

Taxpayers in Yellowstone Co deserve better and so do their pets.  They need to stand up and demand it, publicly and loudly and immediately.

(Thanks to the reader who sent me this link.)