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:
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
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; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; DebbieLFraser@bellsouth.net
Subject: Re: MAS in Click Magazine
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.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
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:
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
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”.
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:
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.
125 N. Main St. Room 700
Memphis, Tn 38103
Janet P. Hooks
Director, Parks and Neighborhoods
125 North Main, Ste. 200
Memphis, TN 38103
Deputy Director, Parks and Neighborhoods
125 North Main, Ste. 200
Memphis, TN 38103
(Thank you to everyone who sent me info on this story.)