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.)

Leave a comment

24 Comments

  1. sarahjaneb

     /  April 30, 2015

    This makes me sick. It was such a great opportunity to get animals adopted and possibly even improve MAS’s reputation, and they completely f’ed it up because they just can’t stop themselves from killing.

    Reply
  2. I hope the photographer has the wherewithal and fortitude to continue to pursue the reprehensible killing of David – and the lame ass excuses and justifications given by administrators. Poor dog.

    Reply
  3. Beth Spencer

     /  April 30, 2015

    Rogers has been nothing but insensitive and deceitful to the very people who do his job for him. When his live-release rate goes up, he looks like a saint. Please, everyone email your thoughts and issues with MAS, so they well hold him accountable!

    Reply
  4. Jody

     /  April 30, 2015

    Sarajaneb – You are so right – quite the sick obsession with their love to kill – and they do! :(
    Beth – This story had such hope for so many happy endings/beginnings…..but as usual, Rogers found a way to F it up! When it appears that the adoption numbers improve – it definitely is not because MAS is doing a good job (or even, just doing their job), it is because the plethora of rescue groups and concerned citizens (aka irresponsible public) market the pets, find fosters, and save them. Shirley even posts “pet of the day” per our request and helps find these pets homes. I can’t help but chuckle – I hope I am allowed to say this – but James Rogers “pucker factor” must have been very great when he realized that back pedalling wasn’t going to work on this story….that poor David’s death was WRONG and as hard as he tried to lie his way out of it – the TRUTH prevailed!!!!- he doesn’t like dogs and cats (he refers to them as “it” even when their gender is known or they have a name), he lies, he has no compassion, and he doesn’t know how to do his job! Election time is coming up – OUT with the old and IN with the new! :)
    Thank you, Beth and Shirley for always speaking up for those that can’t!

    Reply
  5. mikken

     /  April 30, 2015

    James Rogers…yeah. The man loves appearances. Reality is his weak spot and he knows it, so he pirouettes with the truth until it resembles something he approves of…because what it looks like is more important than what it actually is, in his mind.

    Well, here was an opportunity to have your appearance look good, James. You had a MAGAZINE ARTICLE for God’s sake featuring your shelter pets and by extension, your damn shelter. Shiny photos, green grass, friendly pets – yep, it all could have been yours for the appropriation (“Look at us! Don’t we do good stuff? Yeah, we’re awesome!”), but instead, you tainted it with your unending slaughter of shelter pets. Because you just CANNOT STOP YOURSELVES FROM KILLING, no matter how hard you try.

    Killing has become easy at MAS. Killing is the default setting. Killing is as commonplace there as pouring a cup of coffee and the staff does it all day long with as little thought as pouring that cup.

    The truth is that all of Memphis is suffering from a terrible crisis of leadership. Wharton is at the head of this parade to damnation and he is unlikely to do anything less than back Rogers because they’re golf buddies and what’s a few more dead dogs, anyway? And remember, Wharton backed MAS staff as “competent, caring professionals” – the same staff that was torturing animals in the kill room regularly and LAUGHING at animal suffering in their hands.

    So where has Rogers lead MAS? He thinks he’s doing a bang up job. I guess keeping twelve animals alive for a month is just too damn hard, though. Can’t be done. Got to keep on killing. And then lying about it. Another “oops” at MAS. No big deal to James Rogers.

    Reply
  6. Jody

     /  April 30, 2015

    mikken – great post!

    Reply
  7. Mattie

     /  April 30, 2015

    Wow. You would think they could come up with some type of system that would keep them from killing a specific animal. That’s what Rogers was supposed to be good at right? Management,
    Processes, record keeping, etc…. He certainly was hired for his animal sheltering experience.
    This happens often- Why can’t they figure it out? I feel like they all walk into work like robots…”must kill dogs. must kill dogs. must kill dogs.”

    Reply
  8. Mattie

     /  April 30, 2015

    I meant to say he WASN’T hired for his sheltering experience. ^^^^
    So what is he good at?

    Reply
    • Although he seems to be terrible in the oops-killing department, he does seem to know how to avoid oops-saving animals. I haven’t heard of a single animal on Rogers’ watch who made it out alive when they were put on the kill list.

      Reply
  9. Elizabeth

     /  May 1, 2015

    My precious little Jessie, a former MAS dog, is laying here beside me now. He was one of the lucky ones– rescued on his last day. He was heart worm positive and his time was up. It did not matter to MAS that he was a sweet little dog, only 2 years old. His life did not matter to them, not in the least. Rogers and his staff are cruel, heartless liars (that is about as polite as I can be). The mayor and other officials need to get some morals and do what is right– fire Rogers, who should never have been put in charge of innocent animals that deserve a chance at life.

    Reply
  10. Lizz

     /  May 1, 2015

    They do it because they can. They’re allowed time and time again to prove what high and mighty humans they are. They know what we think, they know they are wrong, but they don’t care. They view themselves as untouchable. And so far they have been.

    Reply
  11. KateH

     /  May 1, 2015

    If they only had the kennel space to keep them longer – oh, wait, they DO! How many kennels sit empty ALL THE TIME and these fuckers just can’t be bothered to TAKE CARE OF THE ANIMALS! They absolutely WANT TO KILL otherwise they’d water, feed, and clean the cages which isn’t that damn difficult, unless you’re a MASHOLE!

    Reply
  12. Jody

     /  May 1, 2015

    KateH – Bravo!!!! :)

    Reply
  13. Beth

     /  May 1, 2015

    Rogers told the media that the dog was evaluated on the 19th. Now, where is that in the records?! NONEXISTENT! Lies, lies lies.

    Reply
    • sarahjaneb

       /  May 1, 2015

      “Rogers said, if they agree to hold animals while awaiting a publication date in the future, that MAS will take extra steps to prevent the animals from being euthanized.” And it never occurs to them how ass-backwards this is. They shouldn’t have to take extra steps to NOT kill an animal; they should have to take extra steps before killing.

      Reply
    • mikken

       /  May 1, 2015

      Interesting that he’s owning up the error (sort of), now. I guess the documentation was a little hard to argue with on that one.

      Reply
  14. Margaret

     /  May 3, 2015

    I was told by a kennel worker that they only feed the dogs enough to maintain their weight. That means if a malnourished animal comes in, they feed him the minimum, rather than enough to try to put weight on them. In essence, the animal is only getting the amount of food he was getting prior to his being impounded. Pretty sad.

    Reply
    • mikken

       /  May 4, 2015

      They plan on killing them, anyway, so any more than that would be a waste of food, right?

      And yet…pallets of food seem to “disappear” out the back door…

      Reply
  15. Maybe there should be a time limit on the number of years one can be in control of the pound. Also, I would surely advise a psychological evaluation for any future and current employee, there, on a regular basis, say, every six months.

    Reply
  16. haas

     /  May 7, 2015

    You should create a petition on change.org!

    Reply
    • db

       /  May 7, 2015

      Petitions usually do not work. What works are phone calls and letters to those in charge, articles in the newspaper, being open about what’s happening . . . folks have been trying for years to do something about this cesspool of a slaughter house. Wharton, Rogers and their minions do not care about the animals. Support Memphis Pets Alive and other local rescues; they are trying.

      Reply
  17. Jay Miram

     /  May 8, 2015

    Petition needed!…………Sure glad none these people are in charge of a daycare. But, then again, many of us think of these precious ones as our kids! Further action is needed, is warranted and is justified. RIP David…….. So sorry the MAS system cost you your life!

    Reply

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