What is Memphis Hiding?

Stock photo via Pexels

From January through August 2021, one hundred animals have died in their cages at the Memphis animal shelter (MAS). Let’s be clear, despite best efforts and quality medical care, every open admission shelter is going to have an animal die on rare occasions. Animals come in sick, malnourished and/or orphaned. Not every one is going to survive. Good shelters are honest about this and build trust within the community by complying with open records laws. In fact, good shelters are eager to share records with the public because those records demonstrate a commitment to lifesaving, even when the outcome is death.

What Memphis does is to deny open records requests for medical records of the animals at the shelter, per this article published yesterday in the Elizabethton Star.

The city of Memphis contends that the laws entitling patients to privacy regarding their medical records do not make a distinction between human patients and non-human patients. Therefore, the city has adopted the view that animal medical records are exempt from public records requests due to the animals’ right to privacy.

Here be problems.

Firstly, are Tennessee residents who take their dogs to doggy daycare or boarding kennels able to cite their pets’ legal right to privacy when asked to show proof of vaccination? And if so, is anyone actually going to take their dogs to those facilities anymore?

Secondly, as pointed out in the linked article, why is the city still giving out information from animals’ medical records to rescue groups? Is there an exemption in the law indicating the right to privacy does not apply when it comes to animal rescuers? If so, does this mean an animal rescuer could walk into any human medical facility and start requesting patient records?

Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, what other Tennessee statutes don’t specifically distinguish between humans and non-humans? I haven’t read the state laws but for example, what, if any, distinctions are made in the laws regarding kidnapping, murder and criminally negligent homicide? Could staff at MAS be charged with any of these crimes for their actions at the shelter?

And finally, where does all this lead? Would a judge find that a reasonable argument exists for additional rights for animals based upon the city’s opinion that animals are entitled to the same medical record privacy that covers people? If so, which additional rights: some, all, or only the ones that might help cover up neglect?

This is all absurd, obviously. No one, except for Memphis, believes existing privacy laws written for humans also cover animals. But the city went there. It looks like a lawsuit will be needed to determine what precedent has been set and how it applies to other animal rights. Anyone want to get an injunction to stop kidnapping, murder and criminally negligent homicide at MAS until a court ruling is obtained?

One hundred animals falling over dead in their cages in an eight month period is alarming. Hiding the medical records on those (and all other) animals is deeply disturbing, especially given the history of abuse at MAS.

Supporting documents:

More than one hundred pages of medical records on various dogs sent in a group email from MAS to rescuers on July 12, 2021 which appear to be a violation of city policy.

Medical records on various cats sent in a group email from MAS to rescuers on July 12, 2021 which appear to be a violation of city policy.

Email correspondence between representatives from the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and the Tennessee Department of Health regarding the policy of denying medical records in open records requests.

Email correspondence between attorneys for the city of Memphis and the state of Tennessee regarding the policy of denying medical records in open records requests.

MAS stats for January 2021 (only dogs and cats reported)

MAS stats for February 2021 (only dogs and cats reported)

MAS stats for March 2021 (only dogs and cats reported)

MAS stats for April 2021 (all animals reported)

MAS stats for May 2021 (all animals reported)

MAS stats for June 2021 (all animals reported)

MAS stats for July 2021 (all animals reported)

MAS stats for August 2021 (all animals reported)

20 thoughts on “What is Memphis Hiding?

  1. this is horrible. Can the news media get on this and make it go viral? Something needs to be done asap

  2. Ah, MAS up to their old tricks, again. Well, that took some time, but not surprising.

    The fact that “privacy” issues – particularly for DEAD animals is what they’re shielding themselves with is utterly ridiculous. MAS doesn’t want folks to know what’s going on there – and they haven’t for a VERY long time, now.

    BTW, they aren’t picking up stray dogs, either – haven’t been for months. If a dog isn’t vicious, sick, or injured, they leave them on the streets and “encourage” locals to care for them. Not with any supplies or anything, just words, you know.

    All 4’s Rescue League has been leaving shelters for dogs in fields and areas where they congregate and providing food and water, too. They’re doing their best to get dogs s/n and off the streets, but it’s an uphill battle.

    I suspect that MAS doesn’t want to collect strays because they will affect their numbers. MAS has been and continues to be reactive, rather than proactive with the community. I had hoped new leadership would change that, but apparently not.

    1. ??? Not picking up strays? You can check their website daily and see all the new pets. Every. Day. How do you think they’re getting there????

  3. Thank you for continuing to show the truth about MAS! “They” make a choice to send out full records unsolicited to the masses (even outside of Tennessee!) or send records to a Tennessee taxpayer who submits a FOIA request. Yes, they have a choice to do what’s right. This is not transparency and only shows there is much that’s hidden. And in the end, who pays the price? Sadly . . . the dog or cat who sits in their kennel waiting for help.

      1. If you are asking for the individual animals’ records, you’d need to file a FOIA request. Records are limited to TN residents and then, only partial records are being provided.

  4. Okay, why do they have a category for “lost in care”? Do they misplace enough animals that there’s a box for it? WTH?

      1. If you would PM me I have other info on a couple of dogs that didn’t get a id number.

  5. Alexis Pugh took over MAS after having been fired from the Memphis Humane Society. One of her first acts was to codify retaliation against any rescue that criticizes them in public. She called the police on me for complaining about the abuse of one of the supervisors, Whitney van Zandt. The police and our fat little mayor know this is illegal but have been 100% behind her for their entire tenure.

  6. I remember all you hard work regarding MAS years ago. If memory serves, they threatened to sue you. I had hoped things had changed.

    This sounds like the city attorney may be using “creative” interpretation of the statute to see if anyone pushes back. HIPAA does not – repeat, does not – relate to animals at all. It is about the medical records of people. Claims by an attorney for the state health department about the confidentiality of veterinary records misses the mark – this is not a matter of me seeking records about Shirley’s dog. It is a matter of people seeking records for animals in the care of the City of Memphis which is a municipality under the law. There are some exceptions to the TN Open Records Act. Veterinary records are not one of them.


    I hope someone really pushes back on this. I call BS.

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