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.
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)