I’m from the Deep South.  And though it certainly isn’t perfect, I love the Deep South. I love the people; I love the warmth; I love the welcome afforded total strangers.  And although I’ve never lived in Memphis, Tennessee, I have visited and loved it too.  From the Peabody Hotel to Mud Island to Beale Street, Memphis is a city with a soul.  A beautiful, powerful, complex and underappreciated soul.

But for all the City of Memphis has going for it, it is no overstatement to say that its animal shelter is and has been a stain on both the people and their community.

In August 2009, a white puppy with black spots, weighing 23 pounds, entered the shelter due to an animal-cruelty case.  Three weeks later, she was dead, shriveled and emaciated, the victim of “non-accidental starvation.”  The pound had done to her what her tormentors apparently couldn’t.

Multiple employees, including the shelter veterinarian, have been indicted on animal-cruelty charges.

In July 2011, a shelter employee picked up two loose family dogs in a neighborhood, but only showed up with one at the shelter.  That dog is still unaccounted for despite a 5-figure reward. The employee (with a long criminal history) who “lost” the dog let yet another dog die of heat exhaustion in her truck while she attempted to avoid arrest for whatever it is she did with the missing dog.

That was not an isolated incident.  The shelter “lost” 155 dogs in 2010.

Webcams, installed at the shelter to protect the animals, instead show instance after instance of abuse and neglect.

And although many communities across the country and even nearby Memphis are finding ways to save nearly 90% or more of impounded animals through marketing, fostering, and adoption programs, Memphis’s shelter killed almost 8 out of every 10 animals entrusted in its care in 2010.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  It doesn’t have to be a slaughterhouse.  It doesn’t have to be a national embarrassment.

But it will take enormous and uncomfortable change for it to be anything other than what it is right now.  It will take listening to the free, offered advice of the nation’s most preeminent animal-sheltering expert who has provided a roadmap for humane lifesaving in Memphis.  It will take citizens of Memphis who rise up and demand an end to the incessant and systematic abuse and killing of the community’s shelter animals. It will take the termination of every or nearly every employee currently at the shelter—in order to put any and all vestiges of its despicable present behind it.  And it will take true, caring, committed, and compassionate leadership—from the Mayor to the City Council to the City Management to the Shelter Management.  It will take open meetings, public transparency, and accountability.

It will definitely take no more excuses, Mayor Wharton, not a single one.  No more blaming dog fighters.  No more blaming lack of spay and neuter.  No more blaming the people of not only your community but surrounding communities.  It will take leadership who owns the problem rather than deflecting blame and eschewing accountability, and that includes you, Mr. Wharton.

So here’s your chance, Memphis.  Your embattled shelter director has resigned.

Here’s your chance to put the past behind you, to truly clean the slate, to turn a source of humiliation and shame into one of pride.  Will one of you step up and own this cause?  Will one of you stand up for animals in your community?  Will one of you be the person who fought for what was right and changed everything for your community’s lost and homeless pets?  Because I can promise you this:  it won’t be me who fixes your shelter.  It won’t be a famous national organization and it won’t be a blogger.

If anybody is going to burn that horrific place down to the ground and start it anew, it will be you.  And if not you, it will be no one.

32 Responses

  1. YesBiscuit! August 11, 2011

    Thank you Ryan.

    All my hopes…

  2. Will Spears August 11, 2011

    I had no idea that it was the animals of Memphis that were truly singing the blues, nor that the caretakers were the true animals.

  3. Sandy McIntyre August 11, 2011

    I’m sure there are many people, given the opportunity, that would burn than Hell Hole to the ground and not look back! This is the 21 century and you now have the opportunity to place the right person in charge and make this a “NO KILL” shelter. By cleaning house and and working with your community to do the right thing for the lost and homeless pets you can stand tall and maybe sleep at night. There are so many who will support this move! Do the right thing now!

  4. Scarlett August 11, 2011

    The door has opened…

  5. Stephanie Conrad August 12, 2011

    The saddest thing to me after all of the different postings/articles/etc about this incident that I have seen and read today is the response from the shelter & authorities in Memphis.

    The Memphis Mayor’s statement: ‘while I have not yet made a decision about the web cams, this incident is exhibit A for why they should not be in our shelter. Viewing the footage of yesterday’s ‘dog fighting’ incident and comparing it to the screen shot and caption currently circulating in the media shows exactly how manipulation of the webcam images has subjected our shelter employees to undue criticism and physical threats.’

    Okay… so I see the concern for employees. I don’t believe that fighting violence with violence in ANY situation is right, no matter how frustrating or obviously wrong a person is. But to go so far as to want to remove the cameras, which are pretty much the ONLY thing holding these employees accountable for what is happening inside this shelter, shows pure indifference from the mayor. Rather than deal with the problem, he wants to hide it away and take away any chance of his community knowing the truth…

    The government needs to step it up. It’s one thing to not be an animal lover or feel that other issues are more important, but to turn their heads to obvious violence and abuse (in this case and the many others) makes those elected officials just as guilty as the abusers themselves.

    Good riddance to Matthew Pepper. The time for change is here.

    Scarlett is exactly right… The door is open. Now we need to walk in and let it be known that this abuse will NOT be tolerated in our shelters.. anywhere!

    [End Rant]

  6. Sheila Peterson August 12, 2011

    Great letter…….This is outrageous! People from other states can’t solve this problem in Memphis…it will take MEMPHIS CITIZENS to stop up to the plate and take a stand! Surely there are hundreds of people that are outraged now?! This is YOUR problem! If it were happening here in my town, it would’ve been taken care of by now! What does the board of directors do about it? This is horribly shameful! Do something NOW!!! It can’t be all talk and no action – the animals NEED YOU! And one more thing….ensure that your mayor doesn’t get re-elected again!

  7. Ted August 12, 2011

    Why is it that a thoughtful commentator who chooses to dedicate more than 140 characters to an issue, and who writes in a coherent, grammatically correct manner about an important issue, feels the need to end her post with, “[End Rant]“?

    • cmoore56 August 12, 2011

      @Ted: You said “Why is it that a thoughtful commentator who chooses to dedicate more than 140 characters to an issue, and who writes in a coherent, grammatically correct manner about an important issue, feels the need to end her post with, “[End Rant]“?” Really? Is your response all you really mean to say here? Really??? So, no speaking up for the animals, no condemnation of the animal killers, no acceptance of responsibility for the killing of animals, no support of non-violence…in effect, no nothing?? You are just crazy…

  8. April - Fix Charlotte August 12, 2011

    Okay, if they don’t want webcams because the photos can be “taken out of context” then how about putting in continuous feed webcams? There’s too much deceit and wrong doing in that shelter. Do you (the people of Memphis) actually trust animal services enough to let them work without oversight? I think not!

  9. thewhalepeople.com August 12, 2011

    That is wonderful news that there is about to be a changing of the guards. Animals are hugged when they are needed, but lost and forgotten when Man moves on to other personal interests. It is great that you take to write about their plight and work to create a very much needed conscience in your city. I very much applaud you!

  10. Ghost of Elvis August 12, 2011

    So we’ve gone from accusing these two animal control officers with “getting a kick out of fighting dogs” to trying to separate two dogs fighting without getting bit? Surely, some bad judgment might be in play but since when is poor judgment a cause for the threatening comments that continue to pour out of this no kill movement? Am I too assume that a movement that preaches humane treatment of animals promotes threats and intimidation directed agt shelter workers? Mathew Pepper was right in resigning – who knows when some wack case advocate is going to take the law into their own hands and go off on Mathew or one of his family members. Where do we draw the line on acceptable behavior and behavior that clearly crosses the line? Should advocates be allowed or encouraged to put public workers “mug shots” on bollboards where their children are harrassed for having a parent who hates animals? We are quickly approaching a point were many of these sheltering jobs will be far too dangerous for people who care about animals to take them leaving only our police departments to staff them instead. Is that really what the no kill movement thinks will serve the animals interests?

    Then there is the repeated verbal and internet attacks directed at “Friends of the shelter” as well – lead by well known no kill guru Nathan Winograd’s message of hatred as well. If the leaders of the no kill movement that lead with professionalism why should we expect their follows to behave any differently.

    Let’s keep in mind that “out of state” blogger Shirley of Yesbiscuit has high kill shelters in her home state of South Carolina she seems perfectly willing to ignore. She is not part of any solution to the issues facing the fine citizens in Memphis – you are.

    • Ryan Clinton August 12, 2011

      I do not support threats or intimidation, and haven’t engaged in any such conduct. There is no room for violence in a movement dedicated to compassion. As for Shirley, she has done a magnificent job of shedding light upon the darkness of Memphis’s shelter. But she knows as well as anyone that it will take the people of Memphis to put an end to the madness.

  11. Amanda August 12, 2011

    Wow, Ghost of Elvis, I think your accusations go too far. Shirley from Yesbiscuit has clearly stated on many occasions that she does not condone violence or threats against MAS employees. Furthermore, her choice to focus on MAS is simply that, a choice, and it is one she in entitled to make. While out of staters shine the spotlight on the situation in Memphis, perhaps it will finally encourage more of Memphis’s citizens to take the situation into their own hands.

  12. Kelly K. August 12, 2011

    Thank you Ryan, great Blog. To Ghost of Elvis: please show proof of any threats lobbed at Matt Pepper or Friends of the shelter. If it’s internet attacks, then you should be able to screenshot and pass it on to us instead of making claims.

    If you have proof, I will show you its a wackadoo and not associated with No Kill in any way. Or perhaps, you have no proof.
    And nice Platform to bring up Nathan and Shirley, who as well as Ryan have only peacibly taken to blogging to bring light to this problem at MAS. I can count atleast 10 times where Shirley has asked for respectful letter writing campaigns.

    I just find your post oddly defensive. Would you have MAS remain as is? A shelter that kills 2 out of 3 animals for space and hires ex convicts?

  13. mikken August 12, 2011

    Well, Ghost of Elvis, given the history of dogfighting, abuse, neglect, and killing at the shelter, it was hardly a big leap to think that that’s what was happening in the webcam shot. But hooray, it was just incompetence! Let’s all rejoice. Yay.

    Matthew Pepper should leave Memphis – not because of alleged threats, but because he did nothing to stop the abuse and high kill rates. His current kill rate at Memphis is about 75%. His kill rate at Caddo Parish was more than 70%. Why someone thought that this man was capable of turning anything around for Memphis is beyond me.

    As for why bloggers are critical of Friends of MAS, it’s because FMAS had power to effect change there and instead chose to do NOTHING. They backed Pepper in his feckless reign knowing that the vast majority of dogs will never be seen by the public, never have a chance at being adopted, and continue to be hosed down in cages that they never leave except to go to the kill room. There are some very good people at FMAS. They should have demanded better. But their leadership is too weak or too unwilling to stand up for the animals – all the animals, not just the “lucky 30″.

    “In order for evil to flourish, all that is required is for good men to do nothing.” From Edward Burke

  14. Linda Bain August 12, 2011

    you have such a nice building and clean cages and so much room,WHY do you kill so many? My God, I’ve watched and there are so many empty cages but you can watch the workers dragging the dog one at a time to kill them. SHAME on you all!!!! Speaking of the workers, I’ve never seen so many people working with dogs and never pay them any attention. They use those damn sticks for everything. Like they are afraid of getting germs, it’s time to hire people that like dogs and will show them some love and respect. Poor babys, come on Memphis, sure us YOU have a heart!! Clean up YOUR act!!

  15. Evelyn Black August 12, 2011

    Somebody in Memphis, please step up and advocate for the animals in your city! What does it take to be hired as shelter director?? Surely any one of us could do a better job that what’s currently being done!

    Evelyn in Cincinnati

  16. Jeannette B. Samuels August 12, 2011

    Thank you Ryan for speaking up for these animals. Apparently, no one from the top down wants to step up and take responsibility for the going on there. This is why they don’t want cameras, this is why they are needed. House needs to cleaned from the top down and all being held accountable. There is no excuse on God’s green earth that they can come up with to excuse their actions. The time is now to end animal abuse! God Bless these animals and may he watch over them to protect them from people like them who are suppose to be protecting them.

  17. Kimber Brantley August 13, 2011

    Its great to hear about the Director. Its a baby step, but it is a start. I pray the new one is really a animal lover. I’m still so scared for the animals. I have email all the info to my local news media and will continue to do so with all my emails to everyone until this place is fully exposed and changes are made. I live here in Tennessee and love it, but really appalled by what is happening.

  18. Sylvia Myers August 13, 2011

    This situation is breaking my heart. If ever there was a need to stand up for animal rights and against abuse (and sadly there have been and will continue to be many) Memphis, this is it! Surely there is someone in the city that cares enough to stand up for these animals that cannot stand up for themselves. Please, please help these animals.

  19. Nancy Stinson August 13, 2011

    I finally found the video to the supposedly accidental dog fight. I tried not to be judgmental but, honestly, it looks to me like it was an accidently-on-purpose fight. The man facing the camera looked to me like he was enjoying this. Could he have not reached farther down the lead instead of holding just the loop? IMO, it was staged to look like an accident.
    I wish Mayor Wharton would follow in Pepper’s footsteps…

  20. Janet Smith August 13, 2011

    Oh please, once a killer always a killer. Michael Vick may have money to wipe out a cracked reputation but these people will always be bastards. This murderous place needs to shut down once and for all. It needs to be publicly punished. The people working there need to be publicly ostracized and put on a “cruelty” list. I show no mercy.

  21. liz johnson August 13, 2011

    just reading about how shelter life is makes me sick. if the shelter cant take care of the animals property then maybe they need new employees, of that doesnt work then shut the damn place down. a shelter is supposed to be a haven till homes can be found not another torture chamber. there’s enough abuse going on outside of the shelters that animals shouldnt have to be afraid to be in thier too. thats just plain bull$%* t !!! if ppl cant handle the animals then get in another line of work or if they get caught, arrest them like they do with all the other abusers!!!!!

  22. Erica August 14, 2011

    It amazes me that the people of this great country would stand by and watch 75% OF THESE ANIMALS KILLED!!!!!!! OMG I mean really this shelter should be re-named a slaughter house!!Or a Concentration camp? ! Since animals are being starved to DEATH! How can that happen in a “Shelter” last I checked shelter does not mean very certain chance of Death! THE FIRST one of these atrocities should have resulted in either immediate closure or total replacement of staff overseen by an independent agency.
    The only REASON this is happening is because we the People, who pay these guys salaries, ALLOW THIS TO GO ON! Please people of Memphis, you need to demand immediate change and the resignation of the Major!

  23. Barb Reed August 14, 2011

    This is unacceptable! If they were to catch me abusing my pets I would be thrown in jail and or fined. Why hasn’t something been done before now. Those poor babies don’t have a chance. And if the vet is in on the abuse he or she should lose their license. I don’t understand.

  24. Donnette Moseley August 14, 2011

    My son had his dogs picked up in Memphis. 3 pit bulls someone let out of his yard while he was at work, 2 of them were taken to the pound and he recovered them but the black male Pit Bull was never found. Even though he had several reports from neighbors stating they Pound did pick them all up,, the Mail was never found.. I fear the treatment he got from his new owners or where ever he ended up.. Such a shame these things are allowed to go on here in the USA or in any country for that matter..
    God has a special place for people treating animals in that fashion..

  25. Ms Leila August 16, 2011

    What a sickening story but thanks to you Ryan, so well written, so powerful that it should move the many who can make it happen. We animal lovers and shelter volunteers from other states can only say we stand with you, for them!

  26. Ann Mitchell August 27, 2011

    letters and emails to the mayor are ingnored, the public is not allowed to enter the Memphis Animal Shelter advisory board meeting except maybe once a quarter…billboards haven’t worked, yet…publicized dead dogs and cruelties, starvation & crimes committed by criminals don’t matter. Tell me how employees, volunteers, strangers can walk by a starving dog for 3 weeks and not feed it! Tell me how the ASPCA can come in for a few days, followed by the new director, Matt Pepper, who had a terrible record in Cado Parish, how good rescues and volunteers who have offerred help, medicine, gps systems, council for increasing adoptions, and all offers denied and being told “we don’t want people like you at MAS (direct quote from Bobby White.) Someone please tell me how this dungeon, cruel, dark and dank, has continued and will continue in the city of Memphis. Memphis, I believe in the ’50′s was awarded to best city in the U.S. to live……TELL ME, Please, what in the hell happened to this city government…..who runs MAS with an iron hand!

  27. Joni September 6, 2011

    Thank you so much for this article. More people need to learn about this and other animal shelters (pounds) that do so little to try to save the pets that enter their doors.

  28. Bonnie June 23, 2012

    Excellent- we
    Can just change the name of Memphis to the name of a thousand other hellholes for animals- it is a universal letter for all of us fighting the entrinched killing mentality.

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