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.