Please find below a letter that the Cooper-Young Community Association wrote to Mayor AC Wharton in regards to our concerns about the current state of the Memphis Animal Shelter. Given the high number of pet owners in our community, as well as a clear interest by residents in overall pet safety and treatment, we felt the need to express our thoughts and concerns. A copy of the letter was also sent to Councilwoman Wanda Halbert. We will of course pass along any feedback or response that we receive from the Mayor.
Dear Mayor Wharton:
The Cooper-Young Community Association (CYCA) would like to thank you for the positive improvements we have seen in Memphis in the past few years. Prior to your term as Mayor, we witnessed a city with endless potential but that had become apathetic and downtrodden because of high crime rates and a lack of strong leadership. When the CYCA tried to work with the city government on resident concerns, our communication often fell upon deaf ears, action taken moved at a painstakingly slow pace, and groups that tried to help enact positive change faced endless hurdles and little support from the government. We honestly never expected the government of Memphis to embrace a skate park, miles and miles of bicycle lanes and inner city amenities such as the Greenline. It was a very proud moment when the City of Memphis stood in support of these urban features. The CYCA had the expectation that you and the City of Memphis would address and remedy another important concern, but sadly that has not been the case.
When you took office, the public had little or no faith in the Memphis Animal Shelter (MAS) due to mistreatment of animals resulting from the lack of administrative oversight and employee misbehavior. There was a high level of frustration and mistrust from residents of Cooper-Young towards MAS, because our neighborhood is very pro-pet. It was strongly believed that under your leadership, MAS would undergo positive reforms including a decreased euthanasia rate, an improved level of treatment of animals in its care and better education and outreach within the City of Memphis. Sadly, after 3 years and a new state-of-the-art facility, we have found that little has changed. This causes the CYCA board and the residents we represent great alarm and discouragement.
As you are probably well aware, pets are a common sight in Cooper-Young. From dog-walking after work to porch cats on the stoop and even the occasional parrot hanging out while its owner is dining on a patio, animals are prominent in our neighborhood. When a pet is lost or found in Cooper-Young, it is actively networked within our neighborhood by residents via social media, email blasts and word-of-mouth. In fact, those social media posts tend to have the highest levels of shares, views and retweets over many of our other news items. Due to resident demand, we even have a Flickr page with neighborhood pets and their owner’s information as a tool for reuniting them with their families. Once a year, we host an annual Cooper-Young Dog Day at the Park, and other residents gather informally each day at Overton Bark. Many have adopted their pet from local rescues or MAS or the pet happened to find them and they kept it in fear of what would happen to it at MAS. Our residents tend to be very passionate and politically aware. The CYCA’s mission is to make Cooper-Young a safer, more desirable place to live, worship, work, and play, and our residents have clearly demonstrated that pets and their role in our lives fit into making a desirable place to live. Therefore, the treatment of animals in Memphis is an important topic that we felt the need to address on their behalf. We recognize that some of the improvements that were hoped for are outside of your realm of control and may call for stronger measures, but you do have the ability to directly make positive strides in the how Memphis and the Animal Shelter takes care of animals within its facility.
As of late, there have been repeated incidents of blatant abuse of animals at MAS, so much so that the Memphis Police Department felt the need to send an undercover officer in to investigate. While the CYCA applauds the MPD’s actions to investigate and prosecute, as well as any input you had into that decision, it concerns us that employees’ behavior was not corrected and documented earlier by supervisors and, if necessary, the employee terminated. This is also disquieting to us because it signifies an ingrained work culture that turns a blind eye and possibly condones this type of misbehavior and inhumane treatment and/or does not provide adequate options for disciplinary actions for supervisors to utilize.
The CYCA is also concerned because MAS has a very insular reputation. In regards to this secretive reputation and concerning employee behavior, it is also our understanding that there was a private donor that wished to donate sedation drugs for animals that were going to be euthanized so they would endure less stress and pain in their final moments of life, but they were declined. If this is the case, then that is simply reprehensible. If a Cooper-Young resident’s pet was ill or, even worse, mistakenly put down, it would be heartbreaking to know that simply because it would alter existing procedures, that pet was euthanized without sedation and suffered in its last moments despite a generous offer to help alleviate that pain.
In regards to animals that have indicators of an existing home, all reasonable means should be exhausted to find its owners. Teresa Martin of Lost and Found Pets of the Midsouth has repeatedly contacted MAS and offered her expertise in looking up disconnected phone numbers, tracking down unregistered microchips and connecting a dog with an electric fence collar to a possible owner, but this offer is very rarely, if ever, accepted even if it means a pet is reunited with its owner and is no longer utilizing the valuable resources of MAS. We know firsthand that good volunteers are hard to come by and more help is always needed, but until volunteers have confidence in the organization they are assisting and feel empowered to make a difference, you will be severely lacking in one of your best resources.
It is also our understanding that all intake animals are supposed to be photographed and posted on PetHarbor. Since this time last year, the number of pages and animals displayed on PetHarbor has decreased from around an average of 20-24 pages to only around 14-18. Although photographing and posting to PetHarbor may seem like a trivial procedural task, this increases the level of transparency of MAS while the cameras are no longer in place. There is a very real fear among Cooper-Young residents that if their dog or cat was to become lost and subsequently picked up by MAS, it might not be reunited with the owner due to procedural negligence or apathy even if the owner checks MAS and/or the pet is microchipped. We strongly believe that if there is an active effort to reunite beloved pets with concerned citizens, MAS and the City of Memphis can earn back the trust of its public, and your objectors and naysayers will become your advocates.
While we will always dream of the day that no animal will have to be euthanized for lack of a home, we do recognize that there is a significant issue with pet overpopulation in Memphis. Until stronger spay and neuter laws are enacted, and citizens realize the importance of having their pet “fixed” – a topic that we frequently remind residents the importance of – MAS will continue to have to deal with a significant stray pet population. That being said, there are frequent reports that animals are being euthanized for “lack of space” while there are numerous empty kennels at the new facility. Although we can understand the budgetary concerns of running at full capacity, we strongly believe that all animals deserve a fair chance at being adopted unless there are very extenuating circumstances preventing this. To the CYCA, this is what a progressive, urban city with a new facility that it is proud of does, because it represents not just how it treats animals but how it treats all life within its boundaries. This is what is necessary for you to meet your own goals and uphold the values listed on the City of Memphis website.
In conclusion, while we are encouraged by many of the changes that have taken place in the City of Memphis since you became Mayor, and we feel that you are interested in the Memphis Animal Shelter, the CYCA deeply believes that more must be done. The recent behavior by employees at MAS is shameful, inhumane and casts a negative light on the city as a whole. In order for Memphis to truly be viewed as a “City of Choice” more direct, bold action must be taken and the MAS reformed once and for all.
The Cooper-Young Community Association
CC: Wanda Halbert, Memphis City Council
Should you have any additional feedback or thoughts, you may email us at firstname.lastname@example.org