MAS combats animal abuse, cruelty, and neglect

Prosecuting animal cruelty cases

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - More than 8,300 animals have been taken in by Memphis Animal Services so far this year.

While most of them are strays or owner surrenders, several hundred animals fall into the confiscate category, taken from owners because of abuse or neglect.

Isaac Christopher is one of 19 animal control officers with Memphis Animal Services.

"I try not to make too many presumptions on calls until I get there. I like to get there, analyze the situation, then go from there,” Christopher said.

On one call, Christopher determined a female dog and her ten puppies needed to be taken out of their current situation.

Intake notes show the adult dog, renamed Lady at MAS, was malnourished, tested positive for parasites, and had a severe limp in one of her front paws.

One recommended course of action was amputation.

"Every single day we get calls from this community about animals that are neglected or they’re in cruel situations,” said MAS Director Alexis Pugh.

While there are few exceptions, Pugh says most of the animals in the confiscate category are taken because of abuse, cruelty and neglect, more than 500 animals this year alone.

However, confiscation is not the goal - education is.

“For the most part we are seeing more minor violations where there are opportunities that that person can be helped to be a better pet owner,” Pugh said. “So that’s where we really want to be more of a resource than be punitive.”

Just this month, MAS received a grant, and teamed up with the group All 4s Rescue League to buy high-quality dog houses, so when an animal control officer sees an owner in need, they can help.

“We’re trying to get them in compliance,” Christopher said. “They may have a kennel as a dog house or may not have a dog house at all. So we try to encourage them, and give them vouchers to assist them in getting their dog spayed or neutered, rabies tag, and explain the importance of the animals having these different things."

In Lady’s case, her behavior was noted as “sweet,” her puppies “OK,” but underweight.

Now as this mom and her babies get the care they need, MAS hopes Lady's story creates a learning opportunity for other pet parents.

"Once they understand what’s going on, and if they love their animals, they usually cooperate and do what they need to do,” Christopher said.

Caring for abused animals is one thing, but prosecuting their owners is quite another.

MAS combats animal abuse, cruelty, and neglect

Jamie Moore is a mom to more than a dozen animals. Oliver the red tick hound is one of her latest adoptees.

"It’s cool to see him running in the backyard with his ears flapping now, and smiling,” Moore said.

Earlier this year, Oliver and six other hounds were found on a South Memphis property by animal control officers, who noted the dogs did not have adequate shelter, some were chained and their water was “murky, dark and nasty.”

“Trash and debris, feces,” Pugh said. “Just not what would be acceptable living conditions under the general maintenance clause of city ordinance.”

The owner said he hadn’t lived on the property for several months and came by once a day to feed the dogs and give them water.

That January day, he signed over all seven dogs to Memphis Animal Services.

"Every single day we get calls from this community about animals that are neglected or they’re in cruel situations,” Pugh said.

Between January and October 31 of this year, MAS confiscated 507 animals mainly for abuse, cruelty and neglect, a number quickly outpacing 2017′s year to date by 57 percent.

“To say that it’s happening more I don’t think we have the data for that,” Pugh said. “It’s not that it’s happening more, but we here at Memphis Animal Services are certainly prosecuting more, seizing more, and getting help for these animals than we ever have in the past.”

Animal Control Officers can only enforce the city’s animal ordinance, which includes spay and neutering mandates, registration fees and general shelter and food requirements.

An ordinance violation at most requires an appearance in environmental court and a $50 fine.

Extreme cases are turned over to Memphis police, who can enforce state level charges like felony aggravated animal cruelty.

Through August of this year, MPD responded to 504 animal cruelty calls down from a high of 771 calls in 2014.

"We see quite a few of those cases,” said Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich.

It’s up to Weirich to prosecute cases she says are tough to fight.

“Particularly when you’re talking about animals, when you’re talking about children, they can’t always tell us what happened,” Weirich said. “So, we really have to lean on evidence and other forms to make our cases.”

Over the last year and a half, the DA’s office has processed 50 animal cruelty cases.

One of its most recent cases involved this pup named Nino who was found chained in a yard, nearly starved to death.

According to court records Nino's owner Kellen Jones told police he had been out of town for three months looking for a job.

He made arrangements with his girlfriend to look after Nino, but he said the two broke up and Nino was left to fend for himself.

"We have no idea how the dog survived,” Pugh said.

Jones pleaded guilty to aggravated cruelty to animals and finished a diversion program, which means he can have the charge expunged from his record.

Memphis Animal Services took possession of Nino.

“For the most part we are seeing more minor violations where there are opportunities that that person can be helped to be a better pet owner,” Pugh said. “So that’s where we really want to be more of a resource than be punitive.”

Pugh says stopping animal neglect and cruelty requires much more than confiscating animals; the DA needs evidence to prosecute.

Animal control officers need neighbors to report abuse, and MAS needs people like Moore to provide dogs like Oliver with the love they deserve.

"I knew basically with food, love and some healthcare he could become a good pet,” Moore said.

Just this month, Memphis Animal Services received a grant and teamed up with a group to buy high-quality dog houses, so when animal control officers see an owner in need, they can help.

MAS says you can help by adopting an animal or choosing to foster.

You can also donate by visiting MAS' website.

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