Community has attitude that "animals are disposable," animal shelter report says

(WMC-TV) - A community-wide attitude that dogs are disposable will continue to prevent the Memphis Animal Shelter from becoming a problem-free, no-kill facility, a detailed Memphis Rotary Club report concludes.

In the 22 page report, submitted to Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, former shelter director Matthew Pepper claims his biggest problem was a difficulty in hiring and firing staff. Pepper cited labor union rules and lack of support from the city as the main culprits.

Pepper resigned his position as director earlier this year.

The Memphis Animal Shelter falls under the control of the city's Public Services and Neighborhoods Division, which has a $29 million budget. The shelter's budget makes up only 10 percent of that amount, yet Deputy Director La Sonya Hall estimates the shelter takes up nearly 90 percent of her time.

The report notes several claims that dogs are being sold "out the back door," and concerns that the shelter hasn't received any applications for an open veterinarian job that pays $90,000 per year, when a starter salary straight out of college pays $65,000.

Employees told the Memphis Rotary Club that morale was low because of public criticism. The report notes that one employee was publicly cursed at, while another was spat upon in a convenience store. It also claims there is a documented mistrust between volunteers and management.

Inventorying the animals also presents a challenge. As many as 150 were simply unaccounted for at one time. According to the report, the process of taking inventory of animals at the shelter is stressed and undermanned. It suggests incorporating the use of iPads."

Recently, Action News 5 took a tour of the new Memphis Animal Shelter. Administrators worry it will not relieve overcrowding, that there is no room for expansion and that the same number of staff will work in a building three times the size.

The report noted that many of the dogs brought to the shelter are pit bulls, which are used for dog fighting, and the potential for criminal activity is increased because of it.

"The employees at every level, while not willing to say so on the record, will readily volunteer that there has been a relationship between certain individuals and the illicit dog-fighting rings in the community," the report said.

Shelby County Sheriff's deputies raided the old shelter in October 2009, finding abused or neglected animals. The director, a veterinarian and an administrative supervisor were ultimately indicted on charges of aggravated cruelty to animals.

The Rotary report said a public education campaign about dog fighting will be necessary to correct the city's "attitude that animals are disposable."

"Until this is addressed, the shelter will continue to be overloaded, and not logistically capable of approaching any semblance of a no-kill facility," the report said.

Thursday, the Memphis Rotary Club declined an interview, saying the report stands for itself.

To download and read the complete report, click here.

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