KiddoIt was just announced that the Memphis Animal Shelter will be closed from today through Thursday, January 14, for staff training. Based on recent events, a few days is far from enough time to correct the problems plaguing the shelter.

While there are e-mail records of citizens expressing concern over problems at the shelter dating back to 2008, matters  started to come to a head late last year. Responding to allegations of abuse and mistreatment, city officials raided the shelter in October 2009. At least three dogs had died of starvation. In one instance, a 23-pound puppy was brought to the shelter in good health and within one month was dead from malnutrition. An autopsy concluded she had not eaten for at least 72 hours. Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton fired the shelter’s administrator, Ernest Alexander, saying “I am not an expert on (animal shelters), but I can walk in there and tell you if there is enough food or water in the bowl.”

Problems have persisted. Weeks later, Demetria Hogan was made a supervisor at the shelter; it was soon revealed that Hogan is a convicted felon with a long arrest record. More disturbingly, since the October raid, there have been two known instances of dogs being euthanized accidentally. In one case, a dog named Kiddo was killed even though a woman had already filled out the necessary paperwork to adopt him. Kiddo was neither vicious nor sick.

Despite the good efforts of groups such as Community Action for Animals Memphis and the Humane Society of Memphis, the home of Elvis and Stax Records has always had issues when it comes to animal welfare. For example, even before the current controversies, the death rate at the Memphis Animal Shelter had been steadily increasing, from 75 in 2006 to 119 in 2007 to 193 2008. This is in addition to the estimated 250 animals euthanized every week.

The Bluff City also has quite a fascination with dog-fighting. In October 2009, 18 dogs were seized in connection with a fighting ring, as were 14 dogs in August. It isn’t just canines, either. A cockfighting ring was busted in February of last year, with 80 birds seized.

Even a casual visitor to Memphis might notice a certain level of indifference towards animals. I was born and raised there, and whenever I return for a visit, I can’t help but notice the surprising number of emaciated stray dogs wandering throughout the city. It’s an odd sight, especially in such an urban area.

Hopefully, the tragic situation at the Memphis Animal Shelter will spur the city to take animal welfare issues more seriously. Mayor Wharton has appointed a special task force of veterinarians, animal professionals, and concerned citizens to try to improve the situation at the city shelter. That’s a step in the right direction, especially since expanded spay and neuter programs and encouraging more adoptions are apparently major parts of the agenda. If some good comes out of this horrible affair, then at least those poor dogs won’t have died in vain.

Photo Credit: For the Love of the Dog