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Death Policy

Memphis Animal Services Advisory Board passes resolutions regarding euthanasia at the animal shelter.

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In early 2012, an undercover investigation netted three Memphis Animal Services employees — Billy Stewart, Archie Elliott III, and Frank Lightfoot Jr. — grossly abusing animals in the euthanasia room. In one instance, Elliott hung a Chow dog by his leash over a sink and injected euthanasia drugs into its heart without sedation.

Memphis Animal Services (MAS) Advisory Board members passed two resolutions last week that, if adopted by the city's administration, would attempt to prevent such abuse.

The resolutions suggest that all animals being put to sleep at the shelter receive tranquilizing drugs beforehand and that the euthanasia process is filmed by a live-feed camera. They were passed at the board's quarterly public meeting at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library last week.

Because the body is an advisory board, their resolutions don't immediately become city policy. Instead, they're meant as suggestions to Division of Parks and Neighborhoods director Janet Hooks, who has the final say in shelter policy.

At the meeting, MAS director James Rogers told the board that, currently, only 10 to 15 percent of the animals that are euthanized receive sedation drugs beforehand.

"Animals that are aggressive, fractious, or are difficult to administer the [euthanasia] solution to are sedated," Rogers said.

But board chair Stephen Tower, who owns his own veterinary practice, told Rogers that it's more humane to sedate every animal before he or she is put to sleep.

"At Memphis Animal Clinic, we sedate every animal [that is being euthanized]. It's easier on the animal, and it also makes it easier on the client. It's not a shock to the system," Tower said.

Cindy Sanders, a long-time advocate for shelter reform, agrees: "If Mr. Rogers doesn't see the need to sedate every animal before they are killed, that is not humane. That means dragging an animal to the euthanasia room and sometimes strapping it down and killing it. And if he doesn't get that it's humane for the animals, he should at least do it for his employees. An animal that is not upset and trying to fight is less stressful on the employee."

It wasn't clear in the meeting whether or not the budget would allow for the amount of tranquilizing drugs to sedate every animal. But Rogers later stated that with about 7,000 animals euthanized each year, he would estimate the cost to sedate them all at around $18,000.

Sanders said local animal advocates have already discussed ways to fund the purchase of tranquilizers if the city claims it cannot afford them.

The other resolution passed last week suggests that Rogers should install in the euthanasia room live-feed cameras that do not retain recordings. Other areas of the shelter are monitored with cameras that feed into the administration's offices, but there is not one in the euthanasia room.

"We've asked for the camera because it protects the animal, and it protects the workers. If they're not doing anything wrong, there's nothing to hide," said Mary Marjorie Weber Marr of Memphis Pets Alive, a group that finds homes for shelter animals.

The board has been requesting some sort of camera in that room since the trials of Stewart, Elliott, and Lightfoot. But the city has previously denied such requests.

"I think the city will go for the live-feed camera. The city has expressed [in the past] that they do not want a camera in the euthanasia room because the videos can be pulled through open records," Sanders said. "If that is their only reason, then a live-feed camera is the perfect solution."

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