Last summer, former Memphis animal control officer Demetria Hogan was arrested for animal cruelty when she failed to deliver to the shelter a pit bull she'd picked up on her route. Because her city-issued vehicle was not equipped with GPS, authorities had no way to track her whereabouts when the dog went missing.
The family pet — 11-year-old Kapone — was found months later at a house in Mississippi after months of investigation. But such an incident should be a thing of the past when Memphis Animal Services installs GPS tracking devices in its 18 animal control vehicles.
Interim shelter director James Rogers announced the shelter had purchased the GPS units at a Memphis Animal Services advisory board meeting last week. He said they'd be installed in vehicles within the next 45 days.
"It's an internet program where we can track our vehicles at any time, day or night," Rogers said. "These are very helpful in street management."
Rogers said he used such devices when he served as a senior manager for the U.S. Postal Service, the position he held prior to his shelter appointment last month. He said he was able to make sure postal carriers were in their territory, and he could track down employees who weren't where they were supposed to be. The devices can also help animal control officers in dangerous situations.
"If the officers are actually doing their jobs, then they're going into a very dangerous situation with no mace and no guns, and [without GPS], no one knows where you are," said local animal advocate Cindy Sanders.
Sanders said she's glad to see the city adopting the GPS units, but she's disappointed that it took Memphis Animal Services so long. Sanders, a former member of the advisory board, said the board recommended the units back in 2009.
"We offered them GPS free of charge. We were going to buy the equipment, have them installed, and pay for all of the software to connect it to their existing software," Sanders said.
But Sanders said the city turned down their offer. Public Services and Neighborhoods director Janet Hooks didn't return the Flyer's requests for comment as to why the city didn't take up the free GPS offer. Rogers said the city is paying about $11,000 for the 18 GPS devices.
"Once they decided they wanted them, they came back to us. But we said the person who was going to donate the money has already donated it elsewhere," Sanders said.
Another change coming to Memphis Animal Services is a canine agility course with tunnels, steps, and incline planes.
"We have a dog trainer who is advising us on how to design and develop the agility course, and she'll be training the employees here on how to train animals to heal, walk, and sit. We're hoping the agility course will make the dogs more adoptable," Rogers said.
Rogers said dogs at the shelter get very little outside time because they don't have enough volunteers to walk them. He's hoping to partner with a local Weight Watchers group to pair people looking to shed a few pounds with dogs to walk and play with on the agility course.
Sanders said she thinks the agility course is a great idea, but as a critic of the shelter's closed-for-adoption stray dog area, she said it's only benefiting the dogs Memphis Animal Services deems "adoptable."
"I think the agility course is needed, but it's only for the dogs that they deem adoptable. [The strays] don't have a chance," Sanders said. "If they could get a behaviorist out there to really assess every animal, that would be better."