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Sheltered Life

Memphis Animal Services incident prompts rescuers to question euthanasia practices.

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In mid-October, Lisa Trenthem with Good Dog Rescue planned to adopt three stray dogs from the Memphis Animal Services shelter on Tchulahoma. Despite Trenthem's plans, one of the animals she wanted to adopt — a Border collie mix — wouldn't make it out of the shelter alive.

According to Trenthem, a long-time rescuer, the dog's cage indicated that it was slated for euthanasia due to allergies. Though Trenthem insisted she'd take the dog to the vet, shelter employees refused to release the animal. Trenthem left with two other dogs but returned several minutes later.

"When I got back, the dog was not in her cage. I went to the euthanasia room," Trenthem says. "I could see the dog on a cart with her mouth strapped shut. I told them to stop what they were doing, but the door slammed in my face."

Trenthem and about 50 other citizens have formed a coalition to address the shelter's euthanasia policies, as well as other concerns.

The group wants the shelter to let rescue groups adopt sick dogs if the groups are willing to pay for vet care. In 2006, the Memphis animal shelter euthanized roughly 12,000 dogs.

The group also hopes to revive the shelter's now-defunct citizen advisory board. The board, which hasn't been active since the late 1980s, set adoption fees, determined shelter hours, and investigated complaints of animal cruelty.

At a meeting last weekend, Trenthem told coalition members that director of public services and neighborhoods Keenon McCloy has promised to look into extending adoption hours. The shelter is currently open for adoptions 26 hours a week.

Scrap-metal dealer Allen Iskiwitz estimates the shelter makes $75,000 for every 1,000 dogs adopted. "Without a director, the people at Memphis Animal Services aren't thinking about the economic advantages of adopting animals rather than euthanizing," he says.

The shelter has not had a director since former administrator Phil Snyder left in April.

McCloy says people can adopt sick dogs if the illness is not contagious to other animals or humans. Dogs showing signs of dieases such as parvo and distemper are euthanized.

"Take heartworms. It's very costly to treat, but it is treatable," McCloy says. "A dog with heartworms might be eligible for adoption if there was a commitment to follow through on treatment."

But Trenthem doesn't believe shelter employees always follow the policy. "The dogs they're saying are sick aren't always sick," she says. "[If a dog sneezes, they'll] claim it's a sign of distemper."

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