Last month, after a raid of the Memphis Animal Services Center at 3456 Tchulahoma found animals starving to death, a report of the facility cited several other problems, including lax documentation, poorly trained workers, and sick animals housed with healthy animals.
It seems the problems are ongoing.
A few weeks ago, Kate Mauldin went to the shelter to adopt a pit bull she named Kiddo. Before Mauldin was allowed to bring the dog home, shelter employees euthanized him, and she's still trying to find out why.
Rescue worker Becca Johnson had visited the shelter "to see if I could find dogs that had been overlooked by other volunteers, and this particular dog had a disposition that was so sweet, very calm, very mellow."
Johnson contacted Mauldin, who "fell in love with him immediately." As Mauldin filled out the forms, though, shelter workers told her that adopting a pit bull required a background check and a home visit.
"That's when they completely dropped the ball," Johnson said. "The process never went forward." Mauldin or Johnson called the shelter every day from December 3rd through the 10th and were always told to wait.
On December 11th, Johnson drove to the shelter and demanded to see Kiddo, and shelter workers admitted the dog had been euthanized the day before.
According to Johnson, shelter veterinarian Rebecca Coleman said Kiddo had distemper, but she refused to show Johnson any test results, saying she would have to request them from the city's legal services department.
Later that day, however, shelter administrative supervisor Mary Daniels left Johnson a voicemail, saying that Kiddo had been put down because "he was showing signs of aggression."
Records obtained from legal services tell a different story. The intake form, clearly stamped HOLD FOR RESCUE, shows Kiddo's temperament was "friendly" and his condition was "good."
The "Final Disposition" form, which confirms the dog was put down on December 10th, has boxes that list the "Re[ason] for Euthanasia." No boxes, including "Aggressive" or "Health," are checked. Instead, somebody has written "timid — sits back to door" and "does not respond to enticements."
At the bottom, someone scribbled "12/9/09 — coughing nares thickening MPND," or "mucosal prurient nasal discharge" ("nares" means nose). This can be a sign of distemper, but it can also suggest other diseases.
Kerry Hayes, a special assistant to Mayor A C Wharton, contacted Mauldin via Facebook, saying, "If Dr. Rebecca Coleman and Public Services director Janet Hooks indicate to us that they had sufficient cause to euthanize an animal, we have little choice but to trust their judgment."
That didn't set well with Mauldin, who responded, "Dr. Coleman told Becca that she can't remember every animal she sees, and I'm pretty sure that Janet Hooks did not go down and inspect Kiddo herself. Apology — not accepted."
Days later, Tonya Meeks, Wharton's communications specialist, told the Flyer that shelter workers thought distemper meant "bad temper" — thus the confusion about the explanation for the dog's death.
"The veterinarian found the dog had distemper, and it was then euthanized the next day," Meeks said. "In the between time, it is usually a courtesy — but not a written policy — that the folks at the shelter call anyone interested in adopting the dog, so they can decide if they still want him, and where that communication broke down, we are not sure. But we admit fault where that is concerned."
That doesn't make Mauldin feel any better about the fate of her dog: "That's all well and good, but if Kiddo did in fact have distemper, he caught it while no one was running a background check or making any effort to inspect my house. Their inability to do anything in an organized or timely fashion cost him his life."