Lucy Shaw has only been on the job for a week and a half, but the new interim facility coordinator for Memphis Animal Services has already started to clean up the mess her predecessor, former shelter director Ernie Alexander, left behind.
Shaw, a former CEO of the Regional Medical Center at Memphis, was hired by Mayor A C Wharton to determine what changes need to be made to the animal shelter. Earlier this month, the Shelby County Sheriff's Office raided the shelter, finding severely malnourished animals and poor living conditions. Alexander was fired as a result of the investigation.
"The Med and the animal shelter are both health-care facilities, but one's for displaced and homeless animals while the other is for two-legged animals," Shaw said. "I'm thinking of the shelter in the same context that I would a hospital."
In her first week, Shaw and a team of staff and volunteer vets surveyed the aging facility on Tchulahoma Road to determine what should be done.
"We spent the first week on the ground talking to people, trying to understand how the facility is supposed to work, and taking a look at what doesn't work," Shaw said. "We spent some time adjusting the air handling system [to prevent the spread of disease] and inspecting how we clean the facility."
Shaw said she's "only scraped the surface." Her appointment runs from 60 to 90 days, and part of her duties is determining what qualities the city should seek in a new shelter director. She's also charged with preparing staff for the upcoming move to the new animal shelter facility on Appling Road. The new shelter is slated to open next summer.
"This is a wonderful dry run," Shaw said. "We're trying to determine what we can do better and differently as we prepare to go into a facility twice the size as the one we're in."
While Shaw attempts to clean up the shelter, city councilwoman Janice Fullilove hopes to address the shelter's overcrowding problems with a citywide mandatory spay and neuter ordinance.
Fullilove and council member Kemp Conrad attempted to introduce the ordinance earlier this year, but it was delayed indefinitely during city budget talks. In light of recent problems at the shelter, Fullilove hopes to restart discussions in a council committee in a few weeks.
"People are bringing in animals to the shelter by the dozens, and something has to be done to stop the overcrowding," Fullilove said.
Such an ordinance would likely face fierce opposition from breeders, so some activists are pushing a citywide spay and neuter initiative rather than a mandatory ordinance.
"The word 'mandatory' turns a lot of people off," said Gail Phillips, who is backing a voluntary push for spay and neuter through low-cost clinic Mid-South Spay & Neuter Services. "We're trying to put together a program where we can go into communities and sign people up to have their pets spayed and neutered. We could transport the animal to the clinic and bring them back to their owners after having them spayed and neutered for free."
But Fullilove argues that a voluntary push wouldn't be as effective as a mandatory ordinance.
"Spay and neuter is already voluntary, and people aren't doing it," Fullilove said. "We're going to have to sit down and put our heads together to see how we should enforce a mandatory ordinance. Other cities have made it work."