One employee at Memphis Animal Services was caught on candid camera, but the captured image was nothing to smile about.
In early April, less than a month after a distemper outbreak led to a controversial mass euthanization of dogs, one of the shelter's web cameras revealed an employee transporting a puppy by the scruff of its neck.
A screenshot of the image prompted an online petition asking people to boycott Memphis as a travel destination until Memphis Animal Services becomes a no-kill shelter.
The shelter's policy manual states that small dogs are not to be suspended by the back of the neck as a method of control, unless there is no other practical method of safely handling the animal. The puppy in the image has been dubbed "the little suitcase dog," because the shelter employee was carrying it like one might carry luggage.
Animal advocate Morgana Washington caught the image on the webcam from her home in Tompkins County, New York.
"The guy could've been carrying a sack of potatoes," Washington said. "There's nothing in his face, in his eyes. He's carrying a living creature and he's about to kill it, which leads me to believe there's nothing in his heart. If that's the caliber of workers at [Memphis Animal Services], that's got to change."
Washington created the petition on April 18th, and as of press time, it has garnered more than 3,000 signatures from people all over the world, according to ThePetitionSite.com.
"These people are agreeing to not send their money to Memphis until the shelter is reformed totally," Washington said. "There are no excuses, and we won't take no for an answer."
Memphis Animal Services director Matthew Pepper said the administration held a hearing on how the employee from the image should be disciplined, but he said the employee may not be fired.
"When we do our investigation, all we have for evidence is a photograph and not the facts behind what happened before and what happened after," Pepper said. "We have staffers who do some stupid stuff on occasion, and best believe I do address them when I can. People don't understand why we don't just get rid of them. Well, it's not always that easy, and the situation is not always what it seems."
Local animal advocate Beverly King said the petition could really hurt the city if the shelter's practices aren't changed.
"Those Elvis fans are animal lovers," King said. "I don't want tourism to go away. I don't want my taxes to go up, but so be it. It takes as much effort to be humane as it does to be inhumane."
Pepper said he's not worried about the petition and thinks it's misguided. He said it's not truly in the best interest of the animals and won't solve the issue of inhumane treatment.
"Too often people don't ask themselves, 'Is what I'm going to say or the message I'm about to email going to help the animals?' before they send it," Pepper said.
Michelle Buckalew, editor of the locally produced Animal World magazine, said lack of clarity, vision, and compassion is at the heart of the problems facing the city shelter.
"The animals at Memphis Animal Services need everyone who cares about the humane treatment of companion pets and who cares about how the city is run, through their own tax dollars, to stand up and be heard," Buckalew said. "After all, the animals have no voice but ours."