MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Some employees at the Memphis Animal Shelter had ties to dog-fighting rings and operated outside city rules and procedures, according to a study of shelter operations conducted by the Memphis Rotary Club.
The 22-page report to Mayor AC Wharton from the Rotary Club's Memphis Animal Shelter Evaluation Committee says that, according to interviews with shelter workers, "there remains the clear understanding, on the part of all the employees, that certain individuals are exempt from the rules."
Metcalf Crump, co-chairman of the Shelter Evaluation Committee, said shelter employees told committee members that some of their co-workers appeared to enjoy a protected status.
"The staff was very open and wanted to share with us their feelings and thoughts and they did," Crump said Wednesday.
The report also says shelter employees confirmed what many local animal-rights activists have suspected for years: "The employees at every level, while not willing to say so on the record, will readily volunteer that there has been a relationship between certain individuals and the illicit dog-fighting rings in the community.
"This is particularly true where those who are perceived to be in a protected status are concerned. Extra care should be taken with new hires in the future to ensure that they have a desire to work humanely with animals."
The employees did not identify who was involved in dog-fighting; it may take action by the Shelby County District Attorney General's Office to get them to speak on the record, Wharton said.
"I'm going to turn the report immediately over to the D.A.," Wharton said Wednesday. "She has subpoena power. She can compel the employees, who I cannot compel them, to talk. I don't have subpoena power."
The Shelby County Sheriff's Office raided the shelter on Oct. 27, 2009. Officers found abused or neglected animals, a problem represented at the time by a widely circulated image of an emaciated dog. That dog and two others eventually starved to death, later reports revealed.
Ultimately, former shelter director Ernest Alexander, veterinarian Angela Middleton and administrative supervisor Tina Quattlebaum were indicted on charges of aggravated cruelty to animals.
This year, former Memphis Animal Services officer Demetria Hogan was charged by Memphis police with three counts of animal cruelty.
On July 12, Hogan was dispatched to pick up an injured dog. It took about an hour for her to arrive at the site, and she didn't return to the city's animal shelter with the dog for another hour, according to a court document. By that time, the dog had died of what a veterinarian determined was heat stroke.
Hogan also was charged with animal cruelty in connection with two pet pit bulls she picked up June 24 after they had escaped from a backyard. One of the dogs, Kapone, disappeared while in her care and became the object of a citywide search.
The Rotary Club report notes that the shelter needs better record-keeping to track the large number of vicious dogs it handles and needs to screen people who want to adopt them.
"The vast majority of dogs brought in to the shelter are pit bulls," said the report. "Therefore, the potential for criminal activity is very real, and the checks for criminal background must be made. There should be a record of this with each adoption, available for audit. Under no circumstances, should any employee, regardless of rank, be allowed to conduct viewing (of animals) and adoption off the books."
Built in 1972, the old shelter closed this month. The new Memphis Animal Services shelter, a 35,000-square-foot facility, opened its doors Tuesday.
Memphis Chief Administrative Officer George Little said the new facility, though a striking improvement over the old, is still not big enough to handle the animals brought through its doors.
"It's already full," Little said.
The Rotary report says a public education campaign about dog-fighting will be necessary to correct the city's "attitude that animals are disposable."
"Until this is addressed, the shelter will continue to be overloaded, and not logistically capable of approaching any semblance of a no-kill facility," the report says.
(Contact Amos Maki at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com)