Update 11/30/09 – More on Memphis Animal Shelter; Hundreds of Unexplained Deaths – VIDEO

It’s been about two weeks since the Memphis Animal Shelter was raided after horrific animal cruelty was discovered there, what’s happened in the interim?  We know the Mayor AC Wharton formed a task force to oversee the shelter and that video cameras were installed in some of the shelter areas.

You can actually view what’s going on via the cameras at the City of Memphis website – HERE

The warrant listen two names specifically, one, that of the shelter director, Ernest Alexander and and other, Ivan Russell, a field supervisor at the shelter.

Last Friday, Mayor Wharton fired Ernest Alexander who was hired in 2006 after a nationwide search for a new shelter director.  It’s has also come to light the Alexander,  previously involved with a shelter in Albuquerque, NM, also faced allegation of animal cruelty there. The firing came after a dog was improperly euthanized last week, the owner was never notified,  and the investigation showed serious mismanagement under Alexander.

Since the conditions came to light about MAS, including the starvation death of three dogs, the public has demanded the removal of Alexander. Mayor Wharton, whose first day was spend involved with the shelter raid wanted to take some time to investigate before coming to any quick conclusion.

“I believe in doing things right instead of doing them fast,” said Wharton. “I see (the public reaction) as a strong sign that the city cares, that we have a conscience.”

“You’ve got a mayor now who, perhaps to a fault, likes to be hands on,” he said, during a press conference at the shelter. “I am not an expert on (animal shelters), but I can walk in there and tell you if there is enough food or water in the bowl, or if they followed our own procedures.”

Mayor Wharton has appointed Darrell Eldred, former deputy director of the General Services Division, to oversee the shelter until a full-time replacement can be found.

Lucy Shaw, who once ran the Regional Medical Center at Memphis, has been hired as a consultant to assess the shelter in comparison to other shelters around the country.

Three other shelter employees are also still suspended (with pay) as the investigation continues.

Investigation into records show that high ranking city official knew that there were problems at the shelter and not only they they do nothing about them, but in some cases added tot he problems.

Volunteers regularly told the former director and the current division director about problems with inattentive employees, dirty cages, and abuse. Pictures documenting the filthy conditions were also turned over to high-ranking city leaders.

Records also show the former director, Ernie Alexander, was not enforcing the city’s vicious dog ordinance. According to advisory board minutes, Alexander says he was told not to force pet owners to pay the $2000 bond that is required to be posted when a dog is declared vicious. In the transcripts, Alexander says that order came from someone in the Herenton administration.

The following is a plan from Mayor Wharton regarding some of the changes that have and will be going into effect at MAS:


In light of recent developments at the animal shelter, inclusive of preliminary findings of an internal investigation, the following are action being taken as measures to improve the quality of animal care and the delivery of overall services:

1) Hire an Interim Facility Coordinator

The Interim Coordinator will be responsible for the following tasks:

” Providing leadership in managing the fiscal resources of the animal shelter ” Monitoring the department’s operating and capital budget – making appropriate recommendations ” Establishing and administering performance measures to support the day-to-day operations within the budget ” Reporting developments to the Mayor

2) Enlist the services of an Interim Operations Control Manager/Reinstate the Operations Control Manager position

” In the interim, the city will enlist the services of a highly-qualified operations control manager with expansive knowledge of animal care and control. ” This individual will work in lockstep with the Mayor’s Task Force. ” This individual will ensure strict compliance with all updated policies and procedures. ” Qualifications for the Operations Control position will be rewritten to require enhanced experience in animal care and control.

3) Activate the Mayor’s Task Force to engage in Systematic Monitoring

” Representatives from animal advocacy groups and animal professionals with the mayor’s newly-formed Animal Shelter Task Force will work with the Interim Operations Control Manager to implement best practices at the shelter. ” Members of the Mayor’s Task Force will work with the Interim Facility Coordinator and the Division Director in providing daily monitoring of the shelter and of staff.

4) Install Video Cameras ” Starting at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, November 6, operations at the animal shelter can be viewed by web camera 24 hours a day via the City of Memphis’ website:

5) Increase Veterinarian Services

” Two Veterinarians will now be contracted to perform services at the shelter.

Mayor Wharton has also spoken with District Attorney Bill Gibbons about criminal charges and the ongoing investigation. I’m sure we’ll hear more on that as things progress.

As a note, one of the other names on the warrant, as mentioned above, Ivan Russell, is a convicted felon, a drug dealer, who was employed at the shelter under through former Mayor Willie Herenton’s “Second Chance Program” aimed at getting felons back in the workplace. You’ll hear a bit about him in the video below. There is an interview with an owner of two of the dogs that were starved to death.

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Jamario Taylor is a former former Shelby County Deputy Jailer whose dogs, 14 pitbulls, were seized and both he and his wife were charged with dozens of counts of animal cruelty in relation to probable dogfighting. Ivan Russell, was in charge of Taylors dogs at the shelter.

Taylor, who, of course, claims he is innocent, says the real abuse came when his dog were taken to the shelter.

“They said two of them died in the cage,” he says with disbelief. “One of them they had to euthanize. And a couple of them, they couldn’t even find the paperwork on them.”

All three of the dogs that died of starvation were being held as part of court cases and in this case, regardless of whether Taylor is guilty of dogfighting or not, no dogs deserves to cruel fate that was handed to them at the hands of MAS!

It seems like Mayor Wharton is actually making some serious changes at the shelter and I do applaud that although for some victims it is too late in coming, not that that can be attributed to the current administration. I look forward to hearing more, I especially want to hear criminal charges leveled against those involved from the top down!

MAS is not the first nor it is the only shelter that has or needs to come under serious scrutiny. It’s sad enough for animal that wound up at shelters but do they need to have their suffering compounded by horrific conditions and staff that is cruel, heartless and uncaring? A bright hot spotlight needs to be shined on each and every shelter and those that are not in order need to be brought into order by whatever means necessary, and it needs to be done sooner rather than later. The innocent victims do not need to be further victimized! Take action!!

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