This is a difficult story to tell. It is the story of 2 puppies, impounded by MAS along with 4 others (whose outcomes are unknown), who are both now dead. The details are horrifying but must be shared if there is to be any hope of justice. In my view, justice for the deaths of these two puppies would be nothing short of immediate arrests, criminal charges, and a complete overhaul of MAS – starting with the state Attorney General placing the facility into receivership, as we requested more than a year ago. This ongoing crisis of suffering, neglect and needless killing at MAS must be met with swift and decisive corrective action. It has gone on far too long.
On September 4, 2012, a Memphis animal control officer responded to a call from a school reporting puppies on the property. The ACO impounded 6 puppies, including dog ID #245825 and #245826, who were listed as 4 month old Lab mixes. On September 5, both pups were dewormed and vaccinated. Each weighed a little over 14 pounds. Both pups had the note “nasal discharge” entered into their medical histories on September 17 but no weights were recorded.
On September 13, an adopter expressed interest in puppy #245825 but MAS would not release him without a background check and a yard inspection because, although his medical history says Lab mix, and his littermate’s records say Lab mix, puppy #245825’s cage card says Pitbull mix. And MAS has special adoption requirements for Pitbulls. There are no notes indicating those tasks were ever completed. On September 19, the would-be adopter was phoned and advised that the puppy she wanted had been found dead in his kennel that morning.
In fact, the two pups had been caged together and one ate the other. Puppy #245826 ate his littermate’s face, trachea and esophagus as well as his shoulder. Someone with initials RC, presumably the MAS vet Rebecca Coleman, performed an examination on the remains of the partially eaten puppy and found he was very recently deceased and not suffering from an upper respiratory infection. The final notes are:
Cause of death undetermined. Body was cannibalized post-mortem.
There is no way of knowing whether this puppy was dead when the littermate ate him and I see nothing in the the records that supports this conclusion. He was not sick and in fact, there is no known cause of death. This conclusion seems irresponsible, at best.
Dr. Coleman then killed puppy #245826 marking “behavior” and “health” on the card. She performed a necropsy on this puppy, noting that portions of the other puppy were readily identifiable amidst the stomach contents. His body condition score (BCS) was 1/5. Anyone who has sat in a vet’s office looking at posters on the wall probably knows what a BCS of 1 looks like (see an illustration here). It indicates an emaciated animal. In an apparent contradiction, she also notes the pup had “good fat” under the skin and around the internal organs. The fat around the organs is among the last reserves to be used in the case of starvation. And the “good fat” beneath the skin is inconsistent with an emaciated puppy although the mere presence of fat in no way indicates the puppy was being fed enough.
In a paper by Melinda D. Merck DVM called ANIMAL CSI: AN INTRODUCTION TO VETERINARY FORENSICS IN THE INVESTIGATION OF ANIMAL CRUELTY, there is a section on starvation:
On post mortem exam you need to note the loss of external and internal fat. The body consumes its own fat stores and muscle protein for nourishment in the state of starvation.The external fat is used first; then deep organ fat (pericardial and perirenal fat). The bone marrow fat is the last place to be used and when low it is indicative of starvation. A Bone Marrow Fat Analysis can be performed at Michigan State University. Normal range is 50-60% and in starvation cases it can be as low as 0-10% though a normal value does not rule out starvation. Even if an animal is decomposed or most of the internal organs are gone due to insect activity it is still possible to get enough bone marrow for testing. BM fat can become rancid with time but freezing will preserve the fat for up to a year. This test costs $8.00 and with results in a few days.
Cannibalism may be seen in cases of starvation. This will occur when an animal dies and the other live animal is suffering from severe starvation and has no other source of food.
Why didn’t Dr. Coleman send off for this $8 test? Is it a coincidence that she noted the external fat along with the perirenal and pericardial fat, just like what Dr. Merck suggests an investigator should look for in starvation cases? I would posit that there is no coincidence. I believe that because Dr. Coleman cooperated with authorities during the 2009 raid at MAS in which Dr. Merck necropsied dogs and determined they were starved, she knew exactly what to put in the report to deceive anyone who might ask questions. But there is no mention of the bone marrow fat and no $8 test.
Dr. Coleman noted “partially digested dog food” in the stomach as well. I believe this was noted in an effort to prove the dogs were being fed by MAS. Obviously they were not being fed nearly enough since one puppy ate the other one. The weight of the puppy at time of death is conspicuously absent from the necropsy notes. I believe that was done intentionally so that the records would not reflect the weight loss in what should have been a growing puppy. There is a weight on the kill card that says 18.4 but the amount of Fatal Plus used is more than would be necessary for a dog of that weight. The method is “IC”, presumably intra-cardiac, which by law requires a sedative although no sedative was apparently given. Is anything on this kill card accurate?
There is no doubt in my mind that these puppies were starved at MAS. I know of no 4 month old Lab/Pitbull mix puppy who would eat the face off a littermate unless he was starving to death. And I will never believe there is any puppy who is going to walk away from his bowl of kibble in order to pick apart his dead littermate’s trachea. Furthermore, a 4 month old puppy simply hasn’t been alive long enough to have manifested such bizarre aggression, if that’s what Dr. Coleman was implying when she circled and X’d “behavior” on the kill record.
I believe Dr. Coleman killed the other puppy to dispose of evidence of animal cruelty and to make the records seem as if the whole incident was a mysterious behavioral aberration. I have no idea if she acted alone or was directed to cover up this wrongdoing. But I think it merits an investigation.
A kill card with questionable entries, no $8 test, no recorded weight at necropsy – why?
This is no isolated incident. Dogs have been starving at MAS for years. There are currently 3 former staffers charged with animal cruelty for starving dogs at MAS in 2009. We’ve seen evidence of the staff’s failure to feed pets on the security camera video. Some of the volunteers tried appealing to management about this issue. There have been complaints about court case dogs being starved during their lengthy stay at the pound.
Memphis city leaders continue to turn a blind eye to the abuse at MAS. Local advocates can not seem to get true reform efforts off the ground. But somebody needs to do something.
Impeach Mayor Wharton.
Fire shelter director James Rogers and veterinarian Rebecca Coleman.
Fire every worker who was supposed to be feeding these puppies from September 4 until September 19.
Criminally charge everyone connected with the starving and death of these two puppies.
Place MAS into receivership so no more animals have to suffer and die in this abomination of an “animal shelter” while the good ol’ boys pat each other on the back.
Posting angry comments online is not going to cut it. A candlelight vigil won’t stop these monsters from preying on more defenseless animals. Please somebody, anybody in Memphis – do something. Get in the face of someone who has the power to stop this cruelty and don’t take no for an answer. Don’t send an e-mail, leave a phone message or make an appointment for next month. Get in someone’s face and talk until they listen. I’ve got your back. Let me know if you need help. I will do anything within my power. Please just tell me someone is doing something.