Another in the Seemingly Endless String of Tragedies in Memphis

Sleepy puppy Oliver (photo by Tish Tonole)

Readers may remember Nola, Victoria Henry’s dog who was picked up by Memphis Animal Services and killed before the legally mandated holding period expired, even while Ms. Henry visited the pound looking for her.  Tragically, MAS has done it again – this time the victim is a beloved dog named Oliver.

Oliver and his buddy Marlene escaped owner Tish Tonole’s yard on October 13.  She began trying to get them home right away by posting notices on social media sites, putting up fliers around town and visiting MAS to look for her dogs.  Oliver was wearing his collar and Marlene was microchipped.  Ms. Tonole says someone who saw Marlene running loose responded to one of her fliers and she was able to pick Marlene up.  But 11 month old Oliver remained missing.

Ms. Tonole visited MAS to search for Oliver multiple times, including October 18.  The worker who escorted her through the facility that day said that she was being shown every dog cage in the building, including dogs being held for court cases.  But Ms. Tonole told me she only saw roughly 100 cages  and half of them were empty.  We know MAS has 555 cages in the facility (128 for cats and 427 for dogs) so clearly she was not shown every dog cage.  The worker also advised her that it wasn’t necessary for her to come to the shelter every day to search for her pet.  He told her about the PetHarbor website saying it was continually updated and that if Oliver was impounded, he would immediately appear on PetHarbor.

Ms. Tonole began frequently checking PetHarbor and on Saturday, October 20, a listing for Oliver appeared on the site.  It said that Oliver had been at MAS since the 17th which was troubling since Ms. Tonole had been there on the 18th and did not see him.  MAS was closed by the time she saw Oliver on the website and remained closed for the next 2 days.  She kept trying to reach someone on the phone but only got a recording.

Oliver as pictured on PetHarbor. Ms. Tonole describes him in this photo as looking like he wants to play with the person taking his picture.

Finally on the morning of Tuesday the 23rd, Ms. Tonole got a female employee on the phone before the pound officially opened.  The employee told Ms. Tonole that Oliver had been killed on October 18, just one day after impound, because he had a hole in his head.  Understandably, Ms. Tonole became upset and told the worker that Oliver could not have had a hole in his head because MAS posted a photo of him on PetHarbor which showed him to be his usual happy and healthy self.  The worker restated that records indicated Oliver had been killed on October 18 due to a hole in his head.

Ms. Tonole hung up the phone and was very distraught when a friend happened to call her.  She told the friend what had just happened and the friend said he would call MAS to try to sort things out.  Ms. Tonole says that her friend spoke to James Rogers who told him that Oliver had just been killed that morning due to a hole in the head.  The friend asked if they could see Oliver’s body and Mr. Rogers refused.  Later, Ms. Tonole says MAS changed its story about the reason Oliver was killed from a hole in the head to a hole in the stifle.

Ms. Tonole told her story to WMCTV and the station asked MAS for comment:

Memphis Animal Services sent a statement offering condolences to Tish Tonole over the loss of Oliver. The statement says Oliver was scanned for a micro chip but did not have one. They said Oliver was visible to the public for four days. The shelter stressed the importance of getting your pet micro chipped.

Ms. Tonole is a single mom who works, attends school and must budget her expenses carefully.  She didn’t have Oliver microchipped but she did have Marlene chipped due to her tendency to escape.  In fact, Marlene had escaped just a few weeks prior to Oliver’s killing and Ms. Tonole had visited MAS looking for her.  Although she wasn’t shown Marlene at that time, Marlene was in fact there.  A local pet advocate recognized Marlene’s picture on PetHarbor and responded to a lost dog posting from Ms. Tonole.  MAS had never contacted Ms. Tonole despite Marlene’s microchip and the only way Marlene got home that time was due to the watchful eye of a local advocate.

Further, MAS states that Oliver was visible to the public for four days yet glaringly omits the fact that the owner was at the pound on one of them, supposedly being shown every dog in the place, but never finding him.  The statement also fails to mention that Oliver was not posted on PetHarbor, where the MAS employee told the owner to look, until Saturday – after which the pound is routinely closed for 2 days every week.

Let’s be clear:  It is not the owner’s fault that Oliver is dead.  The blame for that lies squarely with MAS.  The subsequent lies, spin and attempted cover-up are par for the course in Memphis.  Oliver is yet another casualty in the ongoing tragedy that is MAS.

They can try to say they showed the owner every cage in the building but obviously that is not true.  They can try to say the owner could have saved Oliver by having him microchipped but obviously that is not true either.

No one at MAS is willing to do their job.  No one in a position of authority is willing to hold them accountable.  No one local is willing to take legal action to force them to stop hurting animals.  And so the killings continue.  How many more Memphis?

L- R: Oliver, Lolly, Marlene and Schmitty. Pets are family. (photo by Tish Tonole)

Every pet has a right to live.  Just because MAS refuses to acknowledge that doesn’t make it any less true.  The people at MAS don’t know what precious gifts they have been given the privilege of caring for.  They don’t know that pets are family and animal services=family services.  And they don’t know Oliver.

Tish Tonole said, “He was my best friend.  He slept with me every night.  I would wake up in the middle of the night to find his head in the crook of my arm and his paws in the air.  He was a sweet, kind, good dog.  He just wanted to be loved by everyone.”

I’m sorry that no one at MAS could be bothered to do their job and shelter Oliver in his time of need.  I’m sorry that when they were caught killing a pet whose owner was in their facility trying to find him they resorted to lies.  I’m sorry that in their efforts to deflect attention from their own failures they attempted to shame Ms. Tonole.  Most of all, I’m sorry that this silly puppy who brought such joy to his owner has been cruelly taken from this life.

Silly puppy Oliver, getting into trouble at home and making his owner laugh. (photo by Tish Tonole)

Leave a comment

36 Comments

  1. db

     /  October 31, 2012

    Is there a lawyer who is willing to take this case on? It seems that going to the media has no effect whatsoever. It’s going to have to be something more . . .
    HOW MANY MORE WILL HAVE TO DIE AT YOUR HANDS BEFORE YOU STOP THE KILLING?
    I think perhaps that some phone calls to the mayor’s office might be appropriate at this time. I will be making one today. How about the rest of you?

    Reply
    • There is a lawyer willing to help if someone local is willing to take action. So far, I haven’t found anyone willing.

      Reply
      • Tish Tonole

         /  October 31, 2012

        what needs to be done? I will take action!!!!

      • Since Nathan Winograd put it so well recently, I am quoting him here:

        “We’ve already contacted the Attorney General and asked that the agency be put under receivership:www.nathanwinograd.com/?p=6653. We never got a response. People can contact the AG’s Office. They can contact the Governor’s Office. They can take over Mayor Wharton’s Facebook page demanding action. They can go door to door educating people in Memphis about what is happening. They can do political advocacy. They can go as a group to every City Council meeting, every single month, demanding change. They can electioneer, voting the hard-hearted Mayor and the equally hard-hearted City Council out of office. They can call for a recall election. They can put out press releases. They can protest. They can write letters to the Editor. They can put billboards up throughout Memphis. They could put ads in the local newspaper. They could contact the media. They could write Op Ed pieces. They could call the police and prosecutor and ask for a criminal investigation. In short, they can exercise their constitutional rights to assemble, to free-speech, to petition their government for a redress of grievances.”

        http://www.nokilladvocacycenter.org/shelter-reform/toolkit/

  2. I take issue with your headline.

    A “tragedy” is when a hurricane drops a tree branch on a house and the family dog is killed.

    What this is, is an atrocity.

    Reply
  3. jeff p

     /  October 31, 2012

    This is so sad, sorry trish

    Reply
  4. db

     /  October 31, 2012

    Just talked with the receptionist at the mayor’s office. I gave her an earful – ending with people all over the country are aware and watching and it reflects badly on the mayor’s administration, the city and the people of Memphis. I think that a call in campaign today would be worth trying. The woman I spoke with was very polite and I told her I wasn’t blaming her, but was very clear about my feelings toward the entire MAS fiasco and the way the mayor and his minions are covering it up.
    PLEASE make those phone calls today –
    901.576.6000

    Reply
  5. Arlene

     /  October 31, 2012

    Beautifully written Shirley! This latest killing of Oliver is another stain on the city of Memphis. I just don’t understand why with all those “pet advocates” living there that someone, anyone, hasn’t filed a lawsuit. Rise up people! Stand up for what you say you believe.

    Tish, I am so sorry that your best friend died the way he did for no reason.

    Reply
    • Tish Tonole

       /  October 31, 2012

      I will press criminal charges after shirley finishes gathering all evidence, place phone calls, and if anyone knows a lawyer, I will sue and gladly give the proceeds to raising funds for a no kill shelter. I need the money myself but it seems wrong to profit from this. I want this to end. I wish with all I am it never happened to begin with.

      Reply
  6. Sue

     /  October 31, 2012

    Shirley, you mention u know of a lawyer willing to help if someone local is willing to take action. Who is the lawyer and is this person local? That info would be helpful to some local advocates.

    Reply
    • Yes a local attorney. I haven’t asked permission to post the person’s name publicly so don’t want to do that without asking. But if anyone in Memphis is interested, please contact me.

      Reply
  7. Arlene

     /  October 31, 2012

    I’m praying that this is the beginning of the end of MAS at long last.

    Reply
  8. alice in lala land

     /  October 31, 2012

    high time .. and beyond thanks to Shirley’s “doggedness” I hope that some attorney steps up to the plate on this.. I am happy to “chip in” when we get a person who really can bring suit against these people and make it stick.. certainly there is evidence. Maybe HSUS will lend one of theirs.. after all they have what ??60 lawyers on staff and hundreds of “pro bonos”??.. yea and pigs will fly
    MAS does not care about getting animals home.. they only care about killing

    Reply
    • Also happy to chip in to see the abomination that is MAS stopped. It upsets good people, not just in the US, but here in Australia as well. A fighting fund seems like a good idea.

      Reply
  9. db

     /  October 31, 2012

    What we can do is make phone calls and let the mayor know we are watching and will not tolerate this.
    I do hope that Tish can follow through and get legal help that will put a stop to the atrocity (yes, it is an atrocity) that is MAS.

    Reply
  10. Carri Dodge

     /  October 31, 2012

    This is a mayor that will allow a Memphis Police Officer to be fired for starving her two dogs to death, REHIRE her and then PROMOTE her!!! He is only looking out for his Afro American commumity…clearly. This isn’t the beginning of the end for MAS cause the mayor does not care people.. PERIOD

    Reply
    • Animal abuse has no racial element to it. We are advocating for the right of all shelter pets to live and for the removal of everyone who has looked the other way while the abuse and killing of animals continued. I don’t care what color skin an animal abuser or an enabler has. I want the rights of shelter pets to be respected.

      Reply
  11. mary francis

     /  October 31, 2012

    If you need funds to retain a local attorney, I would donate and I’ll bet others would too.

    Reply
    • Thank you Mary Francis. If we see any forward movement on this front, I expect all donations will be appreciated. Will keep everyone in the loop.

      Reply
      • Eucritta

         /  October 31, 2012

        I’m *so* looking forward to a chip-in for this.

  12. HasSoManyAnimalsBecausePeopleWon'tTakeCareofTheirResponsibilities

     /  October 31, 2012

    I found Marlene and called Tish and told her where to find her. I was so happy that I found her owner. It breaks my heard to hear about Oliver. One of the purposes of the shelter is to hold found animals and reunite them with their families.

    I actually think we need to call Steve Cohen. He has his first competitor with Dr. Flinn. I just can’t stand it anymore and I am willing to take action.

    Reply
  13. Has anyone investigated whether some alumni of the slaughterhouse… er… Shelter run by PETA in Virginia is in charge in Memphis? I mean, it would certainly explain a lot, I think…

    Reply
  14. mikken

     /  October 31, 2012

    As long as the Pet Harbor records are improperly maintained, Rogers should instruct his front desk staff to NOT tell anyone to check there for their lost pet.

    To tell people to check Pet Harbor for a lost animal right now is emotionally abusive and intentionally misleading. He KNOWS the records are not properly maintained, yet he allows the slacking to continue. The result is people like poor Trish frantically checking online listings for their pet and not finding them listed until it’s too late…or never listed at all even though they are in the building.

    Animals die at MAS simply because the Pet Harbor listings are not maintained properly. It’s such an easy thing to fix, but no one there seems interested in…you know…keeping animals alive.

    I hope you get to sue their asses off, Tish. I’ll gladly donate to the legal fund.

    Reply
  15. Liz

     /  October 31, 2012

    From all I have read about this “shelter”, all its paid staff need to be fired, immediately, and the place either closed or run entirely by volunteers.

    Reply
  16. Carol Ratcliff

     /  November 1, 2012

    MAS needs to be closed down. It’s staff should all be prosecuted for their outrageous lies, for the murder of innocent animals and for their incredible lack of compassion. I’m sickened and disgusted by all the stories posted about MAS and almost fit to explode at the constant lying by staff at this ‘shelter’. The mayor should be fired because despite repeated requests to do something about the MAS fiasco, the situation remains unchanged. Are all the killed animals sent off to be made into ‘animal by-products’ used in the production of lubricants, soap, cosmetics etc? Is MAS receiving money for each animal they kill? Is this the reason they turn a blind eye to the atrocities perpetrated at their facility? So, to line a few pockets with (blood) money, they willingly torture animals? Makes you wonder who else is gaining financially from the destruction of these beautiful animals?! How ANYONE can harm an animal for financial gain is beneath contempt and sickens me to the very core of my being. So, mayor, instead of ignoring all your citizens requests to REALLY do something about MAS, maybe now would be a good time to close this facility down and to resurrect it as a ‘NO KILL’ shelter staffed by people who truly love animals and who actually know how to correctly fulfill their administration roles in updating websites continually. Maybe then a lot more precious animals would be returned to their grieving owners or adopted into a new loving forever family. Your citizens have spoken…. it’s now your time to actually start listening and proving they weren’t wrong in voting you into office by doing the right thing for these ‘lost’ animals.

    Reply
  17. Jessica C

     /  November 2, 2012

    This is so sickening. I’m so sorry to Tish and everyone in her family for the loss of her loved one. I can’t imagine how hard this must be. I was devastated when my dog died but at least I had a few days warning. And to tell her to go home and check out PetFinder? Ugh!

    Yes, something NEEDS to be done here, regarding legal action. It’s the only chance we have to change anything there since clearly the Mayor and I guess the Governor don’t want to step in. I will help in a chip-in for that.

    Other than that, there is a No-Kill Memphis group on Facebook. The link is below. I think people like Tish, Jody and others who live in Memphis (or at least near it enough) who want to make change, should get on there and organize. If you organize a time and date to get together to try to help make change, it will be a lot more productive than one person at a time making a claim and then that’s it. The more people you have assembling at once, the more media coverage you will get, thus the more intimidated the powers that be will be towards their constituents. It’s the only way that change will ever come from there. I’d lead the charge but I live in Arizona, so I’m not going to be much help in this area. But whatever I can do to help inspire change, I will do so.

    Heres a link to the Facebook group: http://www.facebook.com/NoKillMemphis?fref=ts

    Good luck, guys. Keep us updated.

    Reply
  18. ezbuddy

     /  December 21, 2012

    I sure wish I would of read this Oct 31 posting before now. I am so sorry for the loss of Oliver.

    Finding a Memphis lawyer willing to take on a Memphis owned entity will be next to impossible. They’re all afraid of the well funded city attorneys, I think. I could tell you about a case positivily winable against the city & their nursing home that no lawyer could be found that would touch it. MAS, being a city entity, should be taken to court, but this city’s attorneys have no balls. Or let’s hear from one that does.

    My deepest sympathy for your loss, Tish. Oliver will be our Poster Child to fight MAS.

    Reply

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