June 18, 2013
After failing to get convictions on any of the three managers indicted in connection with the 2009 MAS raid, state prosecutor Chris West was replaced by prosecutors Marques Young and Katie Ratton for the trial of former Memphis ACO Demetria Hogan. Accused of selling an impounded Pitbull named Kapone out the back door and allowing another owned pet named Max to suffer until he died as she evaded police, Hogan had been indicted on “four counts of official misconduct, one count of forgery, one count of theft and one count of cruelty to animals.” Yesterday, District Attorney General Amy Weirich dropped all charges and the judge dismissed the case.
The Commercial Appeal breaks it down:
In the case of Kapone, [Young] said, proving that Hogan did not deliver the dog to the shelter – resulting in the theft and paperwork forgery charges – became more difficult upon learning that Hogan may have witnesses who said she did deliver the animal.
Oh let me guess – some fellow MAS workers, those paragons of virtue?
And in the case of Max, the dog whom, at the time of the indictment, no one disputed was alive when impounded by Hogan:
Prosecutors said a subsequent necropsy showed the dog could have died from the heat at the scene and not necessarily in Hogan’s animal truck while being taken to the shelter.
Coulda, woulda, shoulda. I was going to leave it there, and just let the pathetic excuse for a case offered by the prosecutors speak for itself but then one of them had to jam the knife in further and twist it around:
“It’s very sad when a dog has died or a dog is missing,” said Ratton, “but that doesn’t always mean a crime has been committed.”
As sorry as I am for what happened to Kapone, at least the so-called irresponsible public stepped up and helped him get back home eventually. And even though no one connected to the case seemed to be interested in doing their jobs, the happy ending helped ease the pain of his theft. But with Max, the dog whom no one disputed was alive at the time of impound, there was no happy ending. As it was reported last summer, police were attempting to locate Hogan in order to arrest her for cruelty in connection with the “disappearance” of Kapone, and she was allegedly tipped off that police were waiting for her at the pound. So instead of taking the dog she had on her truck at the time – a 9 year old Lab mix called Max – to MAS, she apparently drove around for a couple of hours until police left. Max died during this time. Per a necropsy report, his death was non-accidental heat stroke.
At the time I naively hoped that whoever tipped Hogan off would be charged and fired. Obviously that didn’t happen. And while I have no information as to the identity of the supposed witnesses who “may” have testified that Kapone was delivered to MAS by Hogan, I can’t help but wonder if they are the same individuals who tipped her off about police causing, to my mind, Max to needlessly suffer and die.
Bloody hell, Memphis. I suppose the city will now reinstate Hogan with back pay and a new chokepole and send her back out on patrol to protect the city from animal abusers.
It’s very sad when a dog has died or a dog is missing such as happened in this case and in my view, it strongly suggests a crime has been committed. But neither the DA nor the prosecutors could apparently be bothered to do their jobs. Which is par for the course in Memphis. And it wouldn’t surprise me one iota if Mayor Wharton and his cronies were pleased as punch with the outcome. Yay Memphis.
On May 30, 2013, Memphis Animal Services impounded a female Miniature Schnauzer as a stray, listing her as 7 years old. Her photo was never published anywhere online by MAS. She was kept in the stray area, out of view of the public. The day after impound, the dog’s medical records received their one and only entry – listed as “observation” by the MAS veterinarian – along with deworming and distemper vaccination.
Note that the records indicate the dog is quiet, alert and responsive, very geriatric, underweight, with severe dental disease and missing teeth. There is also a notation about the eyes having mild discharge. There are no notes indicating MAS contacted a single rescue group about this dog. Local pet advocate Jody Fisher secured a rescue placement for the dog and on June 6, a rescuer pulled her from MAS. The rescuer immediately noticed the little dog was deaf and blind. This is what she looked like:
The rescuer took the little pet to a veterinarian the next morning for evaluation. The veterinarian estimated the dog to be about 15 years old, not 7 as MAS had indicated. He determined she was in pain and had been suffering for awhile. The vet reported she was not only underweight, blind and deaf but also that she suffered from chronic dry eye which had likely lead to blindness, and severe dental disease which had likely lead to heart disease. The dog had a grade 6 heart murmur, irregular heart rhythm, bilateral pleural effusions and was in end stage congestive heart failure. She suffered from severe arthritis which compromised her ability to move normally. Euthanasia was recommended and performed, as the poor girl was medically hopeless and suffering.
I have questions:
- The MAS vet got close enough to characterize this dog’s level of gum disease but failed to note she was in unremitting pain or prescribe any medication to try to alleviate that pain for an entire week?
- The MAS vet noted a “mild” discharge from the eyes when the dog looked like she does in the above photo? And she didn’t note that the dog was in fact blind and deaf?
- Since no meaningful vet care was offered, where are the notes indicating this dog must only be offered soft food and that both food and water bowls must be kept within easy reach of the dog due to her lack of mobility?
- Since no meaningful vet care was offered, where are the notes indicating the dog requires soft bedding at all times and that the bedding must be checked regularly for dryness in case of urination or water bowl spills?
Failing to note that the dog was blind and deaf is not only a disservice to the dog, who would be severely stressed in a shelter environment, it endangers people who might approach the dog believing her to be sighted and with normal hearing ability. Blind and deaf shelter dogs need to be approached in a particular manner, so as not to provoke a defensive bite by startling the dog.
Failing to note that the dog was in unremitting pain and end stage heart failure is simply inexcusable. A Memphis dog owner who kept a dog in this condition without meaningful vet care for an entire week would presumably be charged with animal cruelty and the MAS vet would do the examination to document the forensic evidence. Who will investigate and determine possible charges regarding the MAS vet in this case? Let’s be clear: MAS left this dog to suffer in a cage for a week, making no efforts to get her seen by anyone who might help her and offering her no medical care to address her suffering. Isn’t this a crime? Is it in any way acceptable that Memphis taxpayers pay for a shelter veterinarian and kennel workers but must rely on ordinary citizens to find rescuers willing to pay a private vet to tend to suffering pets at the pound?
The suffering of this little pet is hardly an isolated incident. The head vet at the Memphis pound – on whose watch numerous dogs have starved to death, including a puppy who was forced to eat his own littermate to survive, who scrubbed a degloved cat’s wounds without providing pain medication and left him to suffer in a cage for 5 days, and who neglected then killed a puppy who was impounded with a collar embedded in her neck – is no stranger to animal cruelty. Yet Memphis city leaders defend the cruelty again and again, as they always do with animal abusers on the payroll, and the suffering at the pound continues. How many more, Memphis?
Fire. Them. All.
Billy Stewart, the former Memphis pound worker whom the city repeatedly defended when he was caught hurting shelter pets, has been convicted of animal cruelty:
A jury found Billy Stewart, 29, guilty of four counts of aggravated cruelty and one misdemeanor charge of cruelty.
An undercover officer testified in court this week that Stewart would sometimes choke dogs into unconsciousness as he led them to the room where they would be euthanized.
According to the officer, this happened to at least five dogs between December 2011 and February 2012.
Stewart denied the allegations and claimed that aggressive dogs sometimes choked themselves with the noose of the catch pole as they tried to break free from its hold. He also said he was not given proper training for the job.
And without proper training, Mr. Stewart didn’t know it was wrong to choke dogs until they passed out? Gee, I can’t imagine why it only took a jury 3 hours to find him guilty.
The undercover officer witnessed Mr. Stewart choking dogs in a metal noose on five occasions. Frank Lightfoot, also convicted of animal cruelty in the same undercover operation, witnessed and testified to four of the events. The 5th dog, whom the undercover officer witnessed being tortured by Mr. Stewart, was not given the same justice as the other four and the jury returned a misdemeanor count on the crimes against that pet. Who knew a convicted animal abuser’s testimony carried so much weight in the eyes of the jury?
The Commercial Appeal reported information new to the general public: In addition to MAS providing chokepoles to workers, there is also a squeeze gate on the wall in the kill room, which can be used to restrain large, human-aggressive dogs. Although the use of such devices should be extremely rare in any shelter, we know based on security camera footage and webcam images from other areas of MAS that workers have misused chokepoles on many dogs in the facility. I can only imagine how that squeeze gate has been used and I feel sorry for any dogs who spent their last conscious moments on this earth in that thing at MAS. It is undoubtedly one of the reasons the city refuses to place a camera in the kill room, where at least some of the employees who witnessed pets being tortured and did nothing still work.
The four felony counts each carry up to two years in prison, though Stewart is eligible to ask for diversion or probation when he is sentenced next month by Judge Paula Skahan.
He also was convicted of one count of misdemeanor cruelty that carries up to 11 months and 29 days in jail.
Stewart, who showed no reaction to the verdicts, remains free on bond.
I will post about Mr. Stewart’s sentencing next month. The other two MAS workers caught in the same undercover operation were Archie Elliott and Frank Lightfoot. In October 2012, they pleaded guilty to six counts of aggravated animal cruelty and requested diversion so that they would not have to serve time in prison and could have their records wiped clean in future. The judge denied this request, sentencing Mr. Elliott to 2 years and Mr. Lightfoot to 20 days in prison on the weekends.
(Thanks Clarice for the links.)
June 6, 2013
When two of Memphis pet owner James Brown’s dogs escaped his yard recently, they apparently got into a fight with another dog. A police officer told Mr. Brown MAS had to impound them for a ten day rabies hold. Instead, MAS held the dogs for three days and then killed them, without ever contacting the owner. Oops.
“And when I called, they said ‘Your dogs are dead’,” [Mr. Brown] told us.
His dogs had been euthanized. That’s because after 72 hours, unclaimed dogs are considered property of the City, and the City can do with them what it wants.
And what the city of Memphis wants to do with dogs at the pound is kill them. That has been made abundantly clear over the years in a facility whose primary function is the killing of dogs and cats.
And in this case, the city has not only torn apart a family but also failed in its public safety directive since the rabies quarantine hold was never completed. So much for using public safety as an excuse to justify the killing of shelter animals. Oops.
Mr. Brown inquired about his pets’ remains and MAS bluntly told him a truck carried them away. The owner is heartbroken and outraged:
“So, you can pay a truck to go and destroy the remains but you can’t call me?”
“People just don’t kill dogs for no reason and that’s what they’ve done,” he said.
I am so sorry for the suffering of Mr. Brown and his family. I am even sorrier that I will be extending my condolences to another Memphis family, probably sooner rather than later, when they find out MAS killed their pets too.
How many more, Memphis?
(Thank you Clarice for the link.)
Remember when former MAS employees Archie Elliott and Billy Stewart were caught beating two Pitbulls with steel poles after the dogs had been allowed – negligently or intentionally – to get into a fight? Remember how the city of Memphis was so excited to defend the cruelty that they issued a press release and invited the press in to watch the security camera footage? Good times.
[Undercover Memphis police officer Daniel] Arrington testified he saw defendant Billy Stewart choke dogs into unconsciousness on five occasions by tightening the rope on a metal catch pole when more humane methods of control were available as the dogs were led into the euthanasia room.
“His words to me were ‘This is how you do it,’” Arrington testified, showing the Criminal Court jurors a five-foot metal catch pole with an adjustable noose on one end. “He said sometimes you have to choke them out.”
Arrington described how the animals dropped to the floor, some yelping and gasping for air for several minutes until another technician injected them with a lethal solution called Fatal Plus without first administering sedation.
“He’d say ‘Come on, hit this one. Nobody needs to see this,” Arrington told prosecutor Katie Ratton. “He just pulled the rope tighter. Billy Stewart said it was the quickest, easiest way.”
There is a certain sense of entitlement and empowerment evident here. An animal abuser who knows the city of Memphis has his back. Come on, hit this one. I get away with this all the time. Nobody will say anything. And even if I get caught, the city will defend my actions, just like always.
In fact, Billy Stewart’s attorney emphasized the city’s failure of leadership in his client’s defense while denying that the hanging of dogs on chokepoles qualifies as cruelty:
Stewart’s lawyer says the former worker didn’t commit animal cruelty. Instead, he pointed fingers at the city, saying the shelter has been troubled for years.
It’s true MAS is an epic fail. But that doesn’t negate the fact that Billy Stewart tortured dogs and cats there.
The city of Memphis defended Billy Stewart’s animal cruelty at the time it was happening. Over and over. The city dismissed animal advocates who raised valid concerns over his documented abuse of animals. Some of those who worked with him and witnessed the suffering he inflicted upon dogs and cats still work at the pound. And the city still defends the killing of healthy/treatable animals. In fact, they’d like some sort of award please:
“We provide excellent services,” said [interim director James] Rogers. “I would like for that to be recognized.”
MAS killed 62% of the pets in its care in the first four months of 2013. James Rogers, you may pick up your golden Fatal Plus trophy at the landfill, amidst the mountain of dead animals you’ve sent there.
I will post additional developments in the trial of Billy Stewart as warranted.
May 14, 2013
Rebecca Coleman, the shelter vet at the Memphis pound on whose watch numerous dogs have starved to death, including a puppy who was forced to eat his own littermate to survive, and who scrubbed a degloved cat’s wounds without providing pain medication and left him to suffer in a cage for 5 days has again been implicated in an animal cruelty incident at the pound. This time the victim was a mixed breed puppy who was impounded with a collar embedded in her neck:
According to city records, for days MAS Medical Director Rebecca Coleman did nothing, leaving the dog in its cage with an embedded collar.
According to shelter records, Coleman was the only veterinarian on duty the week the dog arrived. Four days after the dog arrived, it finally received medical attention for what was described as a “severe collar injury.” It was ingrown into the neck with a foul odor. It was so bad that not all of it could be removed; the clasp was left inside the dog because tissue had grown in.
Two days after treatment the dog was euthanized to ease its suffering.
That’s one way of putting it. Killed to hide the evidence of Rebecca Coleman’s negligence also comes to mind.
The cruelty occurred last fall but no charges have been filed. Someone did write a note in Rebecca Coleman’s personnel file about the incident.
In related news, there are fresh victims awaiting Dr. Coleman since the city seized two allegedly starving dogs with embedded collars from a Memphis firefighter this week:
According to neighbors and the police, the dogs had chains dug into their necks so deep the dogs were cut and bleeding. Police found bowls filled with dirt and out of reach from where the dogs were chained.
The dogs were taken to the Memphis Animal Shelter, where both are listed at a substantial risk of death.
You don’t say?
Fire. Them. All.
(Thank you Karen and Clarice for the links.)
Dog ID #253447 was impounded by MAS on April 18, 2013 because the residence did not have utilities. The impounding ACO left the owner a notice to comply and spoke with neighbors.
Let’s be clear from this point forward: MAS knew this dog (and the 3 others impounded with her) had an owner. MAS knew where the owner lived. MAS left the owner a notice to comply and recorded the full name and phone number of the owner’s sister.
Note the “OWNER UNKNOWN” contained in the portion of the records below:
The cage card for dog ID #253447 indicates she was housed in the stray area and that the microchip scanner was not working. Her intake type was listed as stray/field despite the fact that MAS knew she had an owner. She weighed 33 pounds.
She had just two observations noted in her records, both on April 19:
On her “review date”, the following note was entered:
And she was killed. Note that the kill tech indicated she had no microchip (did the scanner start working again?) and that her weight had dropped to 24.5 pounds in the 1 week she’d been at MAS:
There are no notes indicating any follow up was made with the owner or that the owner signed over this dog to MAS. This dog was locked in the back of the dungeon that is MAS, never being examined by the vet, never being allowed visitors, never being allowed outside for socialization, fresh air or even a brief walk. She was never offered to the public for adoption. I don’t know what happened to the other 3 dogs who were impounded with her. I don’t know if she was pregnant when they killed her. All I know is that, according to the records, she was living at a home without utilities when MAS took her away. Now she’s dead.
How many more, Memphis?
April 22, 2013
Submitted by Jody and Ona.
Maya, ID #A252702
Pit Bull (?) Female
7 years old, 50 lbs (at intake, per cage card)
Owner Surrendered on March 27, 2013
Jody asked MAS if Maya was pregnant and was told by a supervisor that the vet staff does “not believe that Maya is pregnant at this time, but without an ultrasound we cannot definitively make this determination.” Maya weighs 66 pounds today, per MAS, which is a gain of 16 pounds in less than 4 weeks. Oh and this is what her belly looks like:
I don’t have an ultrasound machine either, nor did I got to vet school but I’m willing to go out on a limb and say this dog is pregnant. If you can help share her, that would be great. She has until close of business on Tuesday, April 23. Anyone wanting to help Maya may leave comments here.
In 2012, MAS killed 69% of the pets in its care.
Memphis Animal Services
2350 Appling City Cove
Memphis, TN 38133
On April 11, 2013, I spoke with Carrie Crunk, a rescuer in Memphis. She told me that at the public meeting of the pound’s advisory board the previous evening, several local advocates were concerned about a pregnant dog at MAS. She says interim director James Rogers reassured concerned citizens that time would be provided to allow them network this dog and that no mention was ever made of killing her unborn puppies. The next day, Ms. Crunk says she called MAS and was placed on speaker phone with James Rogers, Tracy Dunlap and DeKeisha Tunstall. She says her group offered to rescue the pregnant dog but one of the people on the call (she’s not sure which one as the person did not identify himself/herself when speaking) said that the dog can not leave the building until she is spayed because it’s state law. When Ms. Crunk expressed concern that spaying a pregnant dog would mean killing the unborn pups inside her, someone on the call replied that the dog was “not far along” and that they had a rescue group from CO which was fine with killing the unborn pups and had offered to take the pregnant dog after the spay surgery. Ms. Crunk also told me she had heard from another local advocate who had visited MAS on April 11 with the intention of visiting the pregnant dog but was turned away because the dog had been “adopted”.
Under the TN open records law, records were requested for the pregnant dog on April 11. This is the wording of the request:
I am requesting all records for the dog ID #252910 – records to include all notes by ACO , behavioral notes, front and back of kennel card and all pertinent information on this dog including her final disposition. I also want all veterinary notes including other records which reference the disposition of the unborn pups in this dogs uterus at the time she was at MAS. I also am requesting the drug log for the day she was spayed.
The records indicate the dog was impounded as a stray on April 3. On April 9, her weight was recorded as 35 pounds and a notation was made that she appeared to be pregnant. She was vaccinated and dewormed. A noted dated April 10 says that Ona Cooper was given 48 hours to network the dog. Medical records from April 10, the day of the public meeting at which James Rogers reassured advocates they had time to network her, indicate she was spayed and her unborn puppies taken from her belly to die. Her weight was recorded as 47.2 pounds. The notes include the following:
Approx 11 puppies, approx 3 weeks old
Puppies given Fatal Plus en utero
On April 11, the day after the meeting, the day after the spay, and the day the records were requested, the following note appears in the records:
Puppies euthanized after spay surgery. 10 puppies estimated to be about 3 weeks in development. 0.1cc per puppy of Fatal Plus, bottle #40.
I have some serious concerns:
- Why did MAS refuse to allow Carrie Crunk’s local group to rescue the dog and her unborn pups in favor of an out of state group which agreed with the killing of the unborn pups?
- Where is this state law that does not allow exceptions for the release of intact dogs from shelters and if it exists, why has MAS ignored it so many times in the past when releasing intact dogs and cats to rescuers?
- Why was James Rogers reassuring concerned citizens at the public meeting on April 10 that they would be given time to network the pregnant dog when in fact she was already spayed, her puppies already removed from her body?
- How can the 12 pound discrepancy in the dog’s weight between April 9 and April 10 be accounted for?
- Why is there only one page containing a single line entry for the pound’s entire drug log on April 11, 2013? Assuming this was a normal day at MAS and numerous pets were killed, how were the other dogs and cats in their care killed that day? Because apparently they didn’t use controlled substances to do it. Is this an indication that strangling dogs and crushing cats to death is still practiced in the MAS kill room?
- Why would anyone at MAS contend that the dog was “not far along” when in fact it was ordinary citizens noticing the size of her belly who alerted MAS to the fact that this dog was pregnant? A pregnant dog’s belly does not begin to enlarge until the second half of pregnancy because the puppies do not develop to any significant size until then. In other words, by the time it’s obvious to casual onlookers that the dog is pregnant, she is near term.
- Why would the vet note that the 11 (or 10?) puppies were only about 3 weeks in development and killed with injections of Fatal Plus when in fact canine embryos at that stage are merely 1 centimeter in size? See a photo of a puppy at that stage of development here. (This is an actual medical photo from a teaching facility and may not be appropriate for sensitive readers.)
- Why are the note about the Fatal Plus injections for the unborn pups and the drug log for those injections both dated April 11 when the spay was done April 10? When the vet indicated the puppies were killed “after” the spay surgery, did that mean one day “after”?
This pregnant dog had a local rescue willing to take her and her unborn puppies but MAS refused in favor of an out of state rescue which raised no objection to the killing of the pups. The unborn puppies had a right to live. The records appear to show deception and incompetence, at best, on the part of MAS. How many more, Memphis?
One of the three former MAS employees charged with animal cruelty in conjunction with an undercover police investigation one year ago now faces additional charges stemming from the same investigation. Prosecutors recently charged Billy Stewart with an additional five counts of cruelty bringing his total to nine counts when he goes to trial. The five added counts are apparently related to five additional pets the undercover police officer allegedly observed Mr. Stewart torturing in the pound’s kill room. Mr. Stewart has previously claimed his innocence:
According to court records, Stewart denied doing anything wrong, saying, “They are trying to put these charges on me because they want me to get fired a long time ago but because I’m in the union it was hard for the mayor and the city to get rid of me.”
He added he was “set up by an undercover officer” and “they didn’t like me because I was a hard worker and on time.”
Punctuality and a strong work ethic or choking pets unconscious in the kill room? It’s up to a jury to sort it out now. I hope the prosecutor’s case is well prepared and justice is served.