By David Waters, The Commercial Appeal
The history of the Memphis Animal Shelter is a sad and frustrating story that has included a police raid, guilty pleas and convictions for animal cruelty and animal fighting, public protests and great controversy. In 2010, 77 percent of the animals it took in were euthanized.
All of that makes the shelter’s recent success especially encouraging and impressive.
Who would have believed just a few years back that the MAS “save rate” — the percentage of animals that wind up in the shelter and don’t have to be euthanized — has risen to 84.04 percent, the highest in the shelter’s history.
The rate is 11 percent higher than it was in June of 2016, when Mayor Jim Strickland hired administrator Alexis Pugh to assume management of the beleaguered facility. The monthly rate for October was 89.3 percent, also a record.
The success is due to a number of factors. That includes an administrator and staff who encourage engagement with the community to help people keep their pets instead of following an outdated method of operation that focuses on rounding up strays, accepting any animals dropped off at the door, and gassing an unacceptable number of them.
Today, Memphians who decide they don’t want their pets or can’t afford them find themselves in the embrace of an “owner surrender prevention program” that requires appointments with counselors who can guide them to resources that can create a better future for their pets — food, low-cost veterinary care, temporary boarding facilities, animal rescue groups and the like.
Other significant factors include rescue flights that have transported a diverse mix of adoptable animals to areas of the country where adoptable pets are in greater demand. The flights, courtesy of the nonprofit Wings of Rescue organization, have been essential, Pugh says, to the shelter’s recent success.
October’s record rate was partly due to the shelter’s “Fall in Love with a Shelter Pet” promotion that made all cats and all dogs over 31 pounds available for a $31 adoption fee, and partly to the three-day “ASPCA Subaru Loves Pets” event, when MAS offered a selected number of cats for no adoption fee to adopters who purchased a month of flea prevention.
Adoption fees are usually $75 for dogs and $70 for cats, which covers spay-neuter services, a microchip, vaccines, a heartworm test for dogs or FIV/FeLV test for cats, a collar and/or leash and a customized ID tag.
Going forward, the ultimate goal of eliminating euthanasia altogether will depend on a number of factors, including how well the city’s mandatory spay-neuter law is observed and enforced. There are still too many irresponsible pet owners in Memphis, a situation that could be improved with a more vigorous public education campaign.
The shelter’s 84 percent “save rate” places MAS tantalizingly close to the ultimate goal of not being required to kill a single animal, except in rare, unavoidable and required cases. It has reached that plateau for cats. For adult dogs, the category most at risk, the challenge is greater.
The city is blessed not only with an animal shelter that works, and also with a fair number of volunteers and organizations devoting time and resources to supporting the shelter, rescuing strays, providing pet owners with free or low-cost spay-neutering services and the like.
How far this trend can be taken is largely up to the public, but awareness of the issue is growing, along with a greater appreciation of the sense of social responsibility exhibited — OK, let’s just say it’s cooler to adopt — when you rescue an animal from an uncertain fate.