In the early hours of October 27, 2009, the Shelby County Sheriff's Office executed a search warrant of the Memphis Animal Shelter at the request of the Shelby County District Attorney General's Office. Officers investigating allegations of animal cruelty found more than 200 dogs and cats living in substandard conditions. Many had been deprived of food and water. The ASPCA was called in to assist with forensic evidence collection and analysis, as well as facilitate the rescue and veterinary care of animals at the shelter.
After receiving tips from concerned residents regarding the conditions at the facility, Memphis District Attorney General Bill Gibbons requested an investigation by the Sheriff's Office. According to the search warrant, some of the dogs "are involved in court cases involving dog fighting and have been marked 'hold for court.'" The search warrant also indicated that some of the employees broke health codes by keeping dogs quarantined for rabies with dogs that are not required to be quarantined in the same kennel. In addition, the warrant reported unsanitary conditions, overcrowding and "vicious and sick" animals being housed along with other pets.
The ASPCA collected evidence for potential prosecution of a criminal case, as well as lent the services of its special forensic cruelty investigation team, comprised of disaster animal rescuers; field service investigators; Dr. Melinda Merck, the nation's premier forensic veterinarian; and Kathryn Destreza, chief humane officer for the Louisiana SPCA and ASPCA Contract Investigator. During the initial stages of the investigation, local veterinarians and volunteers from the American Humane Association staffed the shelter.
"Animal cruelty and neglect must not be tolerated, and we are proud to lend our support to Shelby County law enforcement," ASPCA President and CEO Ed Sayres said at the time. "Work like this is central to our mission, and the ASPCA is gratified that Shelby County is raising its voice against animal cruelty."
On February 10, 2010, fired shelter director Ernest Alexander was indicted on six counts of aggravated animal cruelty. He was arrested in New Mexico and extradited to Memphis to face the charges. Alexander's indictment followed those of veterinarian Angela Middleton and shelter supervisor Tina Quattlebaum, who were suspended with pay after the indictments. Middleton was ultimately fired in July 2010. All three are out on $25,000 bonds while the charges are pending, and all face prison time if convicted.
In March, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton appointed a new shelter director, Matthew Pepper, who local media outlets have since credited with turning the shelter around. Adoptions are up, euthanasia is down, and a new $7.6 million facility is under construction and set to open in 2011.
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