Animal Welfare

Submitted by the Humane Society of Memphis & Shelby County

Pet Overpopulation

Thousands of animals die in Memphis each year for one reason: there’s no place for them to go. The overpopulation of dogs and cats is a dire problem that both directly kills animals (through euthanasia in a shelter), and indirectly kills animals (through animals on the street dying of starvation, dehydration, exposure to the elements, being hit by vehicles, and a number of other dangers to which stray animals are exposed).

Pet overpopulation negatively affects people and our communities, too. Stray animals pose risks through bites and disease. An abundance of stray animals, often concentrated in certain industrial areas or low-income neighborhoods, has a “broken window” effect on the residents and businesses nearby: it contributes to the perception that no one takes care of the neighborhood and encourages others to treat the neighborhood with the same apathy and disrespect.

There are a number of animal shelters—both municipal and private—in the Memphis area, as well as private rescue groups, which are often run 100% by volunteers. Our city’s shelters and rescue groups operate at full capacity the majority of the time—there is nowhere for all the stray animals to go, if not to a municipal shelter where they can be euthanized for time or space.

Proactive spay/neuter must be a priority for our city, from the city government itself to animal welfare organizations including shelters, rescues, to spay/neuter clinics and private veterinary clinics. We must work together to remove obstacles such as expense and transportation. There are currently a number of low-cost spay/neuter programs in Memphis, including those at the Humane Society of Memphis & Shelby County and Mid-South Spay Neuter Services, but the demand, especially for very low-income services, continues to be great.

Resources for Low-Cost Spay/Neuter

Resources for Pet Adoption in Memphis


Animal Cruelty & Neglect

In addition to the thousands of animals killed in shelters and strays who die on the streets, there are countless others who are injured, become ill, and/or die as a result of cruelty and neglect. There are several agencies in Memphis that respond to complaints and tips about animal cruelty, including law enforcement, Memphis Animal Services and surrounding communities’ municipal animal control, and the Humane Society of Memphis & Shelby County. Each of these agencies must work within state and local laws and ordinances to determine when laws are being broken, and when possible remove the animal(s) from the home, sometimes with the goal of adopting them out if they are adoptable.

Resources for Reporting Cruelty

  • Humane Society of Memphis & Shelby County: Leave a message at 901-937-3910 or email with the property address and the situation you’re calling about, including what laws are potentially being broken. You can also send photos to the email address.
  • City of Memphis Animal Services (to report loose dogs or other animal control complaints): 901-362-5310
  • If you don’t live in Memphis or Shelby County, contact the non-emergency line for the police or sheriff’s department by which your area is served.


Poverty & Pets

Memphis is consistently ranked as one of the poorest cities in the nation. Nearly 30 percent of Memphians live below the poverty line, and many families are struggling to pay their bills and feed themselves. It’s easy to understand, then, why some people are not able to care for their pets to either the legal requirement or the “moral requirement” (meaning the standard to which most people would agree is the right way to treat a pet). Fortunately, there are resources for those who want to provide adequate care for their pets but financially aren’t able to do so.

Resources for low-cost or free pet care


Breed Discrimination

Breed discrimination is an issue that complicates—and is complicated by—the overarching pet overpopulation in Memphis and Shelby County. Pit bulls and pit bull-type dogs have been the victims of misinformation, myths, hysteria, and ultimately discrimination for several decades. Many property management companies and insurance companies will not rent to or cover pit bull-type dogs (and often a number of other oft-restricted breeds, including Chow Chow, Doberman Pinscher, and many others). Pit bulls are one of the most overbred breeds of dog, especially in the Memphis area, and so they flood shelters. When interested adopters are not allowed to own a pit bull because of breed restrictions by their insurance company or property manager, that means pit bulls are more difficult to adopt out, and more are euthanized in shelters.

In an unfortunate catch-22, because of the pit bull reputation, pit bull-type dogs are often owned by individuals with no intention of caring for or socializing them properly. Pit bulls are the most commonly seen “yard dog” in the Memphis area, which means that the dog is put out in a yard, usually either fenced in or, more often, chained up, and cared for only in the most basic sense. Dogs are social animals, and for a dog to be kept confined alone outside is very frustrating and not healthy for the dog physically or mentally.

Unfortunately, there are many individuals who seek to exploit animals and make a profit off of them. As we mentioned in the Pet Overpopulation section above, we as a city must remove obstacles for pet owners to get their pets spayed/neutered. But there are many people who are not willing to do this because breeding their dog is a form of income for them. The vast majority of people who allow their dogs to breed do not do so responsibly and do not place the puppies with owners who keep and care for the dog for the dog’s entire lifetime. That’s when we see dogs being surrendered to shelters or worse, just being let go. Since pit bulls are the most overbred type of dog in our area, pit bulls are the most populous dogs in animal shelters, and sadly the most populous breed of dog trying to survive on the streets.

Animal welfare industry employees and volunteers are saddened and frustrated by the cycle of pit bulls being overbred, not cared for, and euthanized in shelters. Shelters and rescue groups make efforts to save pit bull lives through adoption, and certainly a large number of pit bulls are rescued each year, but an equally large number are euthanized each year simply because there’s no place for them to go, and because as a pit bull, there are fewer places that they CAN go.

Historically, there has always been at least one breed of dog at a time that is villainized, including over the years German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, and bloodhounds. Today, it is the pit bull. Our hope is that, as the hysteria over pit bulls continues to fade, another breed doesn’t fall victim to the same discrimination.

“All types of dogs and cats deserve a chance,” said one animal welfare worker. “More and more people are seeing how pit bulls are just like any other dog and can just as easily make a wonderful companion as any other breed of dog. So we’re certainly seeing some positive change in this area. We encourage everyone to look at each cat and dog as an individual.”

Resources for adopting a pit bull