Blogger about Memphis Animal Shelter Receives Warning Letter

The originator and writer of the pet-related YesBiscuit blog  has received a warning letter from City Attorney Herman Morris Jr. Her offense? Starting a fund to provide medical care for some of the animals rescued from Memphis Animal Services, also known as the Shelter.

Shirley Thistlethwaite is a South Carolina resident who in recent months has focused on Shelter conditions, which she learned about when the Shelter was raided in 2009. On her blog she has circulated numerous webcam images of shelter employees mishandling or mistreating animals, and she has pushed hard for the Shelter to improve its 77 percent kill rate. She also repeatedly questions Shelter officials about why potential adopters can see only selected  animals in the up-front adoption area of the Shelter, while the majority of the animals are kept in an area off-limits to the public and are usually euthanized within days, if not hours.

The warning  letter  to Thistethwaite, which she received June 17. stems from a situation that came to her attention on June 2nd. She saw the dog (pictured here) on the webcam, and shortly afterwards she  emailed Shelter director Matthew Pepper that she would like to help the dog. In less than an hour, Pepper responded that the dog had been euthanized to prevent suffering. "This dog was evaluated by a veterinarian," wrote Pepper, "and our Veterinary Medical Director identified the dog as being in advance stages of emaciation, weak and in a deteriorated physical condition that exceeded our ability to treat . . . " He added that Shelter staff would be happy to work with Thistlethwaite but "need some advanced notice" of what she was seeking.

Thistlethwaite informed him that because the dog was in the "stray" area where the public is not allowed, she had no way of knowing about the dog or its condition "in advance" — only on the webcam.

In this exchange of emails, Thistlethwaite also told Pepper that she can raise money for a specific dog's vet care and that "I already have money donated by folks who want to help pets from MAS." Thistlethwaite's fund is called "ChipIn." News of this fund prompted a communication to Thistlethwaite from City Attorney Herman Morris, who, according to Thistlethwaite's blog, stated, "It has come to the attention of this office that you are soliciting funds on behalf of Memphis Animal Services. As you may or may not be aware, this unauthorized solicitation of charitable funds on behalf of [MAS] appears to be a direct violation of South Carolina Law." And he cites a South Carolina code (since South Carolina is her state of residence)  that such solicitations cannot be made "when the other person has not given written consent to the use of his name for these purposes."  Morris, according to the blog post, goes on to say that unless Thistlethwaite can produce evidence of written consent by MAS to solicit contributions on its behalf, "you are requested to cease and desists all of these unauthorized activities at once. Failure to comply with this notice will force this office to consider all legal options in addressing this matter."

Thistlethwaite says she has closed the ChipIn account "to keep the focus on animals" but refuses to give up the fight. She also states that she never solicited on behalf of MAS but started collecting donations from blog readers for veterinary care and related expenses for pets rescued from MAS. She has sent a letter to the Tennessee Attorney General asking him to investigate whether the city attorney's actions violate the TN Anti-SLAPP statute or her First Amendment rights. In a recent post she asks readers, "  .  .  . should we fade quietly into the night under threat of 'legal action' or . . continue to push for meaningful change in Memphis? . . . " To read more on Thistlethwaite's ongoing efforts to help Shelter animals, go to


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