What's wrong with this picture? The Memphis City Council just last week dispatched a letter to members of the Shelby County legislative delegation asking their financial approval for a new arena to house the NBA's Grizzlies franchise in Memphis. Now a committee of the same city council has turned down the funding for a proposed new animal shelter.
The shortfalls of the existing animal shelter were extensively documented three weeks ago in a cover story by Flyer staff writer Mary Cashiola, who described a smelly, overcrowded, disease-ridden, and inefficiently run facility where animals -- often people's pets which had been snared while temporarily running loose and not kept for the requisite time to allow their being reclaimed -- were subjected to a painful form of "euthanasia" sans benefit of anesthetic. "Shelter," indeed!
Many of the excesses, it seemed clear, were the inevitable consequence of the outmoded facility's having entered its dotage. At a time when the obsolesence of the 10-year-old downtown Pyramid is being taken for granted, the shelter, going on two generations old now, should be clearly seen for what it is: hopelessly outmoded.
Accordingly, Mayor Herenton included in his new budget a call for a new shelter to be built on a site and acreage twice as large as the present ones at a cost of $7.7 million -- of which $1 million would be committed in the next fiscal year. (That compares to the $250 million which the proposed new NBA-worthy arena would cost -- $24 million of which is to come from local taxpayers.)
Yet the same council which has apparently put aside all doubt and unanimously endorsed the call for the new downtown sports arena balks at building the new animal shelter. Speaking for the prevailing majority in a 6-3 vote against the project by the council's budget committee for capital improvements, council member Barbara Swearengen Holt said her understanding was that "this was supposed to be a flat budget year." (As against a roundball budget year, we presume.)
Her council colleague Pat VanderSchaaf had what we thought was the perfect rejoinder to that. "It's a public health issue," she was quoted by The Commercial Appeal as saying, and to delay acting on behalf of the public health would be "reprehensible."
That's part of the issue, we grant. The other part is that the community has at stake in this case not only its good health but its good name. It is no accident that the adjective identified historically with a society's efforts to keep its animal population in good order is "humane."
The fact is that we as a species have long defined ourselves at least partly by the manner in which we treat the other species of the earth. In allowing the continued mistreatment of itinerant animals while finding it so tempting to coddle the proprietors of itinerant athletes, we in Memphis and Shelby County risk a fundamental redefinition of who we are.
We urge the budget committee to reconsider its vote or, failing that, ask the full council, in all conscience, to reverse the action.