City shelter hides records based on animal “privacy” rights | Opinion


In late April, the town of Memphis abruptly modified course and shut down entry to records that present how the city-owned animal shelter treats the canines and cats in its care.

The map to achieve this determination is acquainted to these of us within the public records neighborhood and sobering to anybody who needs authorities to be open and accountable to its residents.

It often begins with an individual inside authorities who doesn’t need specific info within the records to be revealed. Next is a name to somebody within the authorities’s authorized division, after which one other lawyer and one other lawyer till a “case” could be made to withhold the records.

It usually doesn’t matter if the reasoning undermines the general public records legislation, which the Tennessee Supreme Court has mentioned “serves a crucial role in promoting accountability in government through public oversight of governmental activities.”

The result’s that, little by little, the well-traveled path by some authorities attorneys feeds and breeds a tradition of informal disregard for the transparency residents deserve and count on.

A citizen’s solely actual choice within the face of one of these protection of presidency secrecy is to rent a lawyer and file a lawsuit to attempt to implement a legislation that nobody inside authorities will implement. And, as those that observe this street know, most residents simply don’t have the time and money.

Here’s what occurred in Memphis:

A citizen lengthy concerned with animal rescue teams in Memphis requested for records associated to a selected animal saved by Memphis Animal Services (MAS). These included medical records that will present the remedy of the animal by the city-owned shelter.

But a number of months earlier, the animal service’s director, Alexis Pugh, had requested the town’s authorized division whether or not such medical records might be withheld.

“MAS sometimes receives very broad requests for animal medical records from people who have no connection to the animals, so they are very interested in whether there is a statutory basis for withholding these records,” the town’s lawyer wrote to the state’s Office of Open Records Counsel, an workplace created to assist residents and authorities perceive the general public records legislation.

The metropolis’s lawyer was probing whether or not the state legislation that gives privateness for human medical records additionally might be understood to permit the town to disclaim entry to animal medical records.

Lee Pope, the lawyer within the Office of Open Records Counsel (OORC), mentioned “it does not make sense that the provisions (in state law) governing patient records would apply to animal patients,” however he finally deferred to the Tennessee Department of Health, which licenses veterinarians and vet amenities.

Animals have proper to medical confidentiality, state says

Paige Edwards, an lawyer for the state well being division, instructed the Memphis legislation division that animal medical records should not thought-about public records.

As the state sees it, as confirmed in an e mail to me, no differentiation exists within the legislation between human and non-human sufferers in relation to a affected person’s privilege of confidentiality. If you didn’t catch that: Dogs and cats possess a proper equal to people to maintain their medical records non-public.

This was sufficient for the Memphis authorized division, and Memphis Animal Services stopped fulfilling public records requests that will present medical remedy that its vets have been giving (or not giving) to animals in its shelter.

“Effective April 26, 2021, the TDOH in congruence with the OORC determined that animal medical records are exempt from disclosure …,” the Memphis legislation division instructed the citizen in an e mail. (Later, the legislation division mentioned euthanasia records might be launched.)

For individuals involved about such animals, this was a blow.

Under a earlier administration, the city-owned shelter was raided by the Sheriff’s Department in an animal cruelty investigation. People have been fired and prison prices have been filed. The metropolis labored to show issues round. But now a brand new veil has been dropped to cover behind.

Are animals receiving correct medical care? Are they getting ache remedy? Or are they being left to endure with out it in cages till their euthanasia dates or till somebody adopts them? Is the medical prognosis of some animals such that it might be extra humane to euthanize quite than wait a number of days for a potential adoption?

And, maybe most significantly, why does Memphis Animal Services need to cover this info now, in any case these years?

Exploiting a canine’s ‘privacy’ to cover shelter remedy is twisted