Frequently Asked Questions
Where can I find the city ordinances about animals and/or horse-drawn carriages?


These sections of the City of Memphis Ordinance were updated recently and have not been updated by Municode at the time of this writing. However, we have shared a digital copy of both revised sections here. The Horse-Drawn Carriages section can be found from pages 7-44, and the Animals section can be found from pages 8-88.

Do you allow out-of-state adoptions?

We don’t have any residency requirements for adopters and are happy to adopt out of state. Our limitation is that we don’t have any way to transport pets to adopters. For adopters who are willing to travel, we appreciate the opportunity to make your experience go as smoothly as possible, so we ask that you let us know in advance that you’re coming. Email [email protected] to let us know when you’re coming, where you’re coming from, how long you’re staying in Memphis, and if you have a particular pet you’re interested in.

Why don't you pick up and/or take in every pet that you are contacted about?

At Memphis Animal Services, we work hard to help as many animals as possible, and as shelter standards and best practices evolve, that looks different in the 2020s than it did in the 2000s and 2010s. Staffing, funding, space, and other resources limit how many pets we can bring in and physically care for here in the shelter, but we’re still helping more pets than we did in our highest recent intake year of 2019, which was 11,036. We’re just helping them differently, thanks to a national best practice called “managed intake.” 

Managed intake is a proactive approach that allows animal shelters to manage the flow of animals into their facilities, prioritize resources and care for the animals already in their care, and ensure that pet parents and caretakers are aware of and connected with alternatives to shelter intake when possible.  

So how do we help pets differently? Whereas pre-2017 when we started managed intake, we would have just taken in every single pet to the shelter, no questions asked, now we, well…ask questions! With consent-based managed intake, we ask owners if there’s anything we can do to help keep the pet with their family, and we provide resources to keep those pets with their families. We ask finders of pets if they’re willing to hold on to the pet and look for their families, since only about 22% of the owners of lost pets even know to check the shelter! If an owner or finder absolutely is not willing to participate in helping that animal, we don’t force them to do so. But if they are, we can provide them resources like food, crates, supplies, and wellness services. We have an interactive lost and found map so that if you lose a pet or find a pet, that pet will show up on that map.  

Managed intake does NOT mean we’ve stopped taking in or picking up stray dogs. We only have 17 animal services officer positions for the whole city of Memphis, and so we’ve NEVER been able to get to every stray dog call. We’ve always had to prioritize and triage animal control requests. Dogs posing a threat, injured animals, bites, and other priorities have to be completed first before our officers can move on to lower-priority calls. Sometimes this means we don’t make it to the lowest priority calls, but everyone who calls talks to a live person when they call 545-COPS, and then they get an automated text message with guidance that is customized depending on their call type. 

Finally, why is managed intake a national best practice? The National Animal Care & Control Association  sums it up: “Some of the consequences of on-demand, immediate intake include animals being unnecessarily impounded; families and pets being needlessly and often permanently separated; increased stress, disease, and death in shelter animals; poor customer experience; compromised staffing efficiency; and decreased organizational effectiveness.” 

Why doesn't your shelter cat-test dogs to see if they are cat-friendly?

The Association of Shelter Veterinarian Guidelines state that it is “unacceptable to expose cats to dogs in the shelter as a test to determine if the dog can safely live with cats because this poses a significant risk of emotional and physical harm to cats.”


The Association of Shelter Veterinarian Guidelines emphasize that “current recommendations for behavior assessment are to combine objective information collected via behavioral history with objective behavior observations noted during a variety of interactions.” That is how we handle evaluating behavior for the pets in our care.


Memphis Animal Services is proud to have a Pet Resource Center in place to support thousands of families and their pets each year with essential resources to help them keep their pets as opposed to surrendering them to the shelter: things like pet food, medical care, pet deposits and rehoming support. This program is funded through grants and donations, and it is our intent to never have to turn away a family in need due to lack of resources.

With that goal in mind, it is critical that citizens do their part to help us maximize our resources by complying with city ordinances and having their pet spayed or neutered (fixed) so the demand for our services does not continue to grow through the unplanned birth of puppies and kittens.

In order to achieve the above stated goal, we must require that PRC clients accept our offer to have their pet(s) spayed/neutered for free in order to receive additional services like pet food.


It can be a helpless feeling as an animal lover to see dogs die preventable deaths. We feel it too, when everything we’re doing isn’t enough.

A shelter is a very stressful place for many dogs, and we often see behaviors here that may not exist elsewhere. Unfortunately, if a dog’s behavior in the shelter is all we have to evaluate them on, that is what we must make decisions on. When that is compounded with the extremely high capacity we’ve had for over a year (we took in an average of 126 dogs a week in 2022), that can lead to us having a fairly low threshold for behavior issues when we’re making euthanasia decisions—much lower than we would like. That’s one reason that we push so hard for foster homes—so that we can see what a dog is like outside of the shelter environment, in a home. We were able to get 29% MORE dogs into foster homes in 2022—but it’s still not enough.

We have robust programming designed to keep pets out of the shelter if they don’t need to be here, including our Pet Resource Center, which provides support to pet parents to prevent them from surrendering their pets; our Found Foster program, which provides support to finders of lost pets to encourage them to hold on to the pets and try to find their owners without immediately surrendering them to the shelter; our Animal Services Officers also make every effort to reunite pets with their families before bringing them into the shelter. We do all this for several important reasons: one of those is that we believe in keeping families together, and one of those is to save kennel space so that the pets who HAVE to come to the shelter have more time to find an adopter, foster, or rescue. It’s still not enough.

2022 and 2023 have been times of crisis for animal shelters across the U.S. We have been 30-50% over our capacity for care in our dog area in terms of kennels, staffing, and other resources for over a year. We are a staff of people who care and are doing everything we can every single day, and we sincerely hope you will get involved to help as a foster, volunteer, or donor.


Fortunately, we have not had to euthanize a healthy cat since November 2016. Cats are only about 25% of our intake in a typical year, and when we do have to euthanize cats, they are very sick, injured, or neonatal kittens who are not strong enough to survive despite the valiant efforts of their foster parents. 


As national best practices for feline diagnostic testing have evolved, we have changed our policies and procedures. As such, we haven’t tested for FIV (Feline immunodeficiency virus) in several years. We do test for FeLV (Feline leukemia virus), but a cat testing positive for FeLV doesn’t mean they won’t have a positive outcome! We adopt out dozens of FeLV+ cats each year! With some adopter education, FeLV+ cats can live happy, healthy lives.


We enforce the Mandatory Spay/Neuter Ordinance on a daily basis. In 2022, we issued 1,033 summons to court for violation of the Mandatory Spay/Neuter Ordinance. Keep in mind that it’s a secondary offense, which means that law enforcement (including Memphis Animal Services officers as well as MPD officers) cannot investigate for or issue a summons to court for violation of the spay/neuter ordinance UNLESS another ordinance or law violation is present. For example, if we get a request for a welfare check because a neighbor is worried that a dog doesn’t have adequate shelter, we can then check for compliance with the spay/neuter ordinance. If it’s our first interaction with this pet parent and they are cooperative and care about their pet and want to do better, we are typically going to assist them with getting into compliance first before we take the enforcement path. (We provided free spay/neuter for nearly 300 owned and community pets last year.) Then we’ll do a re-check and if they haven’t gotten into compliance, that’s when we issue a summons to court for an ordinance violation.


Memphis Animal Services is the city of Memphis’s municipal animal control agency, and municipal shelter for both the city of Memphis and Shelby County, excluding Germantown, Bartlett, and Collierville, which all have their own municipal shelters.  The pets in our care have come from inside Memphis city limits and from inside Shelby County limits excluding those three municipalities.


We do! We have several amazing transport partners, including Animal Humane Society in Minnesota, who drives to Memphis twice a month to take 20-30 dogs back to their community each trip. Other transport partners don’t have a regular schedule but do help us by taking as many pets as possible whenever they can. We have carefully curated our transport partners over time to work primarily with those partners who are able to take the pets that our community truly needs help placing, such as pit bull type dogs, heartworm positive dogs, and nursing mom dogs and their puppies. If you are with a shelter or rescue that is interested in becoming a transport partner with us, please reach out to us at [email protected]. 


We do pick up cats when they are injured or sick. However, we don’t pick up healthy loose cats. Cats in Memphis legally have the right to roam. Additionally, many cat owners allow their cats to be outdoor cats or indoor/outdoor cats, which they are perfectly within their rights to do, so it would be very difficult for our Animal Services Officers to know when they were removing someone’s pet vs. removing a “stray” cat. Alley Cat Allies has a helpful article with information about why leash laws for cats are harmful instead of helpful.


This is one of the most complicated questions for us to answer, because the actual answer is: “It depends.” To explain a little further, though, what does it depend on? Let’s use dogs as an example, since that’s the primary source of our overcapacity. Our capacity depends on:

  • Size and age of dogs in our care
    • How many large adult dogs do we have? How many single puppies do we have?
      • If this number is high, we’re more likely to be over capacity because these dogs are more likely to take up one kennel each.
    • How many nursing moms with litters of typically 4-8 puppies do we have?
      • If this number is high, we may not be over capacity because we could technically have 9 dogs in 1 kennel when we have a nursing mom and her puppies.
    • How many weaned litters of typically 4-8 puppies do we have?
      • If this number is high, we may not be over capacity because we could technically have 8 dogs in 1 kennel when we have a litter of puppies (depending on their size).

Keep in mind, capacity goes beyond physical kennel space. How many staff members we have, how many fragile kittens are in foster care taking up our veterinarians’ time, how many dogs with behavioral challenges we have; these are all factors that affect our capacity to care.


Over a period of decades, the animal welfare system has put up a series of roadblocks to adoption that are based on bad experiences from a tiny percentage of adopters. We all want the best for the pets in our care, and we wish there was a magic test we could administer to see if someone will be a good adopter or not—but there isn’t.  

That’s why Memphis Animal Services practices an “open adoptions” philosophy, which means we don’t believe in putting unnecessary barriers between pets and the people who want to help them. Our adoption process is framed around the Humane Society of the United States’ “Adopters Welcome” model.

Having an Adopters Welcome adoption program means we make a philosophical commitment to celebrating people’s willingness to adopt; meeting them where they are in terms of their attitudes and understanding of pet care; and investing in their success with guidance and practical support.

This excerpt from HSUS’s Adopters Welcome manual explains why open adoptions are so critical:

“You can’t afford to let your experience with a fraction of pets and their owners influence your perceptions of adopters. The consequences of denying an animal a home because of an unfounded fear or a prejudice are too severe:

  • Long stays in a facility may compromise quality of life.
  • Resources such as time, funds and space are diverted from other pets within your organization and your community.
  • Limited space forces you to make euthanasia decisions.
  • Demand grows for inhumane sources of pets, such as puppy mills and questionable breeders.
  • Pets and owners who may need help down the road are cut off from the safety net you provide.”