Ark. officials seize animal shelter after abuse reports

State News

HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. — Mayor Kevin Smith has executed search and seize warrants on a local animal shelter after reports of animal cruelty.

Officials say Helena-West Helena Police officers and employees with the Helena-West Helena Water Department went to the shelter Tuesday regarding an outstanding water account of more than $29,000.

While there, officers reportedly saw trashcans overflowing with garbage, as well as piles of garbage and debris scattered throughout the property. Officials say officers also saw dogs in wire fence kennels and smelled “an overwhelming smell of feces and ammonia” in the warehouse.

Wednesday, the police department reportedly took statements from two volunteers who claimed to have witnessed mistreatment, neglect and abuse of the animals. The witnesses also reportedly told officers that several of the dogs they helped relocate suffered from heartworms and other parasites.

Smith said the shelter was once something that stood out against the cruelty that was witnessed in recent weeks and months.

“A shelter that was once a champion for animal welfare, and fought hard against animal cruelty and inhumane treatment, has since developed into a place of animal hoarding, maltreatment and worse,” Smith said. 

Helena-West Helena Police Chief James Smith says what he’s seen at the Humane Society of the Delta is hard to comprehend.

“There were several animals that had injuries, lacerations to their bodies. Just a horrendous crime scene at this location,” he said.

Shelter Director Reta Merritt Roberts was arrested at this mobile home located on the shelter property and charged with Class D felony for cruelty to animals. Police also removed a child from the address, living in was described as “filth” and notified the Department of Human Services.

Thursday’s operation comes after months of complaints from volunteers and the public about conditions at the “no kill” shelter and an extensive investigation by the city.

“The purpose of this facility was originally set up to be the animal control for our city and our county and that has failed miserably in recent years,” Mayor Smith said.

Officials estimate more than three hundred dogs are on the sprawling complex where shelters are tattered or laying broken on the ground.

“Some of the animals don’t even have shelter,” said Mike Wheeler, president of the Arkansas State Animal Control Association. “There’s rats, they’re eating on rats, there’s raw sewage they’re sitting in. It’s just not, it’s not what animal welfare should be.”

WREG has reported multiple initiatives at the shelter, including back in June when the Humane Society of the Delta took in more than 100 cats, in one of the largest animal rescue cases Arkansas has ever seen.

The Humane Society of the Delta had not released a statement Thursday morning, but the group’s Facebook page had been recently updated.

Smith said his first goal is to rescue the animals, following with cleaning the facility and rebuilding it to healthy and satisfactory conditions.

“In a joint county and city law enforcement operation, and after an extensive investigation that includes other eyewitness documentation and testimony, we are moving to protect the health and safety of these animals, as well as those people who work here and are exposed to extreme levels of health and environmental risks.” Smith said this morning.

The operation will be led by Helena West Helena Police Department, and is joined by the Phillips County Sheriff’s Department, municipal animal control, the state environmental enforcement officer for the city, as well as others who are assisting with care and assessment of the animal population.

The Tunica Humane Society says it is organizing a team of volunteers that can provide basic care to the animals who were removed from the shelter. Anyone who has experience with animal rescue and can help is asked to call the Tunica Humane Society at 662-519-1700.

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