Dogs & Laws

Arkansas Animal Shelter Director Charged with 285 Counts of Felony Animal Cruelty

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The director of the Humane Society of the Delta in Helena, Arkansas, is facing 285 counts of felony animal cruelty for horrific conditions found at the no-kill animal shelter.

Helena-West Helena Police officers and employees with the Helena-West Helena Water Department visited the Humane Society of the Delta shelter last week to discuss an outstanding water account of more than $29,000.

When they arrived, they discovered alarming conditions—overflowing garbage cans and trash scattered around the property, animals kept in filthy wire cages, tattered and broken shelters, and  “an overwhelming smell of feces and ammonia” in the warehouse.

The following day, police took statements from former shelter volunteers that witnessed neglect, abuse, and mistreatment of the animals first-hand. They admitted that some of the dogs they helped to relocate to other shelters were knowingly infected with heartworms, parasites, or parvovirus.

On Thursday, Helena-West Helena police officers and members of the Phillips County Sheriff’s Department executed a search warrant on the property.

Officers found 240 dogs and 45 cats living in absolute squalor from the property. Many of the animals were malnourished, suffering from open and infected wounds, or sitting and laying in their own urine and feces. Rats, both alive and dead, were scattered throughout the property and some animals, desperate for food, had resorted to eating rats.

Helena-West Helena Police Chief James Smith says what he’s seen at the Humane Society of the Delta is unfathomable. “Just a horrendous crime scene at this location,” he said.

When police entered a mobile home on the property where Shelter Director, Reta Merritt Roberts and a young child reside, they found equally horrific living conditions, including animal excrement and urine as well as several rats, throughout the house.

Helena-West Helena Police arrested Shelter Director, Reta Merritt Roberts. Roberts is facing 285 counts of aggravated animal cruelty, a Class D Felony in Arkansas. Police also removed the young child, who appeared to be covered in insect bites, from the home.

The shelter was originally created to serve area animal control needs and even earned a no-kill shelter designation before taking a turn for the worse.

“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,” Helena-West Helena Mayor Kevin Smith said.

While many area shelters have offered to assist, transporting the animals will take some time. In the meantime, Smith wrote a plea for help in caring for the animals at the property.

The cats and dogs who were kept at this no-kill “shelter” were suffering a miserable existence. Reta Merritt Roberts is facing 285 counts of aggravated animal cruelty, a Class D Felony in Arkansas. A petition has been created urging the courts to hand down the maximum punishment allowable by law.

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