Authorities describe conditions at Arkansas animal shelter after it’s shut down, director arrested

Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 10:23 PM CDT
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HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. (WMC) - Horrendous, frightful, and deplorable are the words from the mayor and police chief of Helena-West Helena, Arkansas after a search warrant was served on the local animal shelter Thursday.

Police Chief James Smith said 240 dogs and 45 cats were found living in filth at the Humane Society of the Delta. The shelter director faces hundreds of felony counts of animal abuse and volunteers are desperately needed to care for these animals.

“Well, it was just abuse,” said Chief Smith. “It was just total abuse.”

Helena-West Helena police and Phillips County sheriff’s deputies raided the shelter early Thursday morning.

“We found emaciated dogs,” said Mayor Kevin Smith. “We found rat colonies by the hundreds. We found dead rats in dog pens, and feces, and trash. The conditions are frightful.”

Investigators arrested shelter director Reta Merritt Roberts and charged her with 285 felony counts of animal cruelty. The arrest comes after volunteers complained about the animals being mistreated, neglected, and physically abused by workers. The shelter also has an outstanding water bill of more than $29,000.

“Money from around the U.S. was actually coming here to help take care of these animals at this facility,” said Chief Smith. “So, you got people who are asking where’s the money? What is actually happening?”

Veterinarians are now examining the cats and dogs. More volunteers are needed to feed the animals and clean their cages.

Chief Smith said there may be more arrests in the case.

“There was substantial evidence that was found that approximately 31 cats had died on this premises,” he said.

Officers also entered a mobile home on the property where Roberts lives with her family, including a small child. Officers said they observed animal excrement and urine throughout the residence as well as rats inside the trailer. Chief Smith said it appears the shelter abuse went on for years without any checks and balances, something Smith promised to correct.

“We just want to make it better for the animals,” said Mayor Smith, “and make it what our community deserves.”

The mayor said rescue groups nationwide will arrive in Helena to transport the animals out of the shelter. Until then, more volunteers are needed. Call Helena police at 870-572-3441 for info on how to help.

Roberts was taken to the Woodruff County Jail in Augusta, Arkansas. Her bond hearing is scheduled for Friday morning.

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