Animal abuse is a problem in many states, including Arkansas, but local law enforcement say the difference in Arkansas is there's sometimes not much they can do about it.
Deputy Rhonda Long who works for the Fulton County Sheriff's Department said although investigating animal abuse cases is, "not the glamorous end of law enforcement," it is necessary for the safety and health of the community.
According to Long and other officers in the tri-county area, loose regulations on enforcement of laws against animal abuse tend to hinder prosecution and leave animals in the hands of their abusers.
"It's frustrating when I get a case that involves horses, goats, cattle, dogs, all of which are starving, and there's nothing I can do about it," Long said. "Sometimes the offender doesn't even realize they're doing anything wrong."
Arkansas is one of only six states that doesn't prosecute animal cruelty as a felony. The Arkansas State Code lists "Cruelty to animals" as a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000, one year of jail time and optional mandated psychological counseling. Although these statutes are in place, Long said the lack of county-wide shelters and support in local areas leads to many cases being overlooked or handled lightly.
Definitions of animal abuse in the Arkansas code are vague and leave much room for interpretation by offenders and courts. Questions about the validity of an abuse case come when an offender misunderstands what comprises terms such as "cruel mistreatment."
The Humane Society of the United States more concisely defines animal cruelty in two categories, direct violence and neglect. Direct Violence includes any act where an animal is, "beaten, mutilated, shot, set on fire or otherwise tortured," while neglect is defined as any animal being "denied proper food, water or shelter, causing them to slowly starve to death or die from exposure to freezing cold or sweltering hot temperatures."
Long said that she has seen many cases where dogs and other animals are left out in the middle of July with no food, water or shade, but because there are no county-wide animal shelters in Sharp, Fulton and Izard counties, when she is called out on a neglect or abuse case, very seldom are there facilities to take the animals.
"If someone calls and says they have a problem with animals, I often can't help them," Long said.
Shorlyn Morris, Cherokee Village's animal control officer and previous member of the organization SCAN, Stop Cruelty to Animals Now, said there are groups in the area who help house abandoned animals and support the enforcement of punishment for offenders. Although their numbers tend to be few and many cases of abuse, neglect and abandonment are still ignored, Morris said, "People are becoming more and more aware of the problem with cruelty to animals."
In Izard County, the group ICARE, Izard County Area Rescue Efforts, has set up a foster program where volunteers house animals until a permanent home can be found.
Calls to shelters in Cherokee Village, Horseshoe Bend and police stations come in daily requesting facilities and support to house abandoned or abused animals, but because the shelters are already burdened with large amounts of animals from their respective cities, they usually cannot accept animals from towns other than their own.
In places such as Cherokee Village, the animal shelter is attempting to get surrounding towns to help support the shelter so that their facilities can be available to all of Sharp County.
Long said that as of now, finding volunteers to house the displaced animals is her only option and is often hard to do.
"Usually I can get more volunteers to help free a deer from a fence than I can to house an abused animal," Long said.
A Humane Society representative currently works in Little Rock attempting to change the current statutes under the Arkansas State Code, according to USHS public relations person Leslie Porter, while many citizens in local towns are working to provide facilities for animals.
"I think if a lot of those who don't care had to deal with this like I do, they would have a very different perspective," Long said. "People need to realize that these are domesticated animals, and we have control over their well-being."
As for now, those in the tri-county area who have animal problems or complaints have minimal resources to turn to. With the work of those concerned with the protection and welfare of animals throughout Arkansas, citizens and law enforcement can be hopeful that they will soon obtain the ability to better prosecute offenders and house homeless animals.