St. Francis National Forest
a few weeks ago.
As of yesterday, half the dogs have been found (with one already enjoying a new home) "and two or three others were shot by a resident who saw them on his land."
Hopefully St. Francis will look after the remaining dogs until they can be found.
A special judge authorized an arrest warrant Friday for Helena-West Helena Mayor James Valley, finding reasonable cause to believe that Valley committed animal cruelty by releasing stray dogs to fend for themselves near a national forest.
In a one-page order, Circuit Judge David Henry of Stuttgart also found reasonable cause to arrest Valley over accusations that he obstructed the Humane Society from caring for the canines.
Humane Society officials have said they asked Valley to let them find homes for the eight to 10 dogs that he removed 2 1/2 weeks ago from the city’s makeshift animal shelter.
The charges of cruelty to animals and obstructing the prevention of cruelty to animals are misdemeanors.
“The fact that this complaint has been signed and is going forward makes us happy,” said Ruby Burton, director of the Humane Society of Southeast Arkansas. “That’s good news to us.”
On June 16, Burton signed a criminal complaint against Valley, alleging animal cruelty and neglect over a period of almost five months, from Jan. 24 to June 11.
On June 11, he authorized a city worker to let the dogs go near the city landfill and the St. Francis National Forest on the outskirts of town.
Valley said he released the dogs after residents complained that the makeshift animal shelter at the city’s sanitation department was inadequate. The shelter consisted of nothing more than penned cages, Valley said.
He said he has committed no crime.
“I look forward to my day in court,” the mayor said Friday. “It’s been a rough and rocky road the last few weeks. It’s been a real distraction to the good public service we’re trying to perform for the citizens.”
This is not the first time Valley has gotten sideways with the Humane Society. After receiving complaints in January, people with the Humane Society of Southeast Arkansas used wire cutters to pop the locks on the city’s old animal shelter. Inside, they found rats the size of puppies, dehydrated dogs and layers of feces, Burton said.
Valley called the Humane Society’s January actions “renegade.”
Phillips County Sheriff Ronnie White said he hadn’t seen the warrant as of Friday. He said that because the warrant is on misdemeanor charges, a deputy will likely notify Valley of his court date instead of arresting him.
A court date has not been set.
Prosecuting Attorney Fletcher Long of the 1 st Judicial District said this week that his office will likely prosecute the case if it remains in Circuit Court.
Valley could also face federal charges if he is found to have released the dogs in the St. Francis National Forest. It is against federal regulations to release animals, livestock or abandoned personal property on public land.
The U. S. Forest Service has turned its investigation over to the U. S. attorney’s office in Little Rock, forest service spokesman Tracy Farley said this week.
Valley said he has been bombarded with nasty e-mails from angry animal lovers all over the country.
In an open letter published June 22 on his Web log, jfvalley. blogspot. com, Valley apologized to Helena-West Helena residents for dragging them into the mess involving the animal shelter.
“I am sincerely sorry that a decision made by me, in the run of the hundreds of decisions I make every day, has brought the wrath of the animal loving world to your front door,” Valley wrote. “This saga has lasted too long and is a distraction to the good work that has been and is being done in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas. We are a community that has made a major turn-around. We are resilient people.”
Valley said most of the angry e-mails and phone calls have come from out of state, including one from as far away as Canada.
Even fellow mayors from across the state are chiming in. Last week, at the annual Arkansas Municipal League convention, outgoing league president and Paragould Mayor Mike Gaskill introduced the mayor as James “Who Let the Dogs Out” Valley, referring to the song released in 2000.
Valley said other mayors from across the state have offered him oral support.
Arkansas Chief Justice Jim Hannah on Tuesday appointed Henry to review the Humane Society’s complaint after district and circuit judges in Helena-West Helena and Forrest City recused themselves from the case.
Henry found reasonable cause to believe that Valley violated Arkansas Code 5-62-101 and Arkansas Code 5-62-111.
According to Arkansas Code 5-62-101, “a person commits the offense of cruelty to animals if, except as authorized by law, he or she knowingly abandons any animal; subjects any animal to cruel mistreatment; subjects any animal in his or her custody to cruel neglect; or kills or injures any animal belonging to another without legal privilege or consent of the owner.”
According to Arkansas Code 5-62-111, “any officer, agent, or member of a society which is incorporated for the prevention of cruelty to animals may lawfully interfere to prevent the perpetration of any act of cruelty upon any animal in his or her presence. Any person who interferes with or obstructs any officer, agent, or member of a society which is incorporated for the prevention of cruelty to animals in the discharge of his or her duty is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
The director of the Humane Society of the Delta, Gloria Higginbotham, said the group is working to attain funding to open a new shelter in Phillips County.
“The Humane Society of the Delta is trying to acquire land — if anybody wants to donate some outside the city limits — and we’re trying to work to build our own shelter because we’re the ones who want to be in the dog business,” she said. “The city and county don’t need to be in the dog business. We do.”
As for the released dogs, Higginbotham said about half of them have been found, and two or three others were shot by a resident who saw them on his land.
One of the dogs, a mixed breed, is enjoying his time at a new home in Helena-West Helena, owner John Warnken said.
Warnken said he found the dog about two miles from where a city worker released the strays.
“At first, I couldn’t get him to come to me,” Warnken said. “I tried to feed him, but he was real skittish.”
He said a group of children was able to earn the dog’s trust and catch it.
“They asked me if I wanted to keep him, and I said ‘yeah, ’” Warnken said. “I was going to name him Killer, and I joked about naming him Mayor Valley, but I decided to name him Redneck. He’s a pretty good dog. He looks like Spuds MacKenzie.”
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