Dog saga continues: Porter passes signing warrant to another judge

Michele Page

Helena-West Helena District Judge Rusty Porter has passed a warrant calling for the arrest of Helena-West Helena Mayor James Valley for allegedly breaking a variety of state animal cruelty laws to another judge, stating a conflict of interest existed and that he could not sign the document.

Half of Porter’s salary comes from the city while the other half is paid by Phillips County.

Porter says that if a warrant is issued, a special judge will probably be assigned to hear the misdemeanor charges.

After gaining national attention, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals issued a press release Tuesday saying Valley’s release of the dogs into the St. Francis National Forest was “inhumane” and a “blatant act of animal cruelty.”

“The abandonment of animals is a Class A misdemeanor in Arkansas,” said Randall Lockwood, PH. D., senior vice president, Anti-cruelty Initiatives and Legislative Services at the ASPCA.

“The mayor’s recommendation to release these dogs into the wild is supporting a blatant act of animal cruelty. He is advocating, aiding and abetting the commission of a crime,” said Lockwood.

“Lack of resources is no excuse for animal cruelty,” said ASPCA President and CEO Ed Sayers.” Humane animal control is a vital community service and should be given support just as communities must support police, fire and other local services. Furthermore releasing domesticated animals into the wild where they cannot fend for themselves is inhumane and is by no means a suitable response to inadequate shelter space.”

The ASCPCA does not condone such actions, stated the release.

Teresa Schagrin, animal care and control specialist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said that they offered to pay to send two animal control officers to a basic training seminar in Little Rock. Schagrin said the city has taken PETA up on their offer and are sending an animal control officer and a department head to the basic training session, which PETA says will be held June 23 through June 27. PETA, the National Animal Control Association and the Humane Society of the United States are funding the training.

“It became pretty clear to us that it was a big mistake,” said Schagrin and said that Valley wanted help in resolving the issue.

“I think the mayor understands a long term plan needs to be in place.”

She added that in no way does PETA condone Valley’s actions.

“Obviously we want to make it clear that nothing like this ever happens again and that it was not the correct thing to do,” she said in a telephone interview Thursday.

Seborn S. Gregory, president of the Arkansas State Animal Control, says that under state law, animal control officers are offered a voluntary certification that teaches animal control officers what the proper technique is for erecting animal shelters or conducting animal control efforts.

“We can’t tell cities what to do, we just advise them how to build a shelter and what is the proper way to conduct animal control efforts,” said Gregory. Since the volunteer certification mandates by the state, the ASAC has kept records of every person gaining the certification. Records maintained by the ASAC since 2001 do not show any one connected with Helena, West Helena or Helena-West Helena as gaining the certification.

“There are no state mandates for regulating shelters. We are trying to get minimum standards set in the next legislative session,” said Gregory.

The ASAC has a shelter in Nashville, Ark. but Gregory says that the city did not contact his entity when they were faced with housing issues.

“This year the economy is so bad, people are surrendering animals,” said Gregory, adding that his organization takes in 20 to 40 animals a day. Gregory estimates that so far, 766 dogs have crossed the threshold of the ASAC shelter along with 400 cats.

The shelter isn’t just housing dogs and cats, they have sheltered numerous animals including, deer, snakes and potbelly pigs. When interviewed, Gregory had just returned from pulling a four-foot snake out of a vehicle.

On June 11, Valley ordered city employees to release about 10 dogs into the national forest.

Unconfirmed reports claim that some of those dogs that were released were shot and killed and other reports say that the aggressive animals were retrieved Saturday. Valley says that land and money may be forthcoming for an animal shelter. Valley says that city officials may appropriate up to $1,000 a month for animal control efforts within the city limits.

“They are just flat wrong. I’ve committed no crime,” said Valley. Valley further added that the animals released have not been hurt.

“The animals were in no way put in harm’s way,” said Valley who was attending the Arkansas Municipal League annual conference in Hot Springs.

He said the issue has spiraled out of control in terms of the truth and what actually transpired.

Valley said comments made were similar to “folklore.”

“I’ve continued to try and work with the Humane Society. There is no doubt that there is a tense relationship between Ruby Burton and me,” said Valley.

Members of the Delta chapter of the Humane Society and Valley are working closely together to address the animal control issues in the city, said Valley.