February 23, 2009
Dogs Rescued as Ice Storms Spread Across Region
by Julie Hauserman
The HSUS's Arkansas state director Desiree Bender had her hands full at the state capitol when, after a 14-year battle, the legislature finally passed a law that makes animal cruelty a felony.
It was a good day for the animals, and advocates were both thrilled and grateful for the victory. Bender was savoring the good news, but something else was gnawing at her conscience.
Word had gotten to Bender that a group of dogs—three adults and five puppies—had been abandoned in some woods in the region. Temperatures were dipping into the teens at night and ice storms were spreading across the south.
The dogs needed to be taken in and fast.
Emails about the dogs' plight were flying as hundreds of people across Arkansas and even into Texas spread the word. The rescue call was out, but no one had yet stepped up to the plate.
Bender had gotten one of the emails, and so with her work at the capitol done for now, she and another volunteer took off for the woods.
“This was my choice of celebrating the bill passing—to go rescue these dogs,” she said. “I’d had my hands on paper so much trying to get this bill through, I needed to put my hands on dogs.
“We have an enormous problem here with hunters leaving their dogs behind,” said Bender, who drove 45 miles to a wooded area near Humnoke, Ark. along with volunteer Carol Davis.
“They’ll go into the woods with six dogs, and if they only have three when they get done hunting, they will leave the others behind. We think that’s what happened here.”
When they arrived, the women found that someone had put up a tarp so the beagles could stay out of the rain and had been leaving food out for them.
The adult dogs were skittish and a challenge to catch. Shotgun shells littered the area—a sad clue that people had been shooting at the abandoned dogs.
Because there were no shelters or humane groups in the area, Bender carried the pups back to Little Rock Animal Village, where they were evaluated for medical problems and placed for adoption. One of the groups that helped, Care for Animals, took two of the dogs into their adoption program. One of the dogs was heartworm positive, an expensive condition to treat.
The new animal-cruelty law that Bender worked to pass was signed by Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe earlier this month. It toughens penalties for people who neglect or abandon animals, like the beagles left to fend for themselves in the cold woods.
Under the new law, aggravated animal cruelty on a dog or cat carries a felony penalty on the first offense. So-called lesser cruelty offenses, including neglect, carry a felony punishment on the fourth offense.
Arkansas is the 46th state to make cruelty to animals a felony offense.