WHITE HALL, Ark. — More than 100 dogs, 20 horses, cats, rabbits, turtles and exotic birds have been rescued in what authorities say is the most significant puppy mill bust in county history here.
A team of about 15 rescue workers from the Humane Society of the United States in Washington traveled to this rural area about 30 miles south of Little Rock between Pine Bluff and Sheridan, Ark., to assist the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office with the recovery Thursday, humane society spokesman Dale Bartlett said.
"When I opened the door, there was an overwhelming smell of ammonia from the urine and feces on the property," said Maj. Lafayette Woods, sheriff's spokesman. "Not only was it in the cages and the living areas of the animals, but it was also on the floors."
The tally of animals:
• 121 dogs
• 20 horses
• 19 chickens
• 11 exotic birds
• Plus an unreleased number of cats, rabbits and turtles
Many of the animals were living in feces and did not have access to clean water or food. Some of the animals needed immediate veterinary care; others were underweight, suffered eye conditions or had dental problems, the humane society said.
"I held dogs that were trembling and shaking and with heavy mats," Bartlett said. "One looked like there was something wrong with its jaw."
Area veterinarians are assessing and treating the animals, which eventually will be put up for adoption.
The animals' owners, James and Tara Best of White Hall, Ark., were issued misdemeanor citations. Tara Best owns the 40-acre farm that has a mobile home and several outbuildings valued at about $52,000, according to county property records.
"In all likelihood based on some of the animals' conditions here, those charges will be updated to aggravated animal cruelty which is a felony," Woods said. "We've had prior complaints in the past but never on this scale."
The Humane Society of the United States calls Arkansas among the more problematic puppy mill states in the country with no laws to protect the animals.
State statutes say a person is guilty of cruelty to animals, a misdemeanor, if that person abandons an animal, subjects an animal to cruel mistreatment or cruel neglect, or kills or injures an animal belonging to someone else without consent of the owner.
In May, Sebastian County officials seized 65 dogs, some with severe health problems, from a suspected puppy mill in Waldron, Ark. Seven of the dogs died soon after the recovery. The name of the breeding operation's owner was not identified; KHBS-TV, Fort Smith, Ark., said she was cooperating with authorities.
In November 2011, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals helped local authorities raid a Hot Springs, Ark., suspected puppy mill, rescuing about 175 Westies, Boston terriers, Pomeranian and other small dogs. The two-year investigation by the Garland County Sheriff's Office resulted in the arrest of property owner Pamela Thomas on six felony counts of animal cruelty, according to the society. A year later, a jury convicted her of six misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty, and a judge dismissed the felony counts.
In October 2009, the Johnson County Sheriff's Office and the Humane Society of the United States rescued about 100 dogs — mainly shih tsus and Chihuahuas — five cats and two guinea pigs that were being housed in cramped, filthy cages in trailers throughout a property in Lamar, Ark. In 2010, Christine Yarrington and Lynn Burkett each were sentenced to five years of probation, ordered to pay $1,500 fines and receive psychological counseling. They pleaded no contest to eight counts of aggravated animal cruelty and are barred from keeping animals, according to the society.
In March 2009, about 350 dogs, 17 miniature ponies, six cats and several exotic birds were recovered from an 82-acre Logan County puppy mill near Paris, Ark. The breeders, whose names were not released, were selling the dogs, which had purebred registration papers, over the Internet, according to the humane society. No information was readily available on charges stemming from the rescue operation.