One Wednesday in March, a family found a dog hanging from a fence — and onto her life — in an alleyway in Fort Smith.
The wounds on the dog, a Labrador mix named China, indicated she had been strangled or beaten while hung from her neck, HOPE Humane Society officials later said. One Humane Society worker said air was entering through the side of her torso.
Following her rescue, China was hooked up to an oxygen tank at a veternary clinic before she could be considered for a foster home.
Cases of suspected animal cruelty like China's are not uncommon to workers at the Hope Humane Society in Fort Smith, which takes in animals from Fort Smith and the surrounding areas. The Humane Society typically sees an average of 40-50 animals per year that are suspected to have either been intentionally abused or neglected to the point where their welfare is in jeopardy, Transportation Director Amber Neal said.
“Some people are just cruel, and these animals don’t have a voice," Neal said.
Irresponsibility, carelessness, insidious agendas
Suspected aggravated animal cruelty cases similar to China's come from a gamut of scenarios, Humane Society workers say. Neal said they have taken in kittens that have been thrown out of moving vehicles, a dog whose leg was twisted all the way around from being swung in circles around a person's head and suspected victims of dog fighting.
And in terms of severity, China is not alone this year.
"(Hope) was another little dog who was shot three times and left strung to a pole shortly after China,” she said.
As for suspected neglect, workers at the Humane Society say they commonly see animals with impairments that would not exist if their owners took proper care of them. These include leashes that are grown into dogs' and cats' necks and malnourishment.
A high-profile case of suspected animal neglect in the Fort Smith region was that of Ashton G. Dimick and Morgan McCarley of Sallisaw. Both were arrested on suspicion of 17 counts of cruelty to animals after Sequoyah County sheriff's deputies allegedly found multiple dead and living animals, all of which were malnourished, at a residence.
Humane Society director Mary Scott said suspected animal cruelty "comes in seasons" in terms of severity.
"Last month, we had three or four animals come in with embedded collars or harnesses or some kind of embedded entity that was wrapped around them to keep them restricted," Scott said.
"Some of it is irresponsibility, some of it is carelessness, and some of it is just people with some insidious agendas," Neal said.
When it comes to preventing animal cruelty, stricter laws and regulations need to be enacted, Scott said.
Aggravated cruelty involving torture to a cat, dog or horse and active involvement in animal fighting such as cockfighting or dogfighting are felonies in Arkansas. Both are punsihable by up to six years in prison.
Abandonment, cruel mistreatment, failing to supply food or water and failure to provide adequate shelter to any animal is classified as a misdemeanor in Arkansas.
Oklahoma has similar criminal charges in regard to such offenses.
"A lot of times, it’s hard to prosecute people who abuse animals, because they’re dumped off here before we know who the owners are," Scott said.
Despite this reality, Scott said she believes stricter laws would still work to an extent.
"It would cause a lot less animals coming in in the position they are in when they come to the shelter," she said.
Scott said another way to cut down on animal cruelty — neglect in particular — is through stricter code enforcement. An example she gave is Greenwood, where officials require licensing fees for owning pets. The licensing fees in Greenwood range from $5 to $50 based on what the pet is and if he or she is spayed or neutered.
"The fine is not a very substantial amount, but it’s just enough to let them know that it’s serious," Scott said.
Though she believes these laws and regulations would work, Scott said the change would not happen overnight, even if such measures were taken.
“It would be a long process getting people to actually take the law seriously in reference to animal cruelty, animal abuse and even just registering and licensing their animals," she said.