One-hundred-eighty-six animals that were seized Feb. 27 at a house on Mail Route Road now belong to the Humane Society of the United States after the animal’s owners agreed to forfeit them.
During a lengthy court hearing late Thursday morning, James and Tara Best pleaded no contest to 10 counts of animal cruelty, a Class A misdemeanor.
In return for the plea and the agreement to forfeit the animals, prosecutors agreed to not to pursue the remaining 176 counts.
Each of the two was sentenced to one year of probation in lieu of one year in the county jail. They were fined $2,000 and agreed to pay that fine in full by March 21.
They will be prohibited from owning any animals, either domestic or wild, during the one year of probation and must undergo a psychiatric or psychological exam at Southeast Arkansas Behavioral Healthcare Center or other facility at their expense.
“Our goal when this operation commenced was to first get a conviction and second to ensure that the welfare of the animals rescued were taken care of,” Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter said after the hearing before Jefferson County District Judge Kim Bridgforth.
The Bests were operating a business called Busy Bee Pets, according to a press release from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. The animals seized were 121 dogs, 20 horses, two cats, 11 birds, 1 turtle, 19 chickens and nine rabbits.
The hearing was scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. but was delayed more than half an hour while Little Rock attorney George “Birc” Morledge IV of the Benca and Benca Law Firm talked with his clients and went over every line of the court order of forfeiture.
When it did begin, Deputy Prosecutor Bryan Achorn, who represented the state, said the court would retain authority to order counseling or treatment for James or Tara Best based on the results of the psychiatric or psychological exams and the couple would be required to send the court the test results.
“If they fail to comply with any conditions of the probation, the state reserves the right to ask that the petition be revoked,” Achorn said.
He also agreed to a request from Morledge to return copies of any documents seized from the Bests when they were arrested Feb. 27, as well as the originals of their W-2 and other tax forms.
As to a request that personal property and other items seized at the house be returned - bird cages, dog pens and the like - Achorn said, “we will try to accomplish that.”
Also introduced at the hearing was an affidavit from Tia Pope, who works for the Humane Society of the United States and was at the Bests’ property when the animals were seized.
Pope said in the affidavit that the “Humane Society is willing to take ownership of the seized animals, provide any and all necessary care, medical or otherwise, and bear all other necessary expenses associated with caring for and housing the seized animals.”
At the initial court hearing for the Bests, Achorn said the cost of caring for all the animals was about $3,000 per day.
“Without the assistance of the Humane Society, Jefferson County wouldn’t have the resources to take care of those animals,” Hunter said.
Thursday afternoon, Pope said all of the seized animals have been examined by veterinarians, who have evaluated their conditions and determined a course of treatment.
She said the condition of some of the animals “is so bad they won’t be ready for adoption till the medical treatment is completed.”
In response to a question that some readers have asked about how to determine if any of the seized animals belonged to them, Pope said to contact the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
“If they can provide proof of ownership like papers or photographs, something like that, I’m sure the sheriff’s office will do everything they can to return the animal,” Pope said. “They’re not going to be able to just walk up and say ‘that’s my dog.’”
Pope also gave credit to the agencies that assisted the Humane Society of the United States in the rescue. Those organizations were the Humane Society of Saline County, Out of the Woods Rescue, Sallis Ranch Large Animals Inc. and Red Rover. Those organizations are currently housing the animals that were seized.