HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. — Animal rescue groups from across the country are converging on the Humane Society of the Delta in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas, faced with the challenge of evaluating the health of hundreds of dogs and dozens of cats.

The City of Helena-West Helena seized the shelter last Thursday following numerous complaints and an internal investigation into conditions there. Tuesday’s efforts are the first step in finding new homes for the animals.

 “These conditions are grim. Animals should not live in these conditions,” said Tim Woodward, executive director of Animal Rescue Corp.

His group is coordinating efforts among dozens of volunteers who arrived Tuesday morning at the Humane Society of the Delta. Their jobs are to evaluate the health of dogs and cats found living in what Woodward calls “less than optimal” conditions.

“I’ve seen the rats, I’ve seen the dangerous kenneling, rough objects, barrels of trash, standing water,” he said. “There’s no end to problems here.”

So close to 300 animals will be vaccinated and checked for any disease or injury — a priority and a huge task before they can be relocated to other shelters.

The City of Helena-West Helena seized the property after numerous complaints and closed it down.

Mayor Kevin Smith says emotions have been running high since the City’s “takeover” and he’s been forced to set up a “Sky Cop” camera and beef up security because of threats.

“In the daytime we’ve had events … that made us worry about what might happen at night,” Smith said.

Professionals agree what’s happened here is a sad situation, one where good intentions snowballed out of control.

“They were gathering animals from all over the state, from Texas, from other places and thinking this was the saviour place for them,” said Cathy Bissell, founder of the Bissell Pet Foundation. “Really this isn’t — this is not ok. These conditions are not ok here.”

The shelter’s director, Rita Merritt Roberts, was arrested and charged with nearly 300 felony counts of animal cruelty. She has bonded out of jail and been told by a judge not to return to the shelter.

Through a friend, Merritt told WREG she has been advised by her attorney not to be interviewed at this time.