Living in a Municipality Without Animal Services

May 7, 2024

On a recent tour, we got a vivid glimpse into the reality of living in a municipality without any animal services.

Leslie grew up in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas. She remembers when it was the cute little town you can still see hints of behind the boarded-up buildings and burned out shells of houses. The faded bike lane and the park on the bank of the Mississippi River speak to a time when there were more people, industry, and a higher tax base.

We spent a few hours driving around the town with Leslie, checking on the welfare of dogs she has helped and looking out for the enormous stray population that continues to grow in the abandoned houses and drug-riddled, poverty-stricken neighborhoods.

Leslie started Meals on Wheels for Helena-West Helena Dogs in 2010, creating a 501(c)3 nonprofit to raise money to pay for spay/neuter, vet care, and rescue transports to get dogs and puppies off the streets. These days, she only has one other foster home besides her own home, so she spends a small fortune boarding dogs and puppies at her vet.

We stopped by the vet’s office to visit the seven puppies she has in boarding (one is recovering from parvo). Her current vet bill is $9000. She estimates that her rescue spends between $100,000-$120,000 on the vet each year on spay/neuter, rabies, health certificates, vaccinations, parvo treatment, other medical needs, and boarding.

In the parking lot of the vet’s office, a woman approached Leslie and said she needed help with six-week-old puppies and two mama dogs. Leslie told the woman that they needed to separate the puppies from the mamas and get them vaccinated. She then told her to go inside the vet’s office and make spay appointments for the two females and tell them that the Buddy System would pay for it. The woman was clearly relieved and headed inside to do just that.

Leslie created an account at the vet’s office called the Buddy System (named after the first dog she saved named Buddy) to pay for the dogs she rescues and community spay/neuters. If you’d like to donate to her vet bill, contact the vet at 870-338-7123 and make a payment on the Buddy System account.

After that, we drove through the streets, stopping to feed strays and owned (but neglected) dogs. At one stop, where we fed a mama dog and two teenage puppies, Leslie tried to catch one of the puppies who was hungry and riddled with fleas (they were visibly jumping on him), but he wouldn’t let her. I asked what she would do if she caught him. She shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m full.”

My guess is that he’d be one more puppy to board at the vet’s office. She’s hopeful that she’ll be able to find rescues to take some of the puppies. She has a few good partners, but lately everyone is full. (this is the same story EVERYWHERE)

We chatted with a few of the neighbors where we fed the puppies. They said there were dogs everywhere, and some had recently packed up and attacked a friend. Hungry dogs can be dangerous dogs. That’s one of the reasons Leslie feeds the strays even though she has no open foster home.

With no animal services, there is nowhere to take the dogs except her house. She has seven dogs of her own, so she only keeps two or three fosters at a time. Currently, she has Katie, who is recovering from heartworm treatment ($800) and an adorable puppy named Mabel who was found abandoned in the state park.

Driving the streets, we passed a dog sitting in a carport inside a small wirecrate with no liner, no water, no food. It’s against the law to not provide food/water for a dog, but Leslie said calling the police would be futile. “The dispatcher hears my voice and laughs. It’s the dog lady.”

Leslie thought the city was finally on its way to providing dog services last year when the Bissell Pet Foundation offered to donate $50,000 for a shelter building if the town would match it. The mayor at that time agreed, but once he lost reelection, the new mayor said they weren’t getting into the dog business, didn’t pay their portion of the building (which had been delivered) and fired the ACO. The building was repossessed.

The situation here seems pretty hopeless, but I found Leslie to be a smart, optimistic person who knows how to create boundaries, like only having two or three fosters of her own and taking four vacations a year during which she shuts off her phone. She is committed to this dying town, or at least its canine residents.

My fear is that it will take something tragic happening here before the town’s leadership will realize that they need animal services and a concerted effort to deal with their population of strays.

Once again, the responsibility for the animals is left on the shoulders of people willing to stand in the gap left by their government. Animal services are essential in every municipality, not just because we should do right by these creatures who are dependent on us, but because without it there are enormous risks to the safety and wellbeing of its citizens. It’s common sense, not just for the dogs, but for the people.

Recently the new mayor of Helena-West Helena posted on Facebook asking for ideas for cleaning up the town:

Input requested: Going forward, we are going to put forth a consensus plan for clean up of our community. We are asking the members of the city council and people in the community to provide input into which areas should be cleaned up and when.

Please submit your request in writing to the city clerk and we will have Code Enforcement and others to compile a list for the council to review and assign priority to the work and order of the work. This will allow everyone to have some input and reassurance that the community matters without putting one area over another area.

The city clerk’s email address is Our mailing address is P O Box 248, Helena-West Helena, AR 72342. The phone number to city hall is (870)817-7400.

Your input and cooperation will be appreciated. Let’s clean up our community!!!!

I plan to take the mayor, Kristopher Franklin, at his word and write him offering our help and knowledge of animal sheltering. We’ve visited over 130 shelters and rescues in the south, so we have a lot of ideas about how communities can tackle the situation (and a forthcoming book sharing just that).

If you’d like to encourage the mayor to look into the dog situation in Helena-West Helena, I encourage you to comment on his post or write to the city clerk. Please don’t condemn him; he’s asking for help. Let’s offer it.

If you’d like to help Leslie and Meals on Wheels for Helena-West Helena Dogs, you can donate here:

Or shop their Amazon wishlist.

Until each one has a home,


If you want to learn more, be sure to subscribe to this blog. And help us spread the word by sharing this post with others. Visit our website to learn more.

You can also help raise awareness by following/commenting/sharing us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Tik Tok.

To see our Emmy-nominated, award-winning short documentary, Amber’s Halfway Home, click here. If you’d like to see it on the big screen (along with other short dog films), check out the tour schedule of The Dog Film Festival, currently in art movie houses all over the country.

Learn more about what is happening in our southern shelters and rescues in the book, One Hundred Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues (Pegasus Books, 2020). It’s the story of a challenging foster dog who inspired me to travel south to find out where all the dogs were coming from. It tells the story of how Who Will Let the Dogs Out began. Find it anywhere books are sold. A portion of the proceeds of every book sold go to help unwanted animals in the south.

For more information on any of our projects, to talk about rescue in your neck of the woods, or become a WWLDO volunteer, please email or

And for links to everything WWLDO check out our Linktree.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

First time commenting? Please fill out your name and email address to comment. (Your email address will not be published)