Kay Simpson: The Advocate for the Animals

Kay Simpson is among the leading defenders of animals in Arkansas.

Simpson, the director of the Humane Society of Pulaski County in Little Rock, has been fighting for the protection of animals for nearly two decades.

Simpson also lobbied for the state's first felony animal cruelty law in 2009, which made aggravated cruelty to dogs, cats or horses a felony.

"The highest point of my life was the day that Gov. [Mike] Beebe signed that bill and put it into law," Simpson, 60, said.

She also is one of three certified animal cruelty investigators in Arkansas.

Since 1994, Simpson has worked in more than 20 counties investigating animal abuse cases and has received more than 80 convictions. "We've not lost a case yet," Simpson said.

Simpson's love for animals goes back to her childhood. "I know people say that a lot," Simpson said. "But when I was a child, all the way growing up, I've just had a thing for animals."

After being a bartender for more than 20 years, Simpson started working at the Humane Society's shelter cleaning up after the dogs.

Soon she was promoted to the adoption desk, and when the abuse investigator position opened in 1994, Simpson took it. "I just felt like I hit my niche there," she said. "I started doing the animal cruelty [investigations] back then and have been doing it ever since."

After seeing animals starved, beaten or dragged by vehicles, Simpson said, she realized the animal abuse laws weren't strong enough. "It's just beyond any reason" what people will do to animals, she said.

At the time, the worst punishment an animal abuser could receive was a year in jail and a $1,000 fine because purposely injuring an animal was considered only a misdemeanor.

Simpson fought to strengthen the laws and testified before Arkansas legislators. But the laws didn't change. Some farmers and ranchers were opposed to animal cruelty legislation.

"There was mistrust I think on both sides," Simpson said. "We never really sat down and had a mediator to explain how we both felt."

But that relationship changed when Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel was elected in 2006. He became the liaison between the animal welfare groups and the farmers and ranchers.

"It became plain to both entities that what we needed was what we all wanted," Simpson said.

The legislation creating the felony animal cruelty law passed in 2009, making Arkansas the 46th state to make cruelty to animals a felony offense. An aggravated animal cruelty conviction now can mean up to six years in prison and a $10,000 fine for the offender.

Simpson also is helping the Criminal Justice Institute in Little Rock train law enforcement officials to investigate animal cruelty cases.

"Up until the new law went into effect, most agencies did not work animal cases at all," Simpson said. "It's not that most of them aren't willing. It's just the knowledge isn't there."

When not investigating animal abuse cases, Simpson assists other animal shelters in Arkansas. Most of Arkansas' rural areas don't have animal shelters or humane societies.

"We get probably 200 calls a week wanting either guidance or wanting us to come and help with animal abuse cases," Simpson said.

Simpson also is a member of the Humane Society of the United States' National Disaster Animal Response Team. She spent three weeks in Louisiana searching for pets after Hurricane Katrina.

The Humane Society of Pulaski County relies on donations and doesn't receive government financial support.  

In 2008, the Humane Society received $343,000, down from $752,000 in 2007, according to the organization's most recent federal tax filing.

Simpson said she thought the recession caused people to curtail giving.

Still, "we have a lot of bills we have to pay," Simpson said.