Pet owners who live in Charleston County's unincorporated pockets could have to pay hundreds of dollars to retrieve their impounded pets. That is, if they don't want their animals spayed or neutered.

County Council voted 7-0 Thursday to initially approve modifying its laws for stray animals so the local shelter can charge fees for impounded pets returned without getting the surgery.

The first time, it would cost an owner $200 to redeem an impounded pet and avoid having it sterilized. But if that same pet is picked up a second time, it would cost $1,000 for it not to be spayed or neutered.

The county already mandates that stray animals must be sterilized before they are returned to their owners, with some exceptions. Some council members wanted to modify those laws, but the body struggled to reach a consensus. They initially approved two amendments that were supposed to be finalized last week but weren't.

One of the proposed modifications said pet owners could have their dogs neutered by the veterinarian of their choice and the other one clarified existing laws, saying that no animal would be neutered or spayed sooner than five days from the date it is picked up.

At least one councilman wanted a clause added that would exempt hunters from having to have their dogs sterilized if impounded.

Deputy Attorney Kurt Taylor presented the council with two alternatives Thursday, both of which suggested hunting dogs would be excluded if the owner showed a valid hunting license and showed proof that the animal was registered with the state Department of Natural Resources.

No one would be exempt under the new fee structure. The fines would apply for any impounded cat or dog. Pet owners would still have the cheaper option of simply having their animal sterilized, which Charles Karesh of the Charleston Animal Society said typically costs $40 to $70.