‘Unchain Charleston’ gets dogs off tethers (copy)

Legislation that enhances penalties for those convicted of animal cruelty and bolsters support for animal welfare during times of crisis was signed into law this spring. Animal rights supporters plan to double down when the session resumes in January seeking laws specific to animal tethering and the use of heavy chains to keep pets secure when they are outside. File photo.

A new state law increases penalties on those convicted of animal cruelty and bolsters support for animal welfare during times of crisis.

Though some supporters say the law is a watered-down version of the original bill, they plan to double down when the session resumes in January and plan to press for laws specific to animal tethering and the use of heavy chains.

State Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Goose Creek, co-sponsored the bill and said he wanted something that would provide stricter penalties for those who abuse animals.

"We received input from veterinarians from all over the state," he said, "and we put together a bill we think is appropriate to protect veterinarians, shelters and not abusive to animals."

Charleston Animal Society President & CEO Joe Elmore called the law "a good step forward for animal welfare" in the state but urged animal rights supporters to challenge their legislators on their stance of animal tethering when the session resumes.

"We want to see a stand-alone inhumane tethering bill and encourage putting legislators on the record whether they are supporting it or not," he said.

State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, who co-sponsored the bill, said he thought the tethering provision — which would have prohibited the use of heavy chains and short tethers and would have required food, water and shelter — struck a good balance between animal rights and owners' rights. But not enough lawmakers agreed.

Elmore said the law, which took effect May 16, is rooted in an effort that began in 2013 when the Legislature established a committee to look into a slew of animal welfare issues. 

The new law means anyone found guilty of animal cruelty would be required to pay for expenses associated with an animal care agency — the cost of food, water, shelter, care and medical care — while the court case is pending. Before, if a shelter was unable to cover the costs of animal care, charges were dropped against the offender. 

"Folks who are committing cruelty to a large number of animals, particularly in hoarding situations, will tend to not surrender custody of those animals during the entire time they are changed," Elmore said. "Animal organizations cannot afford to keep and maintain those animals for sometimes well over a year to two to three years and give up because they can't maintain those animals."

If a court finds a person not guilty of the crime, custody of the animal can be regained. If a judge rules against a person charged with animal cruelty, neither that person nor anyone else in their household may regain custody of the animal. If another adoption cannot be arranged or if the animal is not suitable for adoption, it will be humanely euthanized.

The law also provides veterinarians with appropriate licensing to assist during emergencies or natural disasters.

"This is key for us because we are the lead disaster response for animals in the Lowcountry," Elmore said. 

Funding the purchase a spay-neuter license plates will go to a fund to provide spay/neuter services in the state.

Under the new law, animals quarantined for rabies and unclaimed by owners can be turned over to humane societies, adopted out or euthanized. The same goes for animals impounded for five calendar days. 

The legislation also requires county magistrates and municipal judges receive at least two hours instruction on animal cruelty issues every four years. 

Some provisions that didn't pass include minimal shelter standards and humane tethering. The minimal shelter standards would have created a set of guidelines for all shelters to meet if they are involved in rescuing animals.

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Reach Mikaela Porter at 843-937-5906. Follow her on Twitter @mikaelaporterPC. 

Mikaela Porter joined The Post and Courier in April 2019 and writes about the city of Charleston. Previously, Mikaela reported on breaking news, local government, school issues and community happenings for The Hartford Courant in Hartford, Conn.

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