William Dodson Sentence (copy) (copy)

Caitlyn, a dog rescued from abuse, plays Friday, March 24, 2017, outside the Charleston Animal Society's North Charleston shelter. Her abuser was sentenced  to the maximum of five years in prison. 

South Carolina can and should help reduce animal abuse by requiring that anyone convicted of animal cruelty be banned from adopting a pet for at least five years.

Two bills in the House would do just that. One filed by Rep. Mike Gambrell, R-Anderson, would restrict anyone convicted of animal cruelty from adopting a pet for five years. The other, co-sponsored by several lawmakers, including Rep. Nancy Mace, R-Daniel Island, would require a five-year ban on adoptions after a second animal cruelty conviction.

Though the law would be hard to enforce on the front end — pet adopters would be required to sign an affidavit saying they have never been convicted of animal cruelty — we favor Rep. Gambrell’s approach.

One offense should be enough to trigger the ban. It would give law enforcement the teeth it needs to go after pet hoarders or people who raise and train animals for fighting, but it also embraces the idea of giving people an eventual second chance.

Other animal advocates, such as the Charleston Animal Society, want lawmakers to go a step further by banning anyone convicted of a second animal cruelty offense from owning a pet for life. Another approach is for the state to create an animal cruelty registry that would prevent abusers from adopting pets.

South Carolina is no stranger to animal cruelty. Every few months, we’re shocked by tales of unimaginable violence — dogs burned alive, dogs having their muzzles taped shut, a puppy shot through the head with an arrow — and the proposed legislation would bring some clarity to animal protection laws, which need to be strengthened. In annual rankings from the Animal Legal Defense Fund, South Carolina is perennially in the bottom tier of states, last year ranking 40th. That must change.

A related bill, which we also favor, would expand the definition of animal cruelty to include tethering an animal without sufficient food and water.

Animal cruelty in South Carolina is currently defined as anyone who overworks or ill-treats an animal, deprives an animal of food or shelter, inflicts unnecessary pain or suffering on an animal or allows it to happen. It is typically prosecuted as a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine ranging from $100 to $1,000.

Under Rep. Gambrell’s bill, anyone convicted of animal cruelty and who violates the five-year adoption ban would have the pet seized and be subject to up to 30 days in jail or a fine up to $300, or both.

His measure would bring South Carolina in line with forward-thinking states that have similar laws. It also would send a message to abusers and, most importantly, protect more animals from mistreatment.

Lawmakers should pass the five-year adoption ban.

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