‘Unchain Charleston’ gets dogs off tethers (copy)

Robert Jenkins of James Island now must keep his dog, Angel, on a chain in the front yard of his grandmother’s house. Pet Helpers volunteers will build a 20-by-30-foot chain-link enclosure in the yard so Angel can run free.

South Carolina needs to outlaw the cruel tethering of animals.

As it is, animals, including pets, can be tied up just about any way the owner sees fit, even without access to food, water or shelter. But a provision that would have codified what constitutes cruel tethering was dropped from an animal cruelty bill this past legislative session. State lawmakers can remedy that by taking up cruel tethering separately.

“We want to see a standalone inhumane tethering bill and encourage putting legislators on the record whether they are supporting it or not,” Joe Elmore, president and CEO of the Charleston Animal Society, told Post and Courier reporter Mikaela Porter in June.

The bill signed into law this spring requires magistrates and municipal judges to get periodic training in animal cruelty laws, allows out-of-state veterinarians to work in South Carolina in the wake of a hurricane and other natural disasters, and increases penalties for animal abusers, including holding them responsible for the costs of caring for and treating abused animals. So some progress is being made.

But what Mr. Elmore and other animal advocates are asking for shouldn’t be controversial. They want a law that says tethered animals must have access to food and water, and they shouldn’t be put on overly heavy or short tethers, or choker chains, that keep them from moving around freely.

Of course, there should also be a time limit for how long an animal can be tethered, especially pets like dogs, which are naturally social animals. Chaining up a dog for a long period as punishment does little to correct unwanted behavior; rather, it usually makes it anxious and aggressive.

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Charleston attorney Ted Corvey, who previously worked as an assistant solicitor, recently told The Post and Courier’s Gregory Yee that intentional animal cruelty cases are easier to prosecute, but cases involving abuse by neglect can be challenging.

“With severe neglect ... we don’t have the body of case law to refer to,” he said. “You’re really left out on a limb.”

That shouldn’t be the case. The Legislature needs a clear-cut law that limits how long animals can be tethered and what kind of restraints can be used, and ensures they have access to fresh food and water and adequate shelter during periods of extreme weather. And if lawmakers can’t get such a bill passed this coming session, counties should take up the issue and ban cruel tethering via a local ordinance.