Animal advocates will be at the South Carolina Statehouse on Wednesday for the annual Humane Society of the United States Humane Day lobby event.
They will be asking legislators to vote in favor of bills that provide better protections for animals. One of the bills currently under discussion is S.841, which passed the Senate Tuesday.
“It includes things like basic restrictions on dog tethering, minimum standards of care in animal shelters,” HSUS senior state director Kimberly Kelly said. “Right now we don’t have any oversight for the animal shelters in our state. There’s a requirement for convicted animal abusers to pay for the cost of caring for their animals while their cases are prosecuted.”
It can be expensive for county shelters and nonprofit agencies to care for animals seized in cruelty cases. They are evidence in the case and must be kept as so until the case is closed.
“That can be extraordinarily expensive, we’re talking tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Kelly said. “The nonprofit organizations or county that sheltered those animals for the length of the trial have to absorb the cost.”
The bill also includes continuing education for magistrates on dealing with animal cruelty cases.
Another bill working its way through the House is H.4594, which creates an official definition for a dog shelter. Currently there are no specific structural definitions for dogs forced to live outdoors.
“In the past few weeks since we’ve had these cold weather spells and the snow across the state, there are several dogs who were frozen to death because they haven’t had proper shelter and they were in a place where their owners couldn’t or wouldn’t bring them inside,” Kelly said.
Kelly said South Carolina legislators have other issues to address to protect animals. In 2017, South Carolina ranked 43rd by the Humane Society for animal protection policies.
“There’s still a long, long way to go,” she said. “I think each of these issues that we’re currently working on would certainly be an improvement but this is just a starting point. There are a lot of other issues that we’re not even tackling this legislative session.”
Those issues include pets left in hot cars, addressing puppy mills, cruelty protection for hunting dogs and animal fighting.
“We’ve been working for years to make cockfighting a felony in South Carolina,” she said. Under current law, the penalty for cockfighting is up to a $1,000 fine or up to one year in jail.
“In practice, it generally ends up being a reduced fine of around $500 or so,” Kelly said. “Considering cockfighters can make tens of thousands of dollars at a derby over the weekend, the fines are just sort of the cost of doing business for them.”
Kelly said although the state passed a law addressing exotic animals, she said it does not cover enough species.
“There are a number of species we’d like to see in the ban, including all primates and certain snakes,” she said.