FAIRFIELD COUNTY — Fairfield County Council Public Affairs and Policy Committee voted to instruct administration to pursue the drafting of a potential animal cruelty ordinance.
At its most recent meeting, the Public Affairs and Policy Committee voted to instruct administration to draft an animal cruelty ordinance based on South Carolina state laws and using York County’s Animal Control Ordinance, for consideration.
Interest in an animal cruelty ordinance was prompted by the death of two horses recovered by Fairfield County Animal Control.
“I just find it appalling those horses were allowed to get in that condition,” said Councilwoman Mary Lynn Kinley, District 6.
At Fairfield County Council’s July 14 meeting, council decided to pursue the adoption and implementation of an ordinance that could help prevent similar occurrences. The importance of animal care was reiterated during the July 27 committee meeting.
“I think the owners have a responsibility to take care of animals,” said Kinley, committee chairwoman.
Fairfield County Administrator Milton Pope said it will be important for any adopted ordinance to have clear expectations, a clear level of enforcement desired and enable Fairfield County Animal Control to work hand-in-hand with the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office.
Fairfield County Sheriff Will Montgomery and David Brown, Fairfield County Animal Control Officer, said a close working relationship already exists. He said the FCSO takes the responsibility of investigating, preventing and potentially prosecuting animal cruelty instances seriously and is willing to involve other entities if needed.
“If we couldn’t do it, we’d get SLED involved,” Montgomery said.
Committee members said during the week, Councilman Marion Robinson, District 5, alerted council to state laws related to animal cruelty and animal control, which should be considered when developing an ordinance.
However, Robinson and the committee, which consisted of Councilman Billy Smith, District 7; Councilman Walter Larry Stewart, District 3; and Kinley, found the state laws lack specificity.
Kinley and Brown both identified tethering as an important issue. However, tethering is not mentioned by South Carolina’s state laws.
This motivated Robinson to also share York County’s Animal Control Ordinance, which he was alerted to by a constituent.
The York County ordinance was adopted in 2012 and implemented in February 2013. It contains specific definitions and details concerning tethering and shelter.
Steven Stuber, York County Animal Control supervisor, said the better part of a year was spent considering and putting together the ordinance.
“We spent a lot of time, almost nine to 10 months, looking at it,” Stuber said.
Stuber said the ordinance was largely patterned after state law. Fairfield County is also using state law to draft its potential animal control ordinance.
Stuber said by basing the ordinance on existing state laws has helped York County Animal Control work closely with the York County Sheriff’s Office. However, the York County ordinance contains some notable tweaks and additions.
“Basically, the changes we made were in the tethering section,” Stuber said. “It’s pretty well-defined.”
Section 55.19 of the York County Ordinance, which applies to restraint requirements, states that pet owners must keep animals under restraint at all times, unless the owner is outdoors with the animal, and the animal is under the owner’s direct control and obedient to commands.
When a tether is used for restraint, a responsible adult must be with the animal. The tether must be 10 feet in length, have swivels at both ends and allow the animal to use the full, 360 degree area of the tether. The animal must have access to food and water.
The section clarifies tethering does not refer to when a dog is walked on a leash or attached to a trolley system. When a trolley system is used, the ordinance states it must be suspended at least three feet above an animal’s head and be at least 10 feet long.
Chain, choke and pinch collars are prohibited by the ordinance, and permitted collars are collars made of nylon, leather or other durable, non-metallic material. Also, any female dog or caste older than 4 months, housed outdoors, must be spayed.
The York County ordinance also contains a specific definition of adequate shelter, which states a shelter must be enclosed, waterproof and specifically made for housing an animal. Examples of unacceptable shelters include underneath and inside vehicles, garbage cans, cardboard boxes, plastic or metal barrels, animal transport crates, under houses, structures, decks and outdoor steps.
“We put specifics in there, because our county officials wanted to hit hard on the blue barrels,” Stuber said.
York County Animal Control officers are allowed to issue tickets for misdemeanors, which Stuber tabbed as another important part of the ordinance. The York County Animal Control supervisor said it allows officers to nudge repeat offenders in the right direction.
Brown said any charges, including misdemeanors, are currently handled by the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office.
In the event of a more serious offense, Stuber said animal control officers would have to call in the York County Sheriff’s Office.
“We can’t write a ticket for a felony, but we can call the cavalry in, and they can write the felony,” Stuber said.
Stuber said since adopting the ordinance, there has been a noticeable improvement.
“I tend to like our ordinance,” Stuber said. “We’ve been able to work on our intake numbers.”
Before the ordinance, Stuber said intake numbers could be as high as 10,000 animals.
“This year, it’s going to be around 5,000,” Stuber said. “We’ve practically cut it in half.”
Stuber said it would crazy to attribute the entire reduction to the ordinance, but he said the ordinance helps.
“We’re reducing the number of irresponsible pet owners,” Stuber said.
Ultimately, the committee voted to instruct administration to consider drafting an ordinance, which takes York County’s ordinance and state law into consideration. The animal cruelty ordinance is in its infancy, as the potential ordinance must be recommended by committee before going before full Council.
South Carolina Code of Laws is available online at www.scstatehouse.gov/code/statmast.php, and the full York County ordinance is available online at www.yorkcountygov.com/animalcontrol.
Reach Ben Hohenstatt at 803-635-4016. Follow him on Twitter @WinnsboroHerald