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SC advocate plans to introduce bill to prevent cruel tethering of animals

According to the incident report, Emmett was suffering from a lack of shelter, food, and water....
According to the incident report, Emmett was suffering from a lack of shelter, food, and water. The report states Emmett also appeared to be underweight and lethargic.
Updated: Oct. 1, 2019 at 6:17 PM EDT
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NOTE: This story has been updated with a statement from Midlands Veterinary Practice.

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - According to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, it has investigated 37 animal abuse cases since January 2016.

One of the most recent cases happened in mid-August.

Emmett, a black lab-mix, was left outside of a home on a hot summer day in Columbia.

On Aug. 8, RCSD responded to a code enforcement violation on Woodbury Drive unrelated to the dog. When the deputy got there that’s when she found Emmett.

The dog appeared to suffer from starvation and heat exhaustion, according to RCSD.

According to the incident report, he was suffering from a lack of shelter, food and water. The report states Emmett also appeared to be underweight and lethargic.

“The deputy noticed the animal’s plight or issue there and made contact with both animal control and the homeowner, in the hopes that perhaps they would go ahead and address the problem and fix it, which is what a lot of times is what we like to do,” Sgt. Joe Clarke, with RCSD’s Special Victims Unit, said. “We like to get the homeowner engaged and get them to fix the problem.”

Deputies went back to the house on Aug. 16 to find out the problem had only gotten worse.

“It got to the point where really we didn’t think the animal would survive through the night,” Clarke said. “This was 100-degree heat with a heat index about 102 that day. The dog was lying underneath a vehicle. It had carved out a spot to make itself cooler in the sand. The animal’s ribs are showing, backbone was showing, pelvis was showing. It was tremendously underweight, lethargic, and, at that point, it could not stand or nor bark. So, the dog was really in the last stages. Probably would not have lasted another 24 hours.”

Emmett’s owner, Thomas Hayhurst, was charged with felony ill-treatment to animals, according to the incident report.

From there, deputies took Emmett to Midlands Veterinary Practice, where according to deputies, he went about six days without being “adequately cared for.”

“It may have been a contract situation with Richland County Animal Control, which is separate from the sheriff’s department, they made the determination to take the animal there," Clarke said. "The deputy following up went back to take some pictures for her case, noticed that the animal was not being, for a lack of a better word, adequately cared for and it could’ve used more -- it needed better help,” Clarke said.

WIS contacted Midlands Veterinary Practice, and they responded saying they would not comment on the case. They referred WIS to Richland County Animal Care. WIS contacted the county, where they referred us back to the sheriff’s department, who then told us it would not be them to make the comment.

WIS reached out to multiple sources to ask why Emmett went nearly a week without treatment, but no one could provide an answer.

“So many times Emmett was let down until the sheriff’s department called us and said could you please help this dog?” Denise Wilkinson, with CEO Pawmetto Lifeline, said. “He had to have a blood transfusion, his organs are shutting down, and we were very unsure if Emmett was going to make it. It was one of the saddest cases we’ve taken on recently.”

While Emmett was nursed back to health and adopted to a loving family, Wilkinson said she sees cases like Emmett far too often.

“Unfortunately, it seems like we’re seeing more and more of this where animals are just not cared for properly,” Wilkinson said. “It is absolutely heartbreaking when you see an animal that cannot even walk that has to be put on a cart that has to be wheeled to our exam room… and you think they’re going to take their last breath and you know that you got to do something.”

Wilkinson is planning to introduce a cruel tethering bill in January. She wants "our officers (to) have more authority out in the field when they see these dogs in very poor conditions.”

According to RCSD, there are currently no tethering laws in place in Richland County, which is why Wilkinson is determined to change that.

“I think Emmett is a great example of the way things should be with the current home he’s in,” Wilkinson said. “No dog should suffer like he’s suffered living on the chain 24/7. We just need all of our council members, we need all of our legislators, to put some parameters in place for humane tethering. We don’t expect tethering to be outlawed, but there needs to be some standards about shelters, collars, about the length of chains, weight of chains, honestly about how long a dog should be on a chain within a 24-hour time period.”

Here’s a look at data provided by RCSD showing the breakdown of animal abuse cases where an incident report was filed:

  • 2016: 6 cases
  • 2017: 4 cases
  • 2018: 14 cases

As of Sept. 30, the sheriff’s department said it has investigated 13 cases in 2019 to date.

After this story aired, Dr. Robert Cabe with Midlands Vetrinary Practice contacted WIS with the following comment:

“We have a contract with Richland County Animal Care to provide basic housing and care needs for strays that are picked up after hours. This particular case involved a case of lengthy, long-term neglect by the owner. The pet was housed and cared for in accordance with our contract with Richland County Animal Care. These animals are held for 5 days and then placed up (for) adoption or transferred back to the shelter. Obviously, we wish that we could provide extensive care to all strays that we see, but the contract with the county doesn’t allow for this to occur and we as a private practice do not receive the taxpayer funding that organizations such as Pawmetto Lifeline receive. We strongly feel that our practice has been completely and erroneously misrepresented in suggesting we had any role in the neglect of this pet. The role of neglect lies solely on the owner.”

Through the Freedom of Information Act, WIS has requested a copy of the contract. This story will be updated when the contract is obtained.

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