Dorchester Co. strengthens animal cruelty laws, adds roaming cat program

VIDEO: Dorchester Co. strengthens animal cruelty laws, adds roaming cat program

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Dorchester County has strengthened its laws to protect animals from cruelty and neglect.

The county’s council voted Monday to close some loopholes in the animal control ordinances. Officials say the action was needed to help prosecute cases of abuse and clarify the responsibilities of pet owners.

The definitions for cruelty, neglect, and necessary veterinary care were reinforced to maintain the laws’ purpose.

“A lot of things go into our cruelty cases. Between the animals, the owners, and a lot of it, unfortunately, we have to take home with us. It weights heavy on us a lot,” Dorchester County Animal Control officer Samantha Moore said. “Unfortunately, some of our cases wouldn’t pan out the way we wanted them to or needed them to to be able to prosecute them, and now, we have a little bit more of a firm ground to stand on when it comes to that.”

Moore believes one of the most important changes is the creation of a tethering law. It’s now illegal in Dorchester County to restrain an animal with tow or log chains or any other kind of tether that weights more than an eighth of the animal’s body weight.

The new ordinances also address sufficient shelter and care. Owners could face a penalty if they fail to provide their pets with enough food and necessary veterinary care or if they maintain them in an environment of unsanitary conditions.

“It helps give them [owners] an idea of what we are looking for when we’re out there. What to do, what not to do, and of course, if anyone has any questions, we want to help people. That’s what we are here to do,” Moore said.

The community’s animal shelter, Dorchester Paws, has played a role in creating a new program for the county to address roaming cats.

The new ordinance will allow cats to remain free and roaming as long as they are spayed or neutered, microchipped, vaccinated for rabies, and ear tipped. It’s a move that puts Dorchester County in line with its neighboring counties, Charleston and Berkeley, and officials say it will eventually address an overpopulation of cats in shelters and the community.

“The entire premise about this is saving more lives because now, if there was a feral or unhandleable cat, we were not able to release it back out into the community, so we are saving a lot more lives that way,” Dorchester Paws Executive Director Kim Almstedt said. “There’s key results that are proving that having a free roaming cat program, or community cat program, truly works in combating over pet population.”

Almstedt says it’s hard to get a good grasp on just how large the problem is, but until now, the animal shelter has been lacking this option to help.

“If it’s a community cat then we know it lives outside. It’s meant to be outside. They continue to thrive outside, and we are very excited to be able to return these animals to their natural environment,” Almstedt said. “A lot of people might think it’s a nuisance to have a lot of cats running around, but in reality, it’s really not that way…they are living breathing things. They can provide rodent control. They can work for you. They can kill your rats, your snakes. They can be a positive thing.”

Officials say the entire list of changes is a major overhaul to the previous animal welfare laws in Dorchester County.

For more information on the changes, click here.

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