S.C. animal cruelty laws filled with 'exemptions and loopholes'

South Carolina animal cruelty laws filled with 'exemptions and loopholes'
Published: Feb. 14, 2013 at 5:12 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 14, 2013 at 12:14 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - When it comes to the strength of animal cruelty laws in states across the nation, South Carolina is at the back of the pack. The seizure of 45 dogs and the discovery of 200+ skeletons at a man's home in Goose Creek Monday got Live 5 News hunting down the facts, trying to figure out why the state's laws are don't stack up.

"They're very weak," says Joe Elmore, CEO of the Charleston Animal Society.

When it comes to cruelty laws, Elmore says South Carolina is in the bottom five nationally in strength. The Humane Society of the United States ranks the Palmetto State number 47 out of 51.

"It's extraordinarily frustrating," says Kim Kelly, South Carolina's Director of the Humane Society of the United States.

"It's very difficult to know that someone is abusing animals and not just one or ten animals but hundreds of animals and not be able to get a conviction," says Kelly.

The Humane Society Director has been working on a bill to give abusive owners in South Carolina longer jail time and require them to pay higher fees if convicted of hurting their animals.

But the bill, like many before it, is in limbo.

Kelly says the wait for change is painful. She says the more time passes more "animals suffer in South Carolina."

Under current state laws, Kelly says owners aren't required to give animals veterinary care.

There is no bonding law on the books in South Carolina. That means animal control and police are less likely to make major seizures and arrests because owners don't have to foot the bill for care while awaiting trial.

28 states have bonding laws for animal cruelty which saves the money of taxpayers, municipalities and non-profit clinics when large-scale rescues are made.

30 states have future ownership bans or restrictions for convicted offenders. South Carolina is not one of them.

If someone is convicted of animal cruelty charges in one of those 30 states, a judge can decided whether they are allowed to have animals again. If the decision is 'no' - then the defendant can face a time restriction or lifetime animal ban in that state.

Kelly says there is no law prohibits the private ownership of dangerous exotic animals 'including tigers, lions, chimpanzees, exotic snakes and even bears."

She also says South Carolina is one of ten states that doesn't have laws against felony cockfighting.

"We're surrounded by felony states which makes us even more appealing to cock fighters," she says.

On top of those lack of laws, Elmore says the wording in current S.C. cruelty laws is open ended. He admits even the state's largest pet-friendly organizations don't know whether or not it's legal to shoot an animal in South Carolina.

"There are a lot of exemptions and loopholes in there now," says Elmore. "There's a lot of ambiguity like what is ill treatment? What is cruelly killing an animal?"

Elmore and Kelly say the battle to beef up laws is just beginning and they won't stop trying to change the rules until cruelty laws have a much bigger bite.

"We have a lot of work to do in South Carolina," says Kelly. "A lot of work to do."

The top five states with the strongest animal cruelty laws are California, Massachusetts, Illinois, Oregon and New Jersey, respectively.

Current animal cruelty laws in South Carolina are as follows:

§ 47-1-40. Ill-treatment of animals generally.

(A) Whoever knowingly or intentionally overloads, overdrives, overworks, ill-treats any animal, deprives any animal of necessary sustenance or shelter, inflicts unnecessary pain or suffering upon any animal, or by omission or commission knowingly or intentionally causes these things to be done, for every offense is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be punished by imprisonment not exceeding sixty days or by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars nor more than five hundred dollars, or both, for a first offense; by imprisonment not exceeding ninety days or by a fine not exceeding eight hundred dollars, or both, for a second offense; or by imprisonment not exceeding two years or by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars, or both, for a third or subsequent offense. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a first offense under this subsection shall be tried in magistrate's or municipal court.

(B) Whoever tortures, torments, needlessly mutilates, cruelly kills, or inflicts excessive or repeated unnecessary pain or suffering upon any animal or by omission or commission causes the acts to be done for any of the offenses is guilty of a felony and, upon conviction, must be punished by imprisonment of not less than one hundred eighty days and not to exceed five years and by a fine of five thousand dollars.

(C) This section does not apply to fowl, accepted animal husbandry practices of farm operations and the training of animals, the practice of veterinary medicine, agricultural practices, forestry and silvacultural practices, wildlife management practices, or activity authorized by Title 50, including an activity authorized by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources or an exercise designed for training dogs for hunting, if repeated contact with a dog or dogs and another animal does not occur during this training exercise.

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