South Carolina’s laws against animal cruelty rank 45th in the nation, according to the Humane Society of the United States, and state lawmakers who’ve tried to toughen those laws say there’s one main reason for that.
“We have people that are avid hunters and fishermen and they believe that anything to do with animal concerns, animal abuse, is going to take away, infringe on their rights, take away their guns, not let them hunt and that kind of thing. So anytime you bring something up about animals you’re hitting a brick wall,” says Rep. Deborah Long, R-Indian Land, who sponsored a bill two years ago to create an animal abuse registry, similar to the sex offender registry. Now, someone can be convicted of animal abuse in one county and, even if a judge prohibits them from having any more animals, if they move to another county enforcement of that ban is difficult. The bill never made it out of committee.
One of the main opponents of tougher animal cruelty laws has been Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, who is an avid hunter and fisherman. “I am not against toughening animal cruelty laws,” he says. “What I am against is an intrusion that most people don’t see, don’t understand, that uses animal cruelty laws as a façade for a much bigger agenda.”
He says local Humane Societies are fine and do good work. His concern is with the Humane Society of the United States, or HSUS, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA. “My absolute opposition to animal rights bills is not based on trying to stop something in good direction to protect pets and service animals. It is to keep HSUS and PETA at bay in my state,” he says.
He says HSUS president and CEO Wayne Pacelle wants to ban all sport hunting, so Pitts is worried that any bill that HSUS supports is a foot in the door to move in that direction. Officially, HSUS is working to ban some forms of hunting, like hunting animals that are kept in enclosed areas.
One example he says of a bill that seems good but can go too far is a tethering law. The state has no law against keeping a dog chained to a tree, post, or stake in the ground, but Pitts and others fought against a tethering bill. “In that tethering bill, it also included that I couldn’t put my bird dog or rabbit dog in a box in the back of my truck, a box that’s made for them. I couldn’t put, tie my horse while I was saddling my horse. That would be illegal tethering, because a rope’s not over six foot. So the devil is in the details of what they’re trying to do,” he says.
Wayne Brennessel, executive director of the Humane Society of South Carolina, says there are a couple of laws the state needs, one of them being a tethering law. “We need some laws about puppy mills, about these people who breed and breed and breed animals until, basically, the female animal is just falling apart because she’s been so overbred,” he says.
But Pitts counters with a question. How do you prevent puppy mills without unfairly restricting legitimate dog breeders? A bill just introduced on May 5th tries to answer that. It would put standards in place that would allow commercial dog breeders to operate without overbreeding their dogs.
Lawmakers did pass a tougher law last year that increases penalties for repeat offenders. Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Goose Creek, chaired a subcommittee that traveled around the state and listened to residents’ concerns about animal cruelty and laws to prevent it.
“It’ll be interesting to see how they rate South Carolina after we tightened those, the law up last year on the penalty and made it much more severe on a repeat offense,” he says