Committee Takes Up Animal Cruelty Ordinance

WINNSBORO – Prompted by the death of two horses shortly after their release from County custody (see the July 10 & 17 editions of The Voice), County Council during their July 14 meeting voted to send an animal cruelty ordinance to committee.

The ordinance was one of four recommendations made to Council by Interim County Administrator Milton Pope, and on Monday evening the Public Affairs and Policy Committee took the matter up for the first time. The committee, chaired by Mary Lynn Kinley (District 6) and filled out by Billy Smith (District 7) and Walter Larry Stewart (District 3), said a comparison of the County’s existing animal control ordinance to state law found only enforcement issues left to address.

“We already have a state law, and we shouldn’t be in here to write this long epistle,” Stewart said. “The only thing that we may need to do in coordination with the Sheriff and Animal Control is to supplement certain sections that would give them the authority to do their jobs.”

Kinley said she was “appalled” that the horses in question had been allowed by their owner to deteriorate into such poor condition without the owners facing consequences. During Council’s July 14 meeting, Pope said it had been the County’s practice in the past to not press charges against owners who willingly surrendered their animals to the County. The now deceased horses, however, were in the County’s custody for nearly a month before they were officially released by the owner, according to documents obtained by The Voice through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Monday evening, Kinley asked Sheriff Will Montgomery what his department’s policy was regarding the deferral of charges for owners who turn over neglected or abused animals to the County.

“We don’t have anything in our policies, as far as that goes,” Montgomery said.

“There’s no policy?” Smith asked again.

“Nothing that’s in writing,” Montgomery answered.

Furthermore, Montgomery said, his office was not even made aware of the rescued horses at the time they were taken in by Animal Control.

Smith then asked Montgomery if there would be any hesitancy on the part of his deputies to pursue charges in a similar case, if they were made aware of it. Montgomery said there would be none at all; and if for any reason his office could not pursue the case, he said, he would ask the S.C. Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to do so.

“If we were contacted, we would definitely do a report on it,” Montgomery said, “and if needed, we would do whatever we needed to do to press charges.”

Kinley then asked David Brown, the County’s senior Animal Control officer in charge of the shelter, how his department typically handles animal cruelty cases.

“We make the recommendation (to the Sheriff’s Office),” Brown said. “We go out and see if we need to make a recommendation. If we feel we need (the Sheriff), we make a recommendation to him.”

After the meeting, The Voice asked Kinley why no such recommendation had been made last May when the mare and her colt were first taken from the pasture in Blair.

“I asked the same question,” Kinley said. “The Sheriff’s Office, in the past, their policy was to, if they turned it over to the County, the animals, then there would be no charges. (Montgomery) said there is not such policy.”

“The problem was there wasn’t a process that we did every time,” District 5 Councilman Marion Robinson, who attended the meeting as an observer, interjected.

An automatic recommendation to the Sheriff’s Office by Animal Control for prosecution on potential cruelty cases, Robinson said, was not required. The revised animal control ordinance may include such a requirement, he said.

Pope, on July 14, also recommended to Council that the County initiate an education program for horse owners. Monday, he said that might best be accomplished through a partnership with Clemson University. Pope also on July 14 recommended keeping an equine vet on retainer, and on Monday he said that had already been implemented. The mare and her colt were tended by Dr. Robert Chappell, a small animal vet used almost exclusively by the County.

Finally, Pope suggested that the County should identify additional rescue groups who could take custody of abused or neglected horses and provide them with care.

Services from one such local group, The Hoof & Paw Benevolent Society, are already available to the County. In the case of the mare and colt, however, Hoof & Paw was not made aware of the horses until after they had spent nearly a month in County custody.

Addressing County Council during their regular meeting Monday night, Minge Wiseman, vice president of Hoof & Paw, said she had recently been asked by the County to develop an equine rescue plan.

“Putting a plan on paper is not very difficult,” Wiseman said during the second public comment session of the meeting. “Implementing that plan can be. An effective plan cannot be executed without adequate funding and manpower. The expenses involved in providing care for a healthy horse costs between $150 and $250 per month. Caring for an emaciated horse, those expenses can double because of additional medical costs.

“Without providing the necessary funds, why even talk about a plan?” Wiseman continued, “Where that money comes from, I don’t know. But this I do believe: while it will be costly, it is the right thing to do. These animals deserve as much attention and consideration as a neglected dog on a chain in a yard with no shelter and no food.”

Regarding dogs on chains, Kinley also suggested the revised ordinance address dogs left tied up all day in yards on short chains. She also said the definition of adequate shelter for animals may need to be strengthened or clarified, and added that a limit may need to be set on the number of dogs allowed per home in densely populated areas.

A draft of the revised ordinance is expected to be available for review within two weeks.