Council taking first vote on new animal cruelty law

WINNSBORO – It’s been a rough past few years for Fairfield County animals, with stiff penalties for animal cruelty few and far between.

Some proposed county level ordinance changes, however, could possibly become law by the end of the year.

First reading of an ordinance revising the county’s existing animal control laws could come as early as Monday.

Deborah Richelle, president of the Hoof and Paw Benevolent Society in Blythewood, which worked with Fairfield County on the draft ordinance, said the organization remains hopeful the council adopts the ordinance by year’s end. While Richelle said the suggested improvements are minimal at this point, they are small steps toward tougher laws to protect animals in Fairfield County.

“It’s been a slow march,” Richelle said. “This would be such a great opportunity to see some of the work come to fruition.”

Council Chairman Billy Smith said the revised ordinance is still being tweaked, but noted it includes stricter guidelines relating to tethering, housing and transporting animals.

The proposed changes do not outlaw tethering altogether, but they do set some minimal guidelines that better protect animals and give law enforcement more guidance when responding to complaints, Smith said.

“It says what the length and weight of a tether needs to be so that you don’t have situations such as a Chihuahua with a 20-pound chain that’s two feet long on them, for example,” he said.

Paula Spinale, also of Hoof and Paw, has been working with the county as well. She remains optimistic that the proposed ordinance will pass, crediting Smith for helping to keep the process moving forward.

“There are so many dogs that are on chains 24/7 in this area,” Spinale said. “Somebody needs to help them, to fight for them.”

Monday night’s first reading will be in title only, meaning council members will vote on the measure without any formal discussion. Three readings are required to pass.

Public comments, however, can be made. Council agendas routinely have two public input sessions, the first devoted to agenda items in which a public hearing hasn’t been scheduled, such as the animal cruelty ordinance.

Speakers are allowed three minutes per person, and the session is limited to 30 minutes.

Hoof and Paw is hoping for strong representation at the meeting.

“We’re excited and hopeful for this what this first reading is making possible,” Richelle said. “We certainly will be there, supporting endeavors to get this passed through.

Smith said he hopes Fairfield County’s effort will inspire state lawmakers to enact stronger animal control laws.

“It [the ordinance] is telling the state, ‘we wish you would address these things,’” Smith said. “County ordinances, by law, can’t penalize people the way state law can. The state can charge with felonies, for example, and Counties can only charge with misdemeanors. If the state would address it, they could do much more to solve more of these issues.”

County Council meets at 6 p.m., Nov. 12 at the County building, 350 Columbia Road, Winnsboro 29180.