Council OKs animal ordinance

WINNSBORO – For a brief moment, Fairfield County’s new animal control ordinance seemed like it might freeze in its tracks.

In the end, however, Fairfield County Council voted 5-0 Monday night on final reading of the new ordinance, which increases fines up to $500 and more specifically defines offenses.

Councilman Dan Ruff abstained and Councilman Mikel Trapp was absent.

With a motion to approve third reading on the floor, Ruff introduced a motion to table third reading. The motion to table failed 4-1.

Ruff said he agreed with the spirit of the ordinance, especially areas addressing animal cruelty, but he also thought other elements required further review.

“There is still some fine print before this is finalized,” he said. “I think it would be better to totally have it clear.”

Council Chairman Billy Smith asked Ruff for specifics, and Ruff pointed to previous comments from William Coleman, a farmer from Blair who expressed concerns during the opening public input session.

Like Ruff, Coleman said he supports cracking down on animal cruelty, but also argued that some provisions aimed at residential owners shouldn’t apply to farmers.

For example, he thought leash laws shouldn’t apply to hunting dogs, nor should they apply to herding dogs.

“I’m in the cattle business,” he said. “Does this mean a cattle dog has to be under restraint when we go to work our cows?”

Council members said the ordinance’s intent isn’t to leash farmers, and Smith pointed out that most of the concerns mentioned were already addressed in the ordinance. Council also noted the ordinance adopted Monday night was merely a starting point to close loopholes governing mostly residential owners.

“It’s definitely better than what we have in place right now,” said Councilman Cornelius Robinson. “It’s like a car, we can fine-tune it in the future.”

It’s been 11 years since Fairfield County last updated its animal control ordinance.

It also took more than a year of discussions between the county and concerned residents to craft the revised ordinance.

Two council members, including Ruff and Smith are leaving the council at the end of the year, which would’ve placed the ordinance’s fate up in the air after new council members are sworn in January.

“I find it necessary we go ahead and do this ordinance tonight,” said Councilwoman Bertha Goins. “We need to lock this in tonight so that we have something to start with.”

Fairfield County’s updated ordinance comes following a series of investigative reports by The Voice, which found that almost nobody charged with animal cruelty in the past 18 months received any jail time.

Though those prosecutions were for state crimes that the solicitor’s office prosecutes in state court – the county ordinance only addresses magistrate level offenses – the lack of prison sentences galvanized public interest in updating the county ordinance.

Highlights of the new law include:

Mandatory reporting of any pet struck by a motor vehicle or bicycle

More detailed definitions of nuisance animals

Pets must be fed at least once a day and have potable water

Tethers are allowed, but must be at least 12 feet long and no more than 15 percent of an animal’s body weight.

Smith, the council chairman, had said during the Nov. 26 meeting, that he hoped tighter rules regarding swing chains could be incorporated. On Tuesday, though, he said, there wasn’t enough time to include that verbiage as it was difficult to clearly define and since he said his chief goal was for the ordinance to pass by the end of the year.

“Our regard for life, human or animal, is all related. It’s so very important and a reflection of who we are as human beings,” Faulk said.