Council tightening animal laws

WINNSBORO – Eleven years passed before Fairfield County updated its animal control ordinance in December 2018. The next update, however, likely won’t take as long to arrive.

On Nov. 11, the Fairfield County Council voted unanimously to move forward a proposed ordinance that strengthens the existing animal control law by addressing animal hoarding, tethering and other issues.

First reading was by title only, so there was no discussion during the regular meeting. Prior to the regular meeting, during the Public Affairs and Policy Committee meeting, council members and county staff voiced support for moving the ordinance forward.

“The main thing is getting something in place so when the offenders do an action, we have something to take care of that,” said Councilwoman Bertha Goins, the committee’s chairperson.

If the proposed changes become law, tethering an animal to a chain would become illegal in Fairfield County.

“We don’t think an animal needs to be on a chain at all,” said County Administrator Jason Taylor.

Bob Innes, the county’s animal control and adoption center director, said tethers cause great harm to animals. It is not unusual for dogs to be brought into the shelter with deep gashes cut into their necks by tethers.

“It’s just craziness. If you want to stop these horrific sort of things from happening, then you have to change the rules,” Innes said. “It’s a proven fact that dogs chained up their entire life become aggressive. And people wonder why pit bulls are aggressive. If you’re chained up your entire life and don’t mix with humans, that’s what happens.”

Instead, the new law sets forth guidelines dogs to wear harnesses connected to a trolley system, which functions similarly to a zip line. An animal’s leash line connects to a second line suspended in the air, giving animals more freedom to roam.  

The proposed ordinance states the suspended trolley line must measure at least 20 feet between endpoints and be at least three feet above the dog.

Dogs must also have free movement along the length of the trolley without becoming entangled. The trolley must also give dogs adequate access to food and water, according to the draft ordinance.

Councilman Clarence Gilbert said he supported trolleys, but also asked about cost. Gilbert said he mainly wanted to ensure pet owners could afford trolleys. Innes said trolleys cost as little as $20.

In the end, the committee unanimously approved a motion to study trolley systems that incorporate harnesses, and then bring back the findings to the next committee meeting.

Fairfield looks to Aiken

Tommy Morgan, the county’s attorney, said the proposed Fairfield ordinance incorporates verbiage from an anti-tethering measure Aiken County adopted in March 2017.

In Aiken, tethering is only allowed “for a brief period of time necessary to complete a temporary task that requires the dog to be restrained,” setting a four-hour maximum. Fairfield County’s proposed law would go further, banning tethering altogether.

The Aiken County ordinance also establishes provisions for a trolley system. Fairfield County’s proposed law on trolleys is virtually identical to Aiken’s.

Morgan said the chief goal is to strengthen Fairfield’s existing law as much as possible without exposing it to a possible legal challenge.

“I want to stress that this is not a final document. It’s living and breathing and some edits are going to be made,” Morgan said.

Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian told The Voice that there’ve been no legal challenges to its tethering ban, nor is he aware of any future attempts to challenge it.

“Having an ordinance is the only way you can enforce the regulation,” Killian said. “I would say that having this tool has been successful in that it gives us a chance to address matters as they are reported or found.”

Animal hoarding

Fairfield County’s proposed ordinance also addresses animal hoarding. The county’s animal control workers have recently had cases where dozens of animals or, in one case, hundreds, living on the same property.

Taylor said the ordinance revisions aren’t intended to target livestock, where dozens of animals typically graze on large farms.

“We have one case where we found 62 dogs that were inbreeding,” Taylor said. “We need to get control of that kind of thing.”

Innes said the county also has a problem with what he called “backstreet breeding,” something he said the revised ordinance needs to address.

“This is the sort of thing that we need to tighten up on,” Innes said.

Taylor also noted the ordinance also isn’t designed to target legally operating kennels. The proposed law would define “kennels” to avoid any confusion, he said.

Later, during the regular council meeting, Ridgeway resident Randy Bright thanked council members for continuing its focus on animal welfare.

In December 2018, the council revised its animal control ordinance to impose a $500 civil penalty for violations of the county ordinance.

Other provisions include mandatory reporting of striking a pet with a motor vehicle or bicycle, more detailed definitions of nuisance animals and requiring all pets to be fed at least once a day and have potable water.

But Bright also noted the solicitor’s office needs to more vigorously prosecute violators.

A recent investigation by The Voice newspaper found that most animal abuse cases prosecuted by the 16th Judicial Circuit result in pleas to lesser charges or outright dismissals.

“If we don’t have a working relationship with the solicitor’s office, this not going to happen. It’s not going to be enforced,” Bright said.

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