COLUMBIA, SC — A man charged with allowing hunting dogs to repeatedly attack and bite a captive bear has pleaded guilty to mistreating animals and agreed to give up three bears he kept in cages on remote land north of Greenville.
Monday’s plea by James Robert Grumbles resulted from a wide-sweeping state investigation of illegal hunting and treatment of black bears in the South Carolina mountains. The S.C. Department of Natural Resource has in the past four weeks charged a dozen people with about 50 offenses, ranging from killing a mother bear with cubs to killing undersized bears.
“It is an ongoing investigation that will probably reach further than it has so far,’’ wildlife department Capt. Robert McCullough said.
Grumbles, a 65-year-old Travelers Rest resident, was charged with a felony count of animal cruelty, but pleaded to a misdemeanor count in exchange for giving up the three bears he owns, according to the DNR. The bears will be sent to a wildlife preserve in Colorado in the next two to three weeks, McCullough said.
Grumbles was not available Tuesday, but has previously said he’s kind to the captive bears.
The animals are among about seven captive bears remaining in South Carolina that have been available for use in hunting-dog competitions, according to the DNR. These events draw thousands of people to remote parts of the Upstate to watch dogs go after bears that are tied to a stake. The idea is to get dogs used to being around bears so they can help corner the animals during South Carolina’s hunting season in late October.
But too often, dogs attack the bears, ripping their flesh and drawing blood, wildlife agents say. Bears have had some teeth removed and their claws have been filed down, making it difficult to defend themselves. During a competition, a bear might face hundreds of dogs in a day, according to the DNR. The events are called “bear-baying’’ competitions.
“You would not do this to a person or a pet of any description,’’ McCullough said. “It is just inhumane treatment.’’
McCullough, a spokesman for the DNR’s law enforcement division, said that in Grumbles’ case, undercover wildlife agents witnessed a bear being attacked by hunting dogs, which produced the animal cruelty charge. Grumbles provided a bear in an enclosed space, where dogs “repeatedly bit the bear,’’ according to an Aug. 22 indictment in York County.’ The incident occurred during a baying session sponsored by the National Plott Hound Association last April. He pleaded guilty Monday and was given a two months suspended sentence, court records show.
Removing the bears from Grumbles’ possession is significant in the DNR’s push to end bear-baying, officials say. With no more than a handful of the animals still caged and available for baying, the agency says the end may be near for the age-old practice. Although South Carolina allows bear-baying, it no longer issues permits so people can have captive bears for baying competitions. When all of the captive bears die or are removed, baying events won’t have animals to display, according to the DNR.
In a 2010 interview with The New York Times, however, Grumbles downplayed concerns about bear-baying. Competitions were infrequent for his bears and he would never allow them to be harmed, he said. He said he nursed the animals as cubs with baby bottles and routinely gives the grown animals treats.
“This has all gotten political,” he told the newspaper.
South Carolina wildlife officials disagree, saying their undercover operation shows cruelty being inflicted upon captive bears.