David Miller was looking in a rural Warrenville trailer park for a murder-trial witness when he saw something sickening.
A dog was chained to a thick tree. The chain allowed the animal to move just a few feet in every direction. Left on its own — for who knows how long — the dog had taken to running in circles.
As the dog ran around the tree, the chain had cut several inches into its wood on all sides.
“There’s absolutely nothing illegal about that in South Carolina,” Miller, a deputy solicitor in the 2nd Judicial Circuit, told a panel of S.C. officials on Thursday. “My investigator said we ought to call animal control about that. They can’t do anything about it.”
Miller’s suggested Thursday that lawmakers should create a state tethering law, adding to a growing list of ideas pitched to the panel, tasked with studying how to improve pet care in the Palmetto State.
State Rep. Steve Moss, R-Cherokee, who sits on the committee, said the need for solutions has been highlighted by the state’s unflattering position in recent rankings. In 2015, South Carolina ranked 44th in the country in the Humane Society of the United States’ annual survey of animal-welfare policies.
Animal welfare workers and other members of the public Thursday offered suggestions to help fix that ranking.
Shelly Simmons, division manager for Greenville County Animal Care, asked state lawmakers to strike a requirement that shelters hold impounded stray pets at least five days.
The rule results in overcrowded shelters and, sometimes, forces them to euthanize adoptable pets, she said. It also is a waste of money, she said, given that just 3 percent of Greenville’s stray dogs are reclaimed by their owners.
“Even if the animal is aggressive and not safe, we have to keep it for five days,” Simmons said.
She and others at the committee Thursday also floated requiring owners to tag their pets, possibly with microchips, a one-time cost of about $45.
Deputy solicitor Miller told the panel that many of the cases of animal neglect that he has seen stemmed from poverty or mental health problems.
Judges in animal-neglect cases have to grapple with imposing fines that offenders cannot pay or imprisoning them at a cost to taxpayers, Miller said.
“They hate these cases,” Miller said of judges. “There’s really not an obvious way to stop it.”
A fix for owners’ neglect of chained-up dogs should be simpler, Miller said.
Twenty states and Washington, D.C., already have tethering laws on the books. “It is very important that we have some kind of meaningful tethering law,” Miller said.