Dogs left tethered outdoors could suffer serious injuries or even die from neglect. But, until now, South Carolina hasn’t had any laws regulating the practice.
That could change under new rules proposed by a special panel set up by the S.C. Legislature.
The panel is proposing rules that would require dogs be provided with food, water, shelter, and be able to comfortably move around. For the first time, the proposed rules also would allow law enforcement to penalize negligent dog owners.
“There is no standard now, unless you can show it’s animal cruelty,” said state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, who chaired the pet-care committee. “This puts a more objective standard together for it.”
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Animal rights activists say the changes are needed.
“We’ve seen dogs that have been tethered by giant logging chains,” said Marli Drum, superintendent of Columbia Animal Services, who served on the panel. “We’ve seen them put on puppies. It can be cruelty to animals.”
Not only could a tether injure a dog, but exposure and a lack of access to food or water also can cause risks.
“Sometimes, they’re stuck in a such a small space that they can’t get 3 feet to their water,” said Drum, who notes the city of Columbia already has a city ordinance regulating tethering.
The panel’s suggestions for tethering and other changes to the state’s animal welfare laws must be approved by the Legislature before they become law.
Some think the proposed rules, which legislators will consider when they return to Columbia in January, could go farther.
“It didn’t include restrictions in case of severe weather,” said Kim Kelly, state director of the Humane Society of the U.S., who also was on the panel. “They said it would be too difficult to get that passed.”
But Kelly agrees the new tethering rules are needed. “It really is an animal-welfare concern,” she said. “Dogs are social animals, and if they’re isolated and scared, they can get more aggressive because they don’t have anywhere to go.”
Panelists note the new rules will apply to only unsupervised dogs tethered for long periods of time – more than an hour, Sheheen said.
“It’s not for if you’re in the park and you put your dog’s leash around a tree while you kick back and have a beer,” Sheheen said.
Twenty states and Washington, D.C., already have tethering laws on the books.
‘Sometimes they’re stuck in a such a small space that they can’t get 3 feet to their water.’
— Marli Drum, Columbia Animal Services
Other proposals from the panel include:
▪ Making it easier for out-of-state veterinarians to practice in South Carolina
▪ Requiring more training for local magistrates who deal with most animal welfare cases
▪ Setting statewide standards for spay-and-release programs for feral cats
▪ Establishing new standards for animal shelters
Shelters, for example, would be required to heat and cool animal pens and separate breeding-capable dogs by gender. The time that animals must be held before they can be adopted also would be reduced from five days to three, in hopes of fostering more adoptions.
The new rules might cause the most problems for counties and nonprofits that run animal shelters. But the panel won’t require shelters to add facilities or staff to meet them.
“If it requires a visit to a vet, you can’t go to court and say, ‘You have to hire a vet,’ ” said Josh Rhodes, attorney for the S.C. Association of Counties.
Still, Rhodes says local governments will try their best to meet any new standards. “Counties want to do what they can do because they have to deal with the same issues the state wants them to,” he said.