Crime & Courts

Probation for Columbia man convicted of animal cruelty

A 61-year-old former Lee County resident told a circuit court judge on Tuesday that more than 1,000 animals who suffered under his care in 2009 and 2010 “were not kept in any more cruel conditions than (he) was.”

Robert Bowen Stewart of 1676 Horseshoe Drive in Columbia pleaded guilty at the Lee County Courthouse to four counts of ill treatment to animals, getting a sentence of five years in prison, suspended to two years’ probation. Third Circuit Judge R. Ferrell Cothran told Stewart a condition of his sentence was that he could no longer care for or treat any pets for the remainder of his life.

“It doesn’t appear to me in this case that these animals lacked for food,” Cothran said. “But you just had too many in too small a space. It looks like you had too many to care for by yourself.”

Stewart was charged by the state Attorney General’s Office in late 2010 with several counts of cruelty to animals after three separate visits to his home in the Cedar Creek community during a 10-month period starting in December 2009. According to the Attorney General’s Office, animals found in Stewart’s home included dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens and pigeons.

Police were first directed to Stewart’s Bishopville home in late 2009 after a large quantity of dogs were found in the yard. The animals were “crammed into small areas in the yard,” according to reports. A search warrant from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office was served in April 2010, after which photos were taken of Stewart’s home, which was reportedly in complete disarray.

“I went out there on the visits to the home in April and September 2010, and I don’t know how anyone lived in that house, much less made these animals live in that house,” said Doris Winstead of Lee County Animal Control. “The majority of the dogs found were fat and sassy, they were fed. But they had problems.”

One small dog, according to Winstead, had suffered a spinal cord injury, likely due to other larger animals trampling her in the home.

“It took us hours looking under garbage stacked up next to walls to find all the animals in the home,” Winstead said.

The Attorney General’s Office reported that dogs were found with their tongues too big for their mouths, a sign of overbreeding. Likewise, several animals had ammonia burns on their skin and paws due to sitting in their own excrement for long periods of time.

“The cats were standing in several inches of their own feces,” John Muldrow of Lee County Animal Control told The Item in 2010. “The house was (so) full of trash and filthy, there was only a little path to walk through. The smell of ammonia was so strong you couldn’t stay in there but for just a few minutes.”

Lee County Assistant Public Defender King Cutter told Cothran that Stewart was disabled in 2005 and began breeding the dogs shortly thereafter.

“It just got out of hand,” Cutter said. “He kept the house as best he could, but it got out of hand. He did not intentionally mean to harm these animals.”