SC Animal Protection Laws Among the Worst

Each year, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) publishes its U.S. State Animal Protection Laws Ranking Report. It is the longest-running and most authoritative of its kind, assessing the strength of each state and territory’s animal protection laws by examining over 3,600 pages of statutes. Each state and territory are ranked based on 20 different categories of animal protection.

Unfortunately, South Carolina is almost dead last, falling to #47 when it comes to the strength of animal protection laws here. Where does the Palmetto State fall short? “We are very disappointed to see South Carolina failing in almost every category of laws that protect animals,” said Charleston Animal Society Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Aldwin Roman, CAWA. “Hopefully this year’s ALDF report serves as a wakeup call to our lawmakers. We need to do better for animals.”


A new trend in 2023 was the enactment and clarification of “bond-or- forfeit” laws. When an animal is seized pursuant to an animal cruelty investigation, the owner still retains ownership, or their property interest, in the animal despite losing physical custody of the animal. Owners can always voluntarily surrender that property interest, but if they choose not to, the animal is put into legal limbo. They cannot — and should not — be returned to the owner until the animal cruelty charges are fully adjudicated or dismissed. But they also cannot be adopted out into new homes because the defendant still technically owns them.

Criminal cruelty cases can drag on for months or even years, meanwhile, the animal is languishing in a shelter. Keeping animals for long periods of time in a shelter — even the best, most well-resourced shelters — is harmful for animals’ psychological well-being and can cause them to be re-traumatized. This can lead to behavioral problems, making animals even harder to adopt out when the criminal case eventually concludes.

The most common legislative solution to these issues is bond-or-forfeit laws. Thirty-nine states plus the District of Columbia and Guam all have some form of bond-or-forfeit laws. These laws require that the defendant either post a bond with the court covering the costs of caring for the seized animals, or forfeit the animals, allowing them to be adopted out into new homes. South Carolina does not have this kind of legislation.


One continuing trend in 2023 was the passage of laws which allow courts to include animals in protection orders. Protection orders, more commonly known as restraining orders, are court orders protecting domestic violence victims from their abusers. Numerous studies have documented the link between animal cruelty and domestic violence. Offenders often use animals as tools in their abuse, exploiting the close

bond victims have with their companion animals. Abusers may threaten or harm an animal in order to control or psychologically torment the animal’s guardian. Sadly, this form of coercive control is extremely effective. South Carolina only allows protection orders for companion animals, not all animals.


A continuing legislative trend is the creation and strengthening of cross reporting laws and veterinary reporting laws. Cross-reporting refers to laws which explicitly permit or require cross-reporting between various animal and human welfare organizations, such as requiring humane officers to report suspected child abuse or requiring elder protective service workers to report suspected animal cruelty. These laws recognize and respond to the link between animal cruelty and interpersonal violence. South Carolina does not have these laws on the books.


After a person is convicted of animal cruelty, the court may prohibit the defendant from owning or possessing any animal for a period of time. In many states, this prohibition is statutorily authorized, or even mandated.

These possession bans are one of the most effective ways to prevent repeat offenses. They restrict an abuser’s access to animals, drastically limiting the pool of potential victims. They also allow law enforcement to intervene quickly to protect at-risk animals. South Carolina has no such laws.

Editor’s Note: The information for this article came directly from the Animal Legal Defense Fund,