By Stephanie Larsen
From pet-friendly beaches, to hotels, parks, and the dozens of restaurants that always have a fresh bowl of water ready for your pup, it’s no surprise that Charleston comes up as one of America’s most dog-friendly cities. We Charlestonians are dog lovers, there’s no denying that.
But there’s one area where we fall short, and it’s probably in the most impactful way.
TOUGHER ANIMAL PROTECTION LAWS NEEDED
South Carolina ranks 44th out of 50 for worst states for Animal Protection Laws, according to a 2021 report from the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Recently though, several counties in South Carolina have updated their animal welfare laws and Charleston County needs to do the same.
In Charleston County, it is legal to tie a dog to a tree for its entire life. Drive around the county and you will see dogs tied with heavy logging chains to abandoned porches or live under decks or abandoned cars. While you may want to call animal control, their hands are tied because no law is being broken.
While there is a state definition for “shelter,” it’s not detailed. This leads to animals being sheltered using inadequate or unsafe means. Some counties have made the definition stronger and more common sense. It’s time for Charleston County do the same.
This is why the Charleston Animal Legislative Action League was created. Our mission is to educate our community on the lack of animal welfare laws, and to influence our local politicians to pass stronger ordinances. The dogs in our community don’t have a voice and we know it’s up to us and our community members to advocate for them.
The first ordinance we hope to pass is an updated “humane tethering” ordinance. Dogs that are tethered their entire lives often develop severe behavior problems from long-term confinement and lack of socialization or exercise. Sadly, the victims of tethered dog attacks are most often neighborhood children who approach the dog unaware of the risks.
We also know that just because a dog is tethered its entire life does not mean the owners don’t care. Our goal is not just to update our laws, but to also collaborate with our community resources to work with dog owners to improve their current situations. First by educating our community members on the negative effects of tethering, and second by providing them with the necessary resources such as getting them into community programs like Charleston Animal Society’s Pets for Life program.
Our second goal is to get an updated definition of what Basic Care constitutes. We want the law to clearly state what is acceptable shelter, and what is not. For example, a picnic table or an abandoned car cannot count as a dog’s shelter its entire life. If a dog is going to spend its entire life in an enclosure, it should have enough space to turn around and stand without hitting its head on the roof.
OTHER ISSUES ON THE RADAR
While these are our current focus, we also plan to take down puppy mills and enact stronger penalties for animal cruelty.
By passing these updated ordinances, our law enforcement can take action and have a clear law to stand behind in court. Unfortunately, when you call animal control today, even if they don’t agree with what they see, because there are such limited laws around animal welfare, they legally cannot do anything.
We’ve spent the last six months speaking to and learning from other counties in South Carolina, and throughout the US, who have successfully passed stronger animal welfare laws. We’ve had very productive meetings with Charleston County Animal Control and the President and CEO of the Charleston Animal Society, as we continue to get this important message out to our community.
Our goal is to present our first two updated ordinances in the hopes of getting them passed in late 2022.
Over 5000 counties and cities in the United States have enacted stronger animal welfare laws and we believe that it’s time for Charleston to once and for all reflect its title of being known as one of the most “dog friendly cities.”
If you’d like to support us, please follow our Facebook page at Charleston Animal Legislative Action League, or visit our website at www.alal.info.
Stephanie Larsen is a founding member of the Charleston Animal Legislative Action League.