Solicitor says wording of dog abuse law could be improved

HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WPDE) - A recent animal abuse case where a dog's nose was ripped off had many of our viewers asking about penalties people face when they abuse animals. In many cases, people are charged with ill treatment of animals.

Ill treatment of animals is broken up into two parts. Horry and Georgetown County Solicitor Greg Hembree says one part of the law is a misdemeanor which carries a sentence of up to 60 days in jail and up to a $500 fine. He says the second part is a felony, which can lead up to a five year sentence and a $5,000 fine.

"We have a higher level of responsibility to protect things that can't look out for themselves. That's why we have special laws on elder abuse and on child abuse, because you've got a category of people that are not in a position to defend themselves or look after themselves. Animals, pets particularly, are the same way. They're not in a position to look after themselves," he explains.

At the North Myrtle Beach Humane Society, Rose Marie Pine spends her day caring for the shelter's cats and dogs. While they don't see very many abuse cases, when she hears about them in other areas she says it's beyond her comprehension.

"I think that's horrible. I think that to me it's like abusing a child. It's the same thing. They don't understand why things are happening and neither do children," says Pine.

In the last couple years there have been several cases of animal abuse in our area. Most face misdemeanor charge of ill treatment of animals. For it to reach a felony level, Hembree says someone has to kill, torture, or mutilate an animal. He says it's a hard criteria to meet because of wording.

"You basically could starve an animal to death or torture that animal in some sort of maltreatment, neglect wouldn't trigger the torture. Torture has to be something you impose on that animal," he explains. "I've seen conduct that was pretty appalling, but yet it had to be charged at a magistrate's level offense.

Hembree goes on to say the law could use some improvement. "I believe we could toughen the penalties and at least increase the penalties. I think you need to have at least three distinct levels or degrees if you will. You have one that's a magistrate's level degree, one that would be a minor misdemeanor general sessions offense and then a felony degree. Try to unify. They are disjointed."

"Don't be afraid to report what you see. You're not going to get into trouble, but you're definitely going to save a life," adds Pine.

In addition to state laws, counties and cities have their own laws regarding animal abuse, but Hembree says they are limited in how strict the penalties can be.

If you'd like to see the laws changed regarding animal abuse, Hembree encourages you to contact your state legislator.