Is There a Dog Tethering Law in SC?

Is there a dog tethering law in SC?

At some point, most of us have seen a dog tied in someone’s backyard and wondered, “is that okay?” Maybe it was on a short leash, or maybe it was lying on the ground with a heavy chain around its neck. Maybe there was shelter and water nearby, but the dog couldn’t possibly reach it because of the tether.

Can something be done about it? Should something be done about it? Vets and animal shelters have seen too many dogs with wounds on their necks, starved and dehydrated because they cannot reach food and water bowls, and they want criminal laws in place to force people to take better care of their animals.

Animal advocates have been pushing for a dog tethering law in SC for years, but they aren’t going to get it. Not yet, anyway. The SC legislature did pass some new animal cruelty-related laws this year, but the proposed law regulating dog tethering in SC did not make the cut.

What are the new animal cruelty laws in SC? What are the existing animal cruelty laws in SC – can you be arrested and charged with a crime for tethering an animal in your yard?

I care about animals. I also care about people – if you’ve been charged with animal cruelty or ill-treatment of animals in SC, call or email and talk to me about how to fight the charges and what your options are.

New Animal Cruelty Law Does Not Address Dog Tethering in SC

Although the SC legislature has considered different forms of a new animal cruelty bill for years, the version that finally passed this year does not include the dog tethering law in SC that many animal advocates have been pushing for.

What Did Animal Advocates Want?

The final version of the animal cruelty bill was a watered-down version of an earlier bill. One thing that animal advocates want that was completely removed from the proposed law is a dog tethering law in SC.

A bill that was passed by the Senate in 2018, but apparently died in the SC House this year, would have provided requirements for how a dog can be tethered:

(A) A dog tethered unattended for more than sixty minutes shall be provided continuous access to shelter, and the chain, rope, cable, trolley, or running line to which the dog is attached shall be of sufficient length to provide the dog access to an area of usable space that equals the greater of fifty square feet or one square foot for every one pound of the dog’s weight.

(B) It is unlawful to tether a dog by means of a choke collar or prong collar.

(C) It is unlawful to tether a dog younger than six months of age.

A violation of this section would have been punishable by a fine only.

A separate code section would have imposed identical penalties to SC’s misdemeanor offense of ill-treatment of animals – up to 90 days for a first offense or two years for a second offense:

A person who cruelly tethers a dog is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be punished by imprisonment not exceeding ninety days or by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars nor more than one thousand dollars, or both, for a first offense; or by imprisonment not exceeding two years or by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars, or both, for a second or subsequent offense.”

Cruel tethering would have been defined as tethering a dog in a manner that:

(a) causes injury or illness to the dog as determined by a veterinarian;

(b) utilizes a tether that exceeds one-eighth of the body weight of the dog;

(c) utilizes a tether that is too short for an unattended dog to move around or for the dog to urinate or defecate in a separate area from the area where it must eat, drink, or lie down; or

(d) does not permit the dog access to adequate food, adequate water, shade, or shelter.

It makes sense and seems like a bare minimum to enforce humane treatment of dogs who are suffering across the state. It doesn’t create a new offense so much as it clarifies that cruel tethering constitutes animal cruelty – even providing the same penalties – and provides guidelines for how to humanely tether a dog when it is necessary.

What Was Included in the Final Bill?

The final bill that was passed this year does not address dog tethering laws in SC at all. It did include:

  • A requirement of at least two hours of mandatory CLE credits on animal cruelty every four years for magistrates and municipal court judges;
  • A provision allowing animal shelters to make defendants charged with animal cruelty pay for the expense of caring for their animals while their charges are pending;
  • Grants for spay and neuter programs; and
  • A provision allowing vets or vet technicians from other jurisdictions to practice without a SC license during emergencies.

Local Municipalities Pass Dog Tethering Laws in SC

In the absence of any action by the state legislature, local municipalities and counties are beginning to pass their own dog tethering ordinances. For example, Greenville County passed an ordinance last year that:

  • Requires that tethers be attached to a leather or nylon collar that is fitted properly to prevent injuries;
  • Requires at least 50 square feet for a dog to move within;
  • Requires at least 20 feet of movement if a dog is tethered to a line on a trolley; and
  • Bans tethering for puppies younger than three months old.

These are additions to Greenville County’s dog tethering ordinance, which already prohibited choke collars, leashes shorter than 12 feet, and tethers too heavy for a dog (chains).

The cities of Greenville and Spartanburg each have their own dog tethering ordinances that are even more restrictive than the county’s. The city’s ordinances prohibit tethering of a dog for longer than two hours and they prohibit dog tethering when the owner is not present.

Should the state of SC step up to the plate and pass a law that actually protects dogs from abusive tethering? Although current SC law probably covers cruel tethering, it is not being enforced by police and courts. The proposed law provides additional guidance for a law that already exists and would put dog owners on notice that cruel tethering is animal cruelty.

Criminal Defense Lawyer in Charleston and Myrtle Beach, SC

Grant B. Smaldone is a criminal defense lawyer based in Charleston, SC who defends state and federal criminal cases in the Eastern SC area, including animal cruelty charges.

If you have been charged with a crime in state or federal court in SC, call now at (843) 808-2100 or contact us online to talk to a Charleston, SC criminal defense attorney today.