What are the Animal Cruelty Laws in SC?

Although the SC legislature has declined to pass criminal laws that specifically address dog tethers, there are already animal cruelty laws in SC that may cover tethering. But, are they being enforced?

There are animal cruelty laws in SC that cover neglect, mistreatment, torture, and abandonment of an animal, with potential penalties ranging from 30 days in jail to as much as five years in prison – do we need more animal cruelty laws in SC or do the laws we have now address the problem?

If you’ve been charged with animal cruelty, ill-treatment of animals, or abandonment of an animal in SC, we want to help – call or email now for a free consultation to discuss your case.

What are the Animal Cruelty Laws in SC?

Animal cruelty laws in SC cover most types of abuse and neglect of animals and are punishable by up to five years in prison depending on the conduct and the statute you were charged under. What are the animal cruelty laws in SC?

Ill-Treatment of Animals

SC Code Section 47-1-40 contains two criminal offenses for animal cruelty. The first is a misdemeanor which makes it a crime to intentionally:

  • Overload, overdrive, overwork, or ill-treat an animal;
  • Deprive an animal of necessary sustenance or shelter; or
  • Inflict unnecessary pain or suffering on an animal; or
  • By omission or commission cause any of the above.

A violation is punishable by as much as 90 days in jail for a first offense and as much as two years in prison for a second offense.

Animal Cruelty

The same code section also makes it a felony punishable by a mandatory minimum of 180 days in jail and as much as five years in prison to:

  • Torture;
  • Torment;
  • Needlessly mutilate;
  • Cruelly kill; or
  • Inflict excessive or repeated unnecessary pain on an animal; or
  • By omission or commission cause any of the above.

There are exceptions that include:

  • Fowl;
  • “Accepted animal husbandry practices of farm operations;”
  • Training of animals;
  • The practice of veterinary medicine;
  • Agricultural practices;
  • Forest and silvicultural practices;
  • Wildlife management practices; or
  • Any activities authorized by Title 50.

It’s interesting that animal cruelty laws in SC exclude fowl – apparently, it is okay to torture, torment, needlessly mutilate, cruelly kill, or inflict excessive and repeated pain on birds. Why?

Of course, it also excludes the “accepted animal husbandry practices of farm operations” – nearly 10 billion animals are suffering and being tortured every year across the nation on farms but that’s not something we talk about, much less criminalize…

Abandonment of Animals

SC Code Section 47-1-70 makes it a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days to abandon an animal. “Abandonment” means “deserting, forsaking, or intending to give up absolutely an animal without securing another owner or without providing the necessities of life.”

What are the necessities of life?

(1) adequate water which means a constant access to a supply of clean, fresh, and potable water provided in a suitable manner for the species;

(2) adequate food which means provision at suitable intervals of quantities of wholesome foodstuff suitable for the species and age, sufficient to maintain a reasonable level of nutrition to allow for proper growth and weight; and

(3) adequate shelter which means shelter that reasonably may be expected to protect the animal from physical suffering or impairment of health due to exposure to the elements or adverse weather.

This includes during hurricane season – when storms are threatening your home and you must pack up and leave, you cannot leave your dogs or cats confined at your home without adequate food, water, and shelter.

Cruel Work

Animal cruelty laws in SC have a separate provision for the mistreatment of work animals. SC Code Section 47-1-50 makes it a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days to:

  • Cruelly drive or work an animal when it is unfit for labor (apparently, you can cruelly drive or cruelly work an animal as long as they are fit for labor?); or
  • Carry an animal in a vehicle in an “unnecessarily cruel or inhumane manner.”

Do We Need a Separate Law for Dog Tethers?

Do we need the dog tethering law that the SC legislature failed to pass this year?

Tethering a dog with a chain, without adequate space, without adequate shelter, or in a place where the animal cannot reach food and water already falls under animal cruelty laws in SC – it would qualify as ill-treatment of animals, depriving an animal of necessary sustenance or shelter; or inflicting unnecessary pain or suffering on an animal (see “ill-treatment of animals” above).

The proposed bill that was not passed by the State legislature this year would, however, provide specific guidance to dog owners, putting them on notice about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, and making it clear to law enforcement and the courts that “ill-treatment of animals” includes “ill-treatment by tethering.”

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 Charleston, Georgetown, Myrtle Beach, and the Eastern SC area, including ill-treatment of animals and 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.


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