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Anderson couple charged with city ordinance violation concerning starved dog

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Two Anderson residents have been charged in violation of the city tethering ordinance, Fox Carolina reported January 10. Many who are following the story of Chocolate are wondering why the couple wasn't charged with felony animal cruelty.

Chocolate's story began a few days ago when Anderson resident Bonnie Metz discovered several dogs at 214 E Street, and was concerned about their condition. According to Bonnie, the dogs were living in filth without adequate food, water or shelter.

Bonnie offered to supply straw for bedding, as well as food for the dogs. The owners refused, but thankfully Bonnie was able to purchase the dog now called Chocolate, as well as a puppy. The owner's were asking $80 for both dogs, but settled for $73.

Bonnie took Chocolate to Magnolia Veterinary Clinic in Anderson, where police were soon called after the dog was evaluated. Three-year-old Chocolate should have weighed about 50 pounds. Instead, she weighed 30 pounds, and was also suffering from an unknown back injury.

Forensics was asked to get photographic evidence on Chocolate to document her condition. Police were told there were six more dogs on the property, but upon arrival only one dog remained. That dog was in good condition and had a shiny coat.

Police Chief Jim Stewart issued a statement detailing how Anderson City officer's investigated a report of animal abuse and how only one healthy animal was found on the premises.

In regards to the maltreatment of the dog “Chocolate” at Magnolia Veterinary Clinic the Anderson Police Department has cited both Preston Hawkins and Brittany Stephens for violation of the city's new tethering ordinance 1.Sec. 18-49 that states

"No owner, possessor or person having the charge or custody of any animal shall fail to provide sufficient wholesome food; clean, fresh water; proper shelter and protection from the weather; veterinary care when needed to prevent suffering; and humane treatment. An owner, possessor or person having the charge or custody of any animal shall at all times maintain a clean shelter and living area, free of accumulated waste and debris so that the animal shall be free to walk or lie down without coming in contact with any waste or debris."

Shelter is defined as having four walls, a roof and a way for the animal to enter and exit.

Chief Stewart went on to say Bonnie Metz saved Chocolate, and that he was saddened on how anyone could allow a dog to get into this condition.

One would think more than a city ordinance about shelter and food has been violated in the case of Chocolate. Let's examine South Carolina law concerning companion animals. South Carolina Animal Law 47-1-10 defines what constitutes the ill treatment of animals, as well as punishment for those found guilty.

The ill treatment of animals is defined as knowingly or intentionally depriving any animal of necessary sustenance or shelter, inflicts unnecessary pain or suffering either by doing something or by not doing something. This is a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to 60 days in jail and/or a fine of $100-$500 for the first offense. This is what the majority of those who starve animals are charged with.

There's also a second provision to ill treatment of animals that is a felony punishable by imprisonment of not less than 180 days and not more than 5 years and a $5,000 fine. A person who tortures, torments, needlessly mutilates, cruelly kills or inflicts excessive or repeated unnecessary pain or suffering by either doing something or withholding something. Shouldn't withholding food, or failing to seek veterinary care if food didn't nourish the dog fall under felony animal cruelty?

Abandonment or neglect are a separate misdemeanor offense, meaning an animal hasn't been provided adequate food, water or shelter. It carries a $200-$500 fine and/or up to 30 days in jail.

If a non-profit animal humane organization is involved in prosecuting the individual, half of any fine collected will be given to that organization.

Isn't it time for officials to place responsibility of these starving, unsheltered, unloved dogs where it belongs-on the owners? How can police officers or animal control officers be dispatched to a residence and find a situation similar to this and then walk away doing nothing? What kind of message is that sending those who abuse and neglect their pets?

Unfortunately, this scenario will play over and over again in every city across South Carolina until stronger laws are passed. A petition for stronger animal cruelty penalties for South Carolina has been started here.

South Carolina needs to make three things happen
*Pass tougher animal cruelty laws and penalties for those found guilty of abuse
*Encourage police officers and animal control to investigate and follow up on reports of abuse and neglect
*Judges willing to enforce the maximum penalty allowed by law

Until these three conditions are met, nothing will change and animals will continue to die from starvation or abuse.

Anderson officials are asking residents to report animal abuse to Anderson County Emergency Services at 260-4444 or to Crime Stoppers at 1-888-CRIMESC.

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