2012-10-26 / Front Page

Group wants to wipe out barbaric animal practices

By Julia Rogers Hook

It has been said many times a single step begins the journey and on October 20 three friends, all who are avid animal lovers and animal rights advocates, began their expedition to make South Carolina a friendlier and kinder state where animals are concerned.

The fledgling group is spearheaded by Columbia residents, Vicki Cannon, Kathy Crosswell, and John Thompson. Via email, phone, and word of mouth, they gathered Saturday at the Cooper Branch of the Richland County Library to discuss how they could forge a program that would wipe out barbaric animal practices in our state such as cock-and dog-fighting, bear baying, puppy mills, and how to introduce legislature that would address exotic animal ownership.

The three friends want to be a voice for the animals and get people involved in pressuring the legislators to better protect them, said John Thompson, one of the initiators of the group.

“Right now as they are currently written, we are dissatisfied with the laws of South Carolina that address treatment of animals,” John Thompson said. “They don’t adequately protect our animals nor do they effectively punish the perpetrators.”

Vicki Cannon and Kathy Crosswell both echo Thompson’s sentiments.

The January/ 2012 statistics from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) list South Carolina as number 48 out of the 50 states for its prevention of animal cruelty. Cannon said that’s the sort of thing she and her group want to rectify.

“South Carolina consistently ranks poorly in so many areas such as education, medical care, domestic violence prevention, and employment opportunities,” Cannon said. “We don’t have to rank so low for animal protection.”

Crosswell said the people have to let the law makers know their feelings about animal cruelty.

“Our legislators can alleviate much animal suffering,” she said. “ Their passing and guaranteeing enforcement of strong animal protection laws is the right thing to do. South Carolina needs its legislators to do the right thing.”

Cannon said the state’s rankings for animal protection are embarrassing.

“We are at the bottom of the list of animal rights laws,” said Cannon. “We are the only state in the nation that allows bear baying, and our fines for dog fighting and cock fighting are merely a slap on the wrists. As for the puppy mill people, they simply pay their fines and set up business as usual some place else in the state.”

“We all recently read the news story about a woman arrested in Johnston for operating a puppy mill,” Cannon said. “She had previously operated in Aiken County, and when busted, she just moved to Edgefield County and set up operation there. Our laws are such that the busted puppy mill owners simply can move to the next county and resume business.”

The lives of the “ breeder dogs” in the puppy mill world is one of pain and isolation, Cannon said.

“ The dogs are viewed as income, so they are kept in cages and fed barely enough to keep them alive and able to nurse the puppies. They aren’t given any medical care even when injured and disease runs rampant in the kennels.”

Lexington County State Senator Jake Knotts visited the scene the day of the raid. HSUS rescued 200 dogs along with nine horses and 40 fowl. Knotts said at the time that licensing and inspections would be useful tools in dealing with unscrupulous breeders.

“The laws in South Carolina need to change in order to stop this kind of cruelty,” said Knotts. “We need to attack this problem by requiring that anyone selling animals be licensed and inspected by the state. If elected officials could witness what I did today, there would be no problem passing a state law addressing this.”

And then there’s the bear baying events.

“Bear baying is such a cruel thing,” Cannon said. “Why are we the only state that allows it? Why would something so horrible be allowed here if not in other states?”

Bear baying or baiting is a practice where a bear, typically a black bear, is captured, probably as a cub, and its teeth and claws are pulled out or filed down. It’s chained to a stake and hunting dogs are let loose on the defenseless bear, usually three or four at a time, barking at and biting it repeatedly. One HSUS video showed the bear enduring 300 dogs released on it in shifts, and it took four hours. At the end, the bear, of course, was exhausted and covered with bites and blood.

State Senator Joel Lourie, who has been recognized by the HSUS for his work to combat animal cruelty, introduced a bill to ban bear baying after viewing that video of the event in 2010, but it was killed in committee and never made it to the floor for a vote, his office said.

“I was appalled by the recent reports in the media detailing this barbaric practice. It needs to be outlawed,” Lourie told The Columbia Star at the time. “South Carolina cannot have the distinction of being the only state where you can chain up a bear and sic dogs on it for sport.”

Unfortunately, according to Jay Butfiloski, a biologist with the Department of Natural Resources, as written, it’s a perfectly legal law on the books.

“The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) only has power over what the legislature gives us,” Butfiloski said back in 2010. “ While we are authorized to delegate rules and regulations over the state’s natural resources, there is a specific exemption to this practice in the state code that leaves us powerless.”

And powerless they are. According to Section 16–27–80–A of the SC State Code, the way the law reads concerns the use of hunting dogs. It states that there’s a specific exemption in the law for bear baying that is excluded from animal fighting and baiting act.

In a recent interview, Butfiloski said that while the DNR can’t do anything about the people who already have permits to own bears, no new ones will be issued.

“I don’t think all of the bears are being used for baying, but we go out and take DNA samples from them so when they are gone, this practice will be legally gone from the state,” he said.

Advocates of bear baying say that they are only training their dogs to help them hunt bears in the wild. Of course in the wild, the bears have a fighting chance and places to hide and run. Cannon sai there was no training involved in these events.

“Our law enforcement agencies train dogs to take down criminals too,” she said. “But the trained attack dogs don’t practice on defenseless barefooted convicts.”

The three advocates all agree these events are cruel and bring in an unsavory element to the state.

“ The bear is absolutely unable to do anything to defend itself,” Cannon said.

“It’s too awful to think about, but we have to make it stop,” Thompson reiterated.

And the dog fighting and cock fighting is just as bad, Cannon said.

“ We have some of the lowest fines out there,” she said. “They don’t serve as any sort of deterrent whatsoever.”

According to the HSUS, South Carolina is far more lenient compared with other states when it comes to dog fighting. The punishment for dog fighting is a felony with a maximum of five years and a maximum fine of $5,000. Being a spectator is a misdemeanor with a maximum of six months and a fine of $500. Possession of dogs used for dog fighting is a felony with a maximum possibility of five years of jail time and a maximum fine of $5,000.

In comparison, Arizona’s fines are $150,000; Oregon’s fines are $125,000. New Jersey considers all dog fighting situations to be a crime of the third degree.

The fines for cock fighting run about the same, Cannon said. It is not unusual for a person to win $15,000 to $30,000 in bets during a weekend of fighting the defenseless animals. They view the meager penalty as the cost of doing business.

Crosswell said with such skimpy penalties and short jail sentences, the state isn’t truly addressing the problems.

“ They ( the people planning the fights) don’t mind paying a $1,000 fine if they can walk away with $14,000 or more in their pockets,” Crosswell said.

In addition to the horrific treatment of the animals used in these repugnant events, Cannon said that since fines and jail time were so lax in South Carolina, people travel from other states to participate, and the caliber of the people coming here is not the cream of the crop.

“Cockfighting brings an element to our state we don’t want,” Cannon said. “Many of these people are associated with prostitution, illegal gambling, and drugs.”

She said the Drug Enforcement Administration reports that drug cartels have been seen doing business at cockfighting pits in the south.

“It is disturbing to know that families, including children, attend cockfights,” Crosswell said. “We know of a young boy who pitted two wounded roosters against each other to ‘see if they had any fight left in them’. He then slammed one rooster against a tree trunk to kill it after it lost.”

“ These are blood ‘sports’ and no place for children,” Cannon, Crosswell, and Thompson all agreed.

“It has to start with the people and the people have to write to their legislators,” Cannon said. “That’s what we want to do. We want to influence the legislators to work in favor of the animals. We may be a small group now, but we are very committed to and enthusiastic about the possibilities of changing our state for the better. Now is the time to join the movement and have your voice heard.”

The next meeting will be Saturday, Nov. 10 at 1 p. m. at the Sandhills Branch of the Richland County Public Library on the corners of Clemson Road and Summit Parkway in Columbia.

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