Aiken County working to make changes on response to animal control issues


AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WJBF) — Officials in Aiken County are working on making changes to how the county responds to animal control issues.

“It’s going to be good for the animals in our area,” Jim Rhodes told NewsChannel 6’s Shawn Cabbagestalk about the possible changes.

RELATED: Current Animal Control Ordinance

Rhodes has worked with animals in the Aiken area for nearly 15 years. Part of that time was spent working with the county’s animal control department.”They are a very well-trained good organization. They go to a lot of classes,” he added.

But they say they could use some help. Officials feel now is the time to make changes to the animal control ordinance following instances involving animals killing other animals in the area. Most of this current ordinance, we’re told, has been in effect for nearly 20 years.

RELATED: Proposed Amendment to Chapter 4, Aiken County Code Of Ordinances

“I applaud the County that they are taking steps to monitor animal neglect and abuse and try and get a handle on this,” President/CEO SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare Barbara Nelson added.

Proposed changes are multifaceted. Some deal with filling in the blanks. Also, the terms in some provisions needed updating to provide flexibility in dealing with the abuse of animals. “What the County is trying to do is just, it seems to me is that they are just trying to go back through their animal control ordinances and clarify them and just take a look at them and make sure that they are in keeping with the times,” she said.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, a number of people expressed concerns and offered recommendations on how the ordinance could be improved including Cindy Brizes. “I’ve been involved in dogs for over 30 years of training and I was a vet tech. I think they do need more people who are involved in dogs to help them craft the appropriate language,” she said.

She wrote the following letter to government officials:

I’m writing to express my great concern with the animal ordinance that is up for a vote on June 16, 2020.  A short background on myself.  I was a veterinary technician before going back to college and earning a degree in Mechanical Engineering.  I have trained dogs and shown in AKC events for over 30 years.  The ordinance as written includes numerous ambiguities and does nothing for the education of pet owners. 

There are numerous contradictions and ambiguities in the proposed language that leaves too much to interpretation.  I’m providing a few examples here. 

Section 4-24 doesn’t include microchipping in identifying ownership.  Ownership is to be either a rabies tag on a collar, a name plate on a collar, or a tattoo.  At the end of the section it does state that the county can implant a microchip at the owners expense, but if it isn’t used for ownership identification, this seems disingenuous. 

Section 4-31 talks to animals that are a public nuisance.  But the description of what constitutes a nuisance is very vague.  “Barking or offensive condition.”  Based on who’s interpretation?  When I lived in Woodside, I got a new neighbor that wasn’t a dog lover.  He would complain that my Black and Tan Coonhound would bark – when it was in the house!  He must have had a cup against the wall to hear it. 

Section 4-33, animal abuse and neglect talks to failing to provide adequate food, shelter, space, etc.  There is no definition of adequate.  With years of experience with pet and dog show people, the definition of adequate varies greatly!  My dogs are in the house when I am home, with cushy (My Pillow) dog beds, but they are not allowed on the furniture.  I know a number of people that would find this unacceptable.  And then there are the farmers with working dogs that have probably never set foot in a home – is this inadequate?  And adequate food – what does that mean?  My dogs are fed a high quality kibble (Purina Pro Plan) with homemade dog food added (instapot food with 3 types of meat, vegetables, etc.), plus yogurt and canned salmon.  Should I judge other pet owners inadequate if they only feed dry kibble? 

This section also refers to hoarding or collecting animals.  But how many?  Is hoarding 2 dogs, 3 dogs, 10 dogs?  The section also refers to an “animal mill” but there is no definition and I don’t know what this is. 

So for me, there are two primary issues with this ordinance. 

1)   It includes a lot of vague, ambiguous language that is much too open to interpretation.

2)   It does nothing to address the real issue of educating pet owners. 

I’ve already addressed number 1.  For number 2, there are several additional points. 

If an uneducated pet owner’ pet gets loose, the county can seize the pet.  Costs would accumulate quickly.  Boarding, fines, possible vet bills.  I am very fortunate to have obtained a college degree and have a well paying job.  But how does the average middle income pet owner afford this?  What would be their option?  Knowing that they can’t afford the mounting costs, they surrender their beloved pet to the county.  And how is this beneficial to the pet?  It is now torn from it’s home, put in a shelter, hoping to be adopted.  In most cases, wouldn’t education of the pet owner be a better path forward?  In my years of being involved with dogs, I have been able to educate numerous new pet owners: early obedience training; socialization; health care; nutrition; spay/neuter at the appropriate time. 

Which leads me to another concern.  The ordinance talks to finding loose animals and having them spayed/neutered – without the owners consent.  What if this is not in the best interest of the animal?  Are council members aware that there are studies (I can provide copies if interested) documenting the negative health impacts of early spay/neuter.  As I have asked numerous people: would you spay/neuter your 10 year old child?  Of course not!  Because those hormones are necessary for more than just sex.  Bone and organ development are associated with those hormones.  The studies have shown that early spay/neuter is associated with hip dysplasia, torn knee ligaments, cancers, and behavior issues.  This is why the responsible pet owners in Europe only spay/neuter pets when medically necessary.  I hope U.S. pet owners can get to this level of responsibility. 

So what is the answer?  Education of pet owners.  Taking away their pets and taxing them does nothing to help them become better, more responsible pet owners. 

I plan to call you to ensure that you have received the email and see if you have any questions.  I would be happy to talk to the council if you think that would be helpful.  

Cindy Brizes

Some made requests for clarification, others requested it to be a little stiffer. Among concerns, how would the changes be policed, Rhodes says that’s not what the ordinance is about.”It’s not about going out there and policing. It is about giving the enforcement officers a little bit of meat and a little bit of power to control. If they do get the complaints, they have something on the books that they can do that they don’t have now,” he said.

In information received by NewsChannel 6, the American Kennel Club expressed concerns over the changes. “The proposed ordinance also includes vague and overreaching animal care, abuse and neglect provisions,” officials said. Shawn reached out to the organization directly for a virtual or telephone interview, officials weren’t available before his deadline.

Meanwhile, the Council voted to table the second reading of the ordinance. It is scheduled to be considered again in July.

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