YORK -- The debate over dog chaining reached a new height Monday night as tethering opponents and proponents packed the York County Council meeting.
Council Chairman Buddy Motz acknowledged that the county's animal ordinances need to be strengthened, but he asked that people on both sides of the issue give their research to county staff as leaders weigh what should be done.
"Nobody here in this room condones animal abuse," Motz said. "We can all agree on that. But I'm not sure where we need to be."
At issue is whether county leaders should outlaw chaining dogs. Several animal rights groups brought the matter to the County Council, claiming that chaining makes dogs more aggressive and often leads to neglect.
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To highlight their cause, they have pointed to the recent case of a Rock Hill man whose 13 pit bulls were seized by local authorities.
Most of those dogs lacked adequate shelter and were restrained by logging chains, police said. Some of the animals didn't have access to water, and none of the dogs had received rabies shots. The dogs' owner has been allowed to get his animals back. Police never charged him with a crime and said he provided the animals some care.
Tethering proponents who came to Monday's meeting told the council that responsible pet owners should not be restricted because of others' cruelty. Some held signs that said "Say no to laws that restrict the rights of responsible pet owners" and "I own a dog & I vote."
"We should enforce the laws that we already have before we start making new laws," Chris Evans of York said during a break in the meeting. "You're doing nothing but adding onto the problem (by) making new laws. There's already laws in place to protect dogs and people with dogs -- chained dogs, kennel dogs, all the way around."
Although not every person who chains a dog abuses that animal, far too many chained dogs in York County are neglected, Martha Holcombe of the Animal Adoption League said.
"We're not after the people who are responsible," she said. "We know that there are a small group of people who tether their dogs responsibly.
"But being part of a rescue group, we get calls daily about chained dogs that are not being treated responsibly, and that's who we're after," Holcombe said. "Unfortunately, you can't say these people are responsible and these people aren't. You have to make a law that covers everything."
But those opposed to the ban disagree.
"I understand what they're fighting for," said Maya Haught, the South Carolina representative for the group Responsible Dog owners of Eastern States. "But I don't agree with them trying to take my rights as an American and a dog owner away."
During the council meeting, the groups supporting the ban made a PowerPoint presentation illustrating their case. They showed photos of emaciated tethered dogs and dogs with chains embedded in their necks.
They also showed a picture of a child whom they said had been mauled by a chained dog. They said these kinds of tethered animals aren't properly socialized, making them a danger to the community.
"Chained dogs are like loaded guns," Alicia Schwartz of Dogs Deserve Better said.
After the presentation, opponents of the ban said the PowerPoint didn't show people who tether their dogs and treat them well.
"Any animal that is not being properly socialized will be aggressive," Haught said. "Whether they're chained or whether they're confined in a kennel or in a backyard. Aggression does not come from tethering."
Haught and other tethering supporters spoke to the council later in the meeting. Among the group was Chester County's Arthur Parker Sr., who faced criminal charges in 2004 for his alleged involvement in hog-dogging, an illegal form of animal fighting that pits wild hogs against pit bulls. Parker has said the events are field trials for evaluating the skill of hunting dogs.
He was acquitted of the hog-dogging charges in 2005.
"My dogs are healthy, happy," he said Monday. "My dogs are chained to protect them from other people, not to protect other people from them."
Despite their differences, advocates from both camps see a York County chaining ban as a trendsetter: Supporters want to see other counties in the state follow a local example and opponents fear that happening.
A few South Carolina communities have tethering laws. Simpsonville doesn't allow any tethering and Columbia permits it for only nine hours each day.