A disagreement between animal rescue advocates and Chester County has simmered for years over who should run the Chester County Animal Care and Control shelter. Now it is a legal battle.
Advocates have filed a lawsuit claiming the sheriff in Chester has no legal authority to run the shelter.
The lawsuit filed Friday in Chester civil court is asking a judge to force Sheriff Alex Underwood to turn over the shelter to the county. The lawsuit names Chester County, Chester County Supervisor Shane Stuart, and Underwood as defendants.
The suit, filed by people who are part of the Southern Animal Welfare League and other individuals, says state law gives the county -- not the sheriff -- sole authority to run the shelter.
“What we want is for Chester County to put the shelter under the county where it belongs, and put in place experienced animal care workers,” said Jackie Kyles, one of six people who filed the lawsuit and a volunteer at the shelter since 2010.
The lawsuit is “purely a legal issue,” said Rock Hill lawyer Jim Boyd, who filed the lawsuit. The county under South Carolina law and Chester County’s own rules should operate the shelter, Boyd said.
“The sheriff has no authority to run an animal shelter,” Boyd said.
The lawsuit asks for a judge to issue a permanent injunction barring the sheriff from running the shelter.
The sheriff’s office in Chester has operated the shelter, located next to the office on Dawson Drive, for several years and dates to before Underwood took office in 2013.
Kyles and others have urged for years that a new shelter be built to better handle the animals. At times there have been demands for a newer and larger building, and protests over animal treatment.
On Jan. 1, animal advocates claimed dogs were suffering in extreme cold, but county officials including Underwood, Stuart and County Councilman Alex Oliphant all said the treatment was proper.
Stuart said there have been several disagreements with animal rights advocates in past years over who should control of the shelter. Stuart said Monday he stands by the shelter and its treatment of animals as proper and adequate.
“I said it in January and I stand by those words right now in March,” Stuart said.
Stuart and Sheriff Underwood declined to discuss the lawsuit, saying it has been handed over to lawyers representing the county. Chester County officials have 30 days to respond to the lawsuit before a hearing can be set.