While animal rescuers reported at least two shootings and a possible third case this month, such abuse isn’t the norm in Beaufort County.
Other cases of maltreatment are, however.
Just about every day in the county, animal services employees field calls reporting cruelty, including neglect, starvation and physical abuse.
In 2016, Beaufort County Animal Services received 371 calls for animal cruelty, roughly the same number as the year before.
This month in northern Beaufort County, a dog was found with a pellet lodged in its spine, a restaurant manager was cited for shooting feral cats with a BB gun and a young bald eagle was discovered with a cracked wing and evidence of possibly having been shot in the past.
The eagle was euthanized by Port Royal veterinarians, and the cause of the injury leading to its eventual death is still undetermined.
Many other abuse cases are the result of basic neglect, said Tallulah Trice, director of Beaufort County Animal Services.
A dog drowned while chained in a yard during Hurricane Matthew. Another was found in poor shape after being locked in a car for five days during the storm.
Dogs are found with open wounds and collars that have cut into their flesh.
In some cases, animal owners may no longer be physically able to care for a pet. In others, animals are found emaciated and in need of medical care because of an undetected illness.
Beaufort County animal officials handle cases involving citations for breaking county animal rules — animals running at large, dog bites or dangerous animals. When an incident rises to state charges, the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department is alerted.
Fifteen dogs in Beaufort County Animal Shelter are part of ongoing court cases, three related to felony charges, Trice said.
In a case like the dog found shot, a veterinarian determines what happened and animal services and other agencies can go public with a reward. Any tips are then passed along to investigators.
Information leading to an arrest and conviction in that dog’s case is worth $5,000, and the Sheriff’s Office is investigating.
“It was somebody that went up and shot it,” Trice said. “They knew exactly what they were doing. That’s when we put the reward out.”
Noah’s Arks Animal Rescue in Okatie, which along with the county and Hilton Head Humane Association is offering the reward, said in a recent Facebook post that the holiday season is among the worst times for pets. Animals get abandoned or dropped off at shelters. People who are alone during the holidays and looking for a release for their anger are also a threat to pets, the post said.
The dog that was shot, a 1-year-old Schnauzer mix rescuers named Snuffy, wasn’t the only case of an animal found to have been shot in Beaufort County.
An eagle was found injured near the Spanish Moss Trail at Allison Road in Beaufort. The Port Royal Veterinary Hospital said in a Facebook post the bird had been shot and its wing torn off.
The post was later removed, citing an ongoing investigation. Trice said the bird could have been shot in the past, as evidenced by veterinarian X-rays, but that it appeared the eagle might have lost its wing after clipping a power line while diving.
The wing was found in a nearby marsh, Trice said.
Debbie Mauney, who directs the avian medical clinic at The Center for Birds of Prey in Awendaw, said the cause of the bird’s injuries was undetermined and declined to comment further, citing an investigation.
Bald eagles are no longer an endangered species but remain protected. Shooting them is a federal offense.
The S.C. Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service typically work together on such cases, a DNR spokesman said.