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Own a pet in Beaufort County? You’ll now be fined for these common violations instead of going to court

Dogs at new Beaufort County shelter experience a four-star stay until adopted

The Beaufort County Animal Services and Hilton Head Humane Association's new complex in Okatie, S.C.
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The Beaufort County Animal Services and Hilton Head Humane Association's new complex in Okatie, S.C.

New animal rules now in effect for all of Beaufort County will result in fines for repeat violators but keep them out of court for most offenses.

Changes to the county’s animal ordinance also adopted by Beaufort, Port Royal, Hilton Head and Bluffton include a fine system for most violations. Those cited under previous rules had to go to magistrate court.

Now citations can be paid online, via the mail or at the Beaufort County Animal Shelter.

“We don’t want to go sit in court for things that we can fix in the field,” Beaufort County Animal Services director Tallulah Trice said. “It’s better for the people — it keeps them out of court; it keeps (violations) off of their record.”

Under the new rules, animal owners would first receive a warning before a fine. A first infraction would cost $100 and increase to $200 for a second violation of the same rule within 12 months.

Each citation after that would result in a $500 fine. In magistrate court, fines were up to $1,087.50.

Animal cruelty and dangerous dog offenses will still be tried in court. Now fines can be issued for:

  • Failing to register and license a dog.
  • Failing to vaccinate an animal for rabies.
  • Allowing an animal to run free.
  • Not adhering to mandatory spay and neuter requirements for pit bulls.
  • Not controlling a noisy public nuisance animal.

The changes come several years after the county instituted sweeping changes aimed at reducing the number of pit bulls housed and euthanized at the county shelter, requiring the animals be sterilized.

Now animal officials are trying to keep more people out of court.

There were 35 animal-related cases in Beaufort Magistrate Court in 2018 and 24 in Bluffton Magistrate Court, according to court administrator Stephanie Garst earlier this year.

The cases could last several hours and take up the time of county attorneys, require officers to attend and present evidence, and the people cited to take off work or miss other duties, Trice said.

Animal control officers will work with the public in cases where animals accidentally get loose or people need to be educated on proper care. The new rules and fines target habitual offenders who ultimately use public resources and taxpayer money, Trice said.

“The people who are the problem are paying taxpayers back,” she said. “And that’s what should happen.”

Reporter Katherine Kokal contributed to this report.

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