Beaufort News

Pet store accused of animal cruelty; owner denies allegations

The owner of a pet store in Port Royal was accused last week of animal cruelty after an anonymous complaint led Beaufort County Animal Control to inspect the business.

An officer reported seeing a pig, a goat, three rabbits and seven rats without water or protection from direct sunlight Monday at Cindy's Pet Paradise at 522 Parris Island Gateway. She was given two citations for animal cruelty, the report said.

Store owner Cindy Gahan was not at the business at first, but arrived when Cpl. Reeves called for her to come to the property. Soon after, a man arrived and gave the animals fresh water, Reeves' report said, and the animals were moved out of the sunlight.

The complaint was the sixth for animal-cruelty or ill treatment of animals filed since 2010, according to Beaufort County Sheriff's Office records. Five of the reports were made anonymously. The other was filed by the landlord of the store's former location at 843 Robert Smalls Parkway.

In 2010, Gahan faced 22 counts of ill treatment of animals after an inspection found she had too many animals to care for properly. All the charges except one were dropped by prosecutors, and Gahan was fined $500, according to court records.

The most recent report said Gahan has "greatly reduced the number of animals since the last investigation six months ago."

Gahan says people often drop off rescued animals of all sizes, from donkeys to rats, for her to care for. Gahan denied that any animal had been mistreated.

"It doesn't bother me when someone reports me," Gahan said Saturday, though she maintains the accusations are false. "Someone called and said I abandoned my animals, but I would never do that."

Gahan said she opened the business about three years ago and has been transforming it from a pet store to a petting zoo. She said the shop has been closed for about four months because of financial problems.

"I opened the doors as just a pet store, but people would stay for hours because they could touch the animals," Gahan said. "No one bought anything; they'd just play and leave."

In the past month, her business has been broken into twice, she said. A nanny goat was stolen, and four days later, two young hedgehogs and a turtle were taken. Gahan did not report the missing goat but filed a report with the Port Royal Police Department for the other three animals.

Most of the deputies who have responded to the complaints have helped her find ways to better manage her menagerie of birds, reptiles, rodents and farm animals, Gahan said.

Cpl. Reeves wrote in her report that county Animal Control will continue to check on Gahan periodically. Gahan's court date is scheduled for Nov. 7 for last week's citations.