Beaufort News

Beaufort County pit bull owners urged to get ready for new rules

File: A pit bull mix named Lady takes a snack offered by a worker at the Beaufort County Animal Shelter on June 9, 2015.
File: A pit bull mix named Lady takes a snack offered by a worker at the Beaufort County Animal Shelter on June 9, 2015. jkarr@islandpacket.com

New rules requiring Beaufort County pit bulls and pit mixes to be spayed or neutered probably won't be enforced until next year, giving animal control officials time to educate owners and offer free services.

The county's new ordinance mandating the procedures was adopted last week. The rules were in response to the high percentage of the breed in the county's animal shelter and the number of the dogs being euthanized.

"We've got some issues with backyard breeders who are causing the majority of the problem," Beaufort County Animal Services director Tallulah Trice said. "We plan to tackle those first and work with them to say, 'Hey, we want this to be peaceful. We can get everything fixed and microchipped so you're in compliance.'"

Beaufort County Animal Services will distribute pamphlets explaining the new ordinance and is armed with $400 worth of vouchers for free spay and neuter procedures for pit bulls in the county.

The county also plans to offer clinics for free microchipping and rabies vaccines to teach dog owners about the new rules, Trice said.

Animal control officers who conduct welfare checks will also deliver copies of the ordinance.

Here are three more things to know about the new animal ordinance:

Municipalities have not adopted: The new rules currently apply only to unincorporated Beaufort County. The city of Beaufort and towns of Bluffton, Hilton Head Island and Port Royal would have to adopt the ordinance separately for the rules to be enforced within their jurisdiction.

Beaufort County assistant attorney Allison Coppage said during the County Council meeting Oct. 12 that talks with officials from each municipality have been encouraging. Aspects of the new ordinance reflect input from the municipalities, such as when dogs are allowed off leashes on the beach.

"Obviously town managers cannot speak for councils, but the indication has been good it has been favorably received by municipalities," Coppage said.

Breeders required to have a county license: Anyone who plans to breed pets must apply for a county license.

To qualify for the license, potential breeders have to provide enclosures that can be easily cleaned and have adequate space and comfort in all seasons. Pets must have access to quality food and water and be protected from outside animals.

The licenses are $100 each year and won't be given to anyone found to have violated animal cruelty laws in the previous five years.

Trice said some high-profile cases in other areas have shown the ill effects of unmonitored breeding. Some breeders churn out pets for profit, creating health issues like hip dysplasia and vision and heart problems.

Violations can be appealed: The owner of a dog determined by an animal control official to be a pit bull or mix receives a written notice and has 30 days to comply with required sterilization.

If there is disagreement, the owner can request a hearing in Beaufort County Magistrate Court within 10 days of receiving the notice.

An animal control officer can also issue a written notice to the owner of a pet determined to be a "dangerous animal." The notice says the owner knows or should know the pet could attack a person or other domestic animal unprovoked. The notice applies certain restrictions, such as requiring the animal to be muzzled and kept on a short leash when outside, and that the owner maintain hefty liability insurance.

Final say on a dangerous-animal notice would be made in Magistrate Court within 30 days, allowing owners the chance for rebuttal if they believe their pets acted uncharacteristically.

Follow reporter Stephen Fastenau at twitter.com/IPBG_Stephen.

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