New rules making Beaufort County responsible for enforcing animal violations in the city of Beaufort would be a good step, city leaders said Tuesday.
But City Council wants more time to study differences between its current rules and the new Beaufort County ordinance it would adopt to replace it.
Council members had a chance Tuesday to quiz the county officials who crafted the new ordinance.
Assistant county attorney Allison Coppage and Animal Services director Tallulah Trice told them the new rules were necessary and would stand up to a legal challenge.
The county’s new rules require pit bulls be spayed and neutered, in addition to provisions for licensing and microchipping. County animal officials say the sterilization rule is necessary to cut down on the number of dogs impounded and euthanized.
“We feel that is the most direct means of controlling the population problem we have in Beaufort County,” Coppage said.
The new ordinance has already been passed by Hilton Head Island and is up for a second vote in Port Royal. Bluffton has yet to take up the issue.
Beaufort police currently charge residents with animal violations. If there is an issue with a stray or loose animal, officers call animal control.
With the new ordinance would come an agreement with the county to enforce animal control within city limits.
“Our police officers are spread pretty thin and don’t have the expertise,” Mayor Billy Keyserling said. “It’s refreshing and exciting that we will be considered members of the county and get the same services without paying a separate fee.”
The rules have already come under scrutiny. A greater Bluffton woman challenged a determination her dog is a pit bull and subject to the sterilization requirement.
Gabriela Gonzalez’s dog, Kyra, was picked up after running free from her leash. Gonzalez later received notice that Kyra was a pit bull and must be spayed.
Beaufort County Magistrate Court upheld the county’s determination, Coppage said Tuesday. Gonzalez appealed to Circuit Court arguing the Magistrate Court doesn’t have authority to hear the case, Coppage said.
Port Royal resident Mare Baracco, who has multiple ongoing court cases related to a 2012 dangerous animal notice and last year received a 10-day suspended jail sentence, repeated warnings about the ordinance she has also delivered to her town leaders. She cited concerns from two members of the S.C. Bar’s Animal Law Committee who wrote off aspects of the ordinance as unconstitutional.
Coppage noted that she is also a member of the animal committee and found nothing of concern in the attorneys’ comments.
“We will receive challenges,” she said. “I believe the county is in a very defensible position.”