Not vaccinating your dog against rabies or letting him bark at all hours could cost you up to $500. But you’ll get a warning first.
Beaufort County Animal Services, which runs area animals shelters, wants a tiered system of fines for violations that don’t involve animal cruelty.
The move would amend existing Beaufort County’s animal control ordinances.
Instead of sending violators to magistrate court for animal matters, officers would issues warnings, citations and fines, Tallulah Trice, director of the Beaufort County Animal Shelter, told Hilton Head Island Town Council on Tuesday.
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Under the new system, animal cruelty such as neglect or tethering a dog during a hurricane would still be criminally charged.
However, it would give animal control officers the authority to write tickets and assign fines for:
- Failing to register and license a dog.
- Failing to vaccinate an animal for rabies.
- Permitting a dog to run at large.
- Not adhering to mandatory spay and neuter requirements.
- Not controlling a noisy public nuisance animal.
Under the proposed fining system, the first violation would cost $100. A second offense within a year would cost $200. Each subsequent violation that year would cost $500.
Trice said the new system would reduce the court docket for animal-related cases by 50 to 60 percent.
In 2018, there were 35 animal-related cases heard in Beaufort Magistrate Court, and 24 in Bluffton Magistrate Court, according to data from Stephanie Garst, a courts administrator.
Most of those cases ended with a fine and a permanent criminal charge on the violator’s record, Trice said.
“These are cases that should be solved administratively,” Trice said.
When an animal case goes to magistrate court, an officer must present evidence and information to the judge. That process requires several hours per case, Trice said, calling it a “waste of our tax dollars.”
Trice said she also hopes the fining system motivates animal owners to comply with the law.
“We’re wasting all of our time for things we could be writing tickets for,” she said.
Trice must now make her case to the county’s other municipalities — Beaufort, Bluffton and Port Royal.
All of them must sign on before the plan can be implemented.
Hilton Head Town Council voted in favor of the citation system after council members said it puts the focus on education.
Trice said the new system will accommodate first-time violators who simply have to fix a hole in their backyard fence to stop their pet from roaming or build a safer shelter for their pet.
“The first (violation) is a ‘fix-it ticket,’” she said. “We never fine them the first time unless it’s (animal) cruelty.”