MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - There's a South Carolina law on the books that holds railroad companies liable for scaring horses, yet in terms of animal cruelty laws, they're essentially non-existent. It's not so much that our legislators are against protecting animals, it's that the "South" is typically anti-regulation as a whole. The problem, though, is some large commercial breeders are taking advantage, producing litters with an emphasis on quantity and profit over quality and health.
Kim Kelly, SC State Director of the Humane Society of the United States, recalls stepping foot on a puppy mill in South Carolina. "They're kept in cages riddled with feces and the smell of urine is extremely powerful. We've seen cases where there are animal bones just littering the property."
Paula Syms of Coastal Animal Rescue says it's a labor of love being in rescue.
"It's so heartbreaking," she says. "These animals, some of them, have never been in grass, they've never walked on grass. They've been in cages their whole life."
The Humane Society of the United States says more than a decade ago, the majority of puppy mills were located mainly in the Midwest. Being centrally-located gave breeders easy access to shipping the animals East and West. But as more and more states add regulations, these large-scale breeders are migrating to states with weak animal cruelty laws, states like South Carolina.
"In South Carolina right now our basic cruelty code is animals must have food, water, shelter and some sort of veterinary care. But even that is pretty vague; by having a system in place where large-scale commercial breeders are being inspected annually, then hopefully prevent them from getting to a point where there's actual cruelty occurring on the property," Kelly says.
Thirty states currently have some sort of licensing requirement or restriction on commercial breeding facilities. But in the Palmetto State, Anderson County is the only one in the state that has passed an ordinance that concerns commercial breeders.
Only large-scale commercial facilities that breed for resale at pet stores are required to be license and inspected by the USDA because they're considered "wholesale" operations. However, the loophole lies in those that produce just as many animals, but sell face-to-face. They are not required to meet any federal standards.
Kelly says, "The federal laws are helpful, however, there aren't nearly enough USDA investigators to go around and do a thorough job investigating all these places that are breeding animals on a large scale."
For the first time ever, South Carolina legislators introduced a bill that would increase penalties for those convicted of ill treatment of animals in large-scale cruelty cases basically, making it a felony if they had 25 or more animals on their property. It's the closest our state has ever been to any type of regulation, but it stalled in a subcommittee and was never voted on.
"Even if there are state regulations or county, who's going to police that? We have no funds to do that. Nobody has funds to do that, so regulations isn't the only thing, it's got to be people and their mindset," explains Syms.
Enforcement is one obstacle, and even if there's proof that laws are being broken, the financial burden on the counties to shut it down can be too much.
Kelly agrees: "When you're talking about one single case that's happening in one county that can be tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars for one county to have to pay for."
This means many counties are forced to turn their eye because they can't afford to act.
"And that cost typically falls on those non-profit organization, or the county and that ultimately the taxpayers then," Kelly says. "So it's interesting that the legislature doesn't want to give any agency the power to regulate and to inspect these places, but taxpayers are still going to pay for it on the back end. When they're having to pay for the care of these animals after they've been removed."
Of course the encouragement by rescue groups is to adopt, spay and neuter. However, if you decide you want to buy, you need to ask the breeder to see not only the environment your puppy was raised in, but also where the mother and fathers are kept. Consider it a red flag if they're hesitant to show you.
Whether you bought a puppy and he or she got sick, or if you want to file a complaint against a neighbor or breeder that you don't feel is meeting the basic level of care for their animals, here are some important links to check out:
If you know of an alleged puppy mill in our area and have proof, please submit a news tip to the investigative team on this page: http://www.wmbfnews.com/category/162425/news-special-reports
Puppy Mill resources from the US Humane Society of the United States.
Have you purchased a sick puppy from a breeder?
This is the Bill proposed last session in SC:
Additional information from another federal agency (USDA) that investigates alleged puppy mills.
To report a concern about an animal covered under the Animal Welfare Act or the Horse Protection Act, please click here:
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