A new bill introduced by South Carolina State Senator Greg Hembree is set to remove training right protections for hunting dogs. This new legislation, Senate Bill 1042, has received its first reading, as well as an introduction to the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources, where it awaits a hearing.
The bill, introduced at the 123rd SC General Assembly Jan. 23, reads as follows:
"TO AMEND SECTION 47-1-40, CODE OF LAWS OF SOUTH CAROLINA, 1976, RELATING TO THE ILL-TREATMENT OF ANIMALS, SO AS TO REMOVE THE EXCEPTION FOR THE TRAINING OF HUNTING DOGS; AND TO AMEND SECTION 47-1-70, RELATING TO THE ABANDONMENT OF ANIMALS, SO AS TO REMOVE THE EXCEPTION FOR HUNTING DOGS.
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of South Carolina:
SECTION 1. Section 47-1-40(C) of the 1976 Code is amended to read:
"(C) This section does not apply to fowl, accepted animal husbandry practices of farm operations and the training of animals, the practice of veterinary medicine, agricultural practices, forestry and silvacultural practices, wildlife management practices, or activity authorized by Title 50, including an activity authorized by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources or an exercise designed for training dogs for hunting, if repeated contact with a dog or dogs and another animal does not occur during this training exercise."
SECTION 2. Section 47-1-70(C) of the 1976 Code is amended to read:
"(C) A hunting dog that is positively identifiable in accordance with Section 47-3-510 or Section 47-3-530 is exempt from this section."
SECTION 3. This act takes effect upon approval by the Governor."
Everything struck out in the section above will be removed from the bill, which is concerning to some hunting dog owners in Clarendon County.
"I'm sure the idea behind this bill is to stop animal abuse," said local hunter Nelson Gibbons. "That is great because nobody in their right mind supports animal abuse. Not one true houndsman out there, in their right mind, would ever support the abuse of dogs. My issue with this bill, however, lies in its poor wording. The poor wording of this bill will incriminate countless houndsmen who take extremely good care of their dogs."
The wording that Gibbons mentioned is the removal of "and the training of animals," as well as "or an exercise designed for training dogs for hunting, if repeated contact with a dog or dogs and another animal does not occur during this training exercise."
This wording protects trainers that use shock collars and other training methods, from being held liable for injuries to the dog; injuries that Gibbons says only occur by misconduct.
"I can't speak specifically from experience on training collars," said Gibbons. "But it is my opinion that training collars are like anything else in this world: in the wrong hands they could be harmful, but in experienced hands, they are a tool used for the protection of the dog, just as much as the training of the dog."
Gibbons sites stories of his colleagues that use training collars for the protection of their dogs, never for harm.
"I know many dog hunters and bird hunters who use training collars to train their dogs to respond to voice commands, whistles, and even vehicle horns," said Gibbons. "If a dog heads for a main highway or onto property that hunters do not have the rights to, a dog trained to stop on command can be a lifesaver, literally."
Gibbons is also concerned with the protection of hunters whose dogs are injured during a hunt. Last month, Gibbons dog, Gent, was injured during a hunt.
"After the hunt was over, I caught Gent and noticed he was limping," said Gibbons. "When we got home, I found Gent had cuts on the bottoms of three of his pads. I'm not sure if he ran through some glass or metal, or what, but he had obviously stepped on something sharp. For the next fourteen days, by advisement, I soaked Gent's feet every day in Epsom salt and applied antibiotics to the wounds twice a day. His pads healed, and he's back to normal."
Nelson worries that if this bill passes, he would have to face a fine and possible jail time for an instance like this in the future.
"Anybody who knows me knows I take great care of my dogs," said Gibbons. "Gent goes everywhere with me. Hunting or not, he's in the back of the truck. This bill could denounce me as a criminal for Gent hurting his foot on someone else's trash littered in the woods, and that is just not right."
As with every story, there are two sides, and two opposing parties. The team at A Second Chance Animal Shelter believes this bill could cut down on some of the injuries that they receive in their clinic.
"We have received hunting hounds who have had nasty wounds," said the ASCAS team in an email to the Times. "[There have been wounds] that have required amputation, spine breaks that required euthanasia, [and] most of the time they are emaciated, covered in scars, cuts, fleas, and ticks."
There have been multiple cases at ASCAS that result from the poor ownership and training methods of Hunting Dogs, and according to them, the adoption rate of these dogs is low.
"We receive poorly cared for hunting hounds with owner identification quite frequently," said the team, "[They don't adopt well] locally, but we have a rescue program and hunting hounds are HIGHLY adoptable with our northern rescue partners."
At any length, this bill has become highly controversial throughout South Carolina, with many supporters on both sides of the argument. While it may be the answer for some, hunters are uniting to find a better solution for everyone involved.
"If lawmakers are looking for ways to crack down on poor owners and animal abuse, that's great," said Gibbons. "You have my full support and the support of all true houndsmen. However, this bill is not the answer. All houndsmen will fall victim to the wording of this bill, no matter what discipline of hunting we are involved in because accidents do happen."