Animal Cruelty in SC – is Fish Abuse a Crime?

Animal cruelty is a crime in SC – people are often arrested for alleged mistreatment of dogs, horses, or other pets or livestock.

Where do we draw the line, though?

Most charges of animal cruelty in SC are related to neglect or mistreatment of dogs or horses, although the law clearly applies to most animals. For example, some types of fish are covered by SC’s animal cruelty laws, but I am not aware of anyone being prosecuted for cruelty to fish in SC.

A man in NC, however, was arrested and charged with abandoning his pet fish when he was evicted from his home – could that happen in SC?

Ill Treatment of Animals in SC

SC Code Section 47-1-40 defines ill treatment of animals and animal cruelty in SC. It creates three separate offenses, two that are misdemeanors and the other a felony, based on the person’s conduct and the degree of suffering inflicted on the animal.

Ill Treatment of Animals in SC

The misdemeanor offense of ill treatment of animals in SC covers situations where an animal is intentionally overworked or neglected, and is punishable by up to 90 days in jail for a first offense or two years in jail for a second offense:

(A) A person who knowingly or intentionally overloads, overdrives, overworks, or ill-treats an animal, deprives an animal of necessary sustenance or shelter, inflicts unnecessary pain or suffering upon an animal, or by omission or commission knowingly or intentionally causes these acts to be done, is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be punished by imprisonment not exceeding ninety days or by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars nor more than one thousand dollars, or both, for a first offense; or by imprisonment not exceeding two years or by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars, or both, for a second or subsequent offense.

It is a violation of this statute to not provide “shelter” or “sustenance” to an animal in your care.

Shelter means:

Shelter that reasonably may be expected to protect the animal from physical suffering or impairment of health due to exposure to the elements or adverse weather.

Sustenance is defined as:

Adequate food provided at suitable intervals of quantities of wholesome foodstuff suitable for the species and age, sufficient to maintain a reasonable level of nutrition to allow for proper growth and weight and adequate water provided with constant access to a supply of clean, fresh, and potable water provided in a suitable manner for the species.

When a person goes beyond neglect and intentionally hurts, tortures, or kills an animal, however, they can be charged with the felony offense of animal cruelty.

Animal Cruelty in SC

Animal cruelty in SC covers more serious cases where a person tortures or kills an animal and is a felony punishable by a mandatory minimum of six months and up to five years in prison:

(B) A person who tortures, torments, needlessly mutilates, cruelly kills, or inflicts excessive or repeated unnecessary pain or suffering upon an animal or by omission or commission causes these acts to be done, is guilty of a felony and, upon conviction, must be punished by imprisonment of not less than one hundred eighty days and not to exceed five years and by a fine of five thousand dollars.

SC’s animal cruelty laws apply to dogs, horses, livestock, although there are exceptions for fowl (you are apparently free to torture birds in SC), “accepted animal husbandry practices of farm operations” (the legislature is aware that our society routinely tortures millions of animals in our food supply and we, as a society, are A-OK with that), and veterinary treatment.

Abandonment of Animals in SC

SC Code Section 47-1-70 creates a separate offense for abandoning an animal – “deserting, forsaking, or intending to give up absolutely an animal without securing another owner or without providing the necessities of life.”

If a person leaves an animal without access to food, water, and shelter, they can be convicted of a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail.

Where is the Line?

So, where do we draw the line? People hurt, torture, and kill animals of all kinds every day in the state of SC, and yet they are not arrested and charged with cruelty to animals…

What is an Animal for Purposes of Animal Cruelty in SC?

For purposes of animal cruelty in SC, an “animal” is defined as any “living vertebrate creature except a homo sapien.”

Okay, so what is a “vertebrate creature?”

A “vertebrate” is any animal that has a spinal column (all species of animal within the subphylum Vertebrata), which includes:

  • Many species of fish;
  • Sharks;
  • Amphibians;
  • Reptiles;
  • Birds; and

Pet hamsters, turtles, frogs, snakes, and lizards are included, as well as the larger mammals like dogs, cats, goats, and horses. And yet, the law is usually only enforced when dogs or horses are involved. Why?

Why Do We Have Animal Cruelty Laws?

We see some animals as being more “like us.” We give dogs, cats, and horses special treatment and tend to protect them more because we like them, we relate to them, and we recognize them as sentient, aware beings.

But, aren’t most animals aware? Most mammals certainly are, and studies have shown that insects are also aware. Why is it okay to crush an insect, assigning no value to its small life? Or to devastate an acre teeming with small lives with pesticides?

Most people would say those small lives don’t matter. As a society, it is clear that most non-human lives do not matter to humans. Heck, many human lives don’t matter to humans. Our laws go no further than preventing the torture or killing of vertebrates.

But we only enforce those laws for some vertebrates. Where do we draw the line? I have never seen a prosecution for animal cruelty to birds, although I’m sure some cases have been brought. I can see a prosecution for cruelty to hamsters, although people abuse and neglect hamsters and other small animals all the time without consequence.

A man in NC was arrested and charged with cruelty to animals after he abandoned his pet fish when he was evicted from his apartment – it is okay to torture fish with lines and hooks, but you go to jail if you forget a fish in an aquarium in your apartment?

Where do we draw the line? The NC man’s fish abuse charges were dismissed with a public statement from the prosecutor stating that “fish are not protected under these statutes.”

I guess we draw the line at fish?

Animal Cruelty Defense Lawyer in Myrtle Beach, SC

Daniel A. Selwa is a criminal defense attorney in Myrtle Beach, SC who accepts most criminal defense cases included cruelty to animals in SC.

Call now at (843) 492-5449 or send an email to speak with a SC criminal defense lawyer in Myrtle Beach today.

Share this post to social media...