Animal proposal still in talks

AIKEN - Animal control still isn't under control of the sheriff. But pit bulls are still OK in Aiken County.

More than a year since an advisory board recommended that the sheriff take over animal control enforcement, it's still being debated by county council members.

However, they have accepted another suggestion made by the county's animal control advisory board: Don't ban vicious dogs, such as pit bulls.

Launched after a local woman was mauled by a pack of pit bulls on Easter in 2005, the committee did debate whether the vicious-dogs law should be strengthened to include bans on some animals, said Sheran Proctor, the group's chairwoman.

They decided the county's current animal-control setup was all bark, she explained.

"Why put more laws on the books if you don't have the teeth to back them up?" she asked.

Despite repeated urgings by the committee, the county council is still discussing the group's top priority: putting animal control under the sheriff's authority.

Sheriff Mike Hunt has said he would be OK with taking on the new responsibilities, as long as he was given adequate staff.

At a recent meeting with county council members, there did not appear to be solid support for the proposal. Councilman Charles Barton said he disagreed with the recommendation.

The matter could be brought up again this month, County Administrator Clay Killian said.

"Right now, it's not envisioned that it would be shifted to the sheriff's office," he said.

Gwendolyn Chavous lost an arm after the attack by the pit bulls, which were killed by her brother, but has recovered and returned to work. She has said she thinks such animals need to be more tightly regulated.

But Ms. Proctor said her committee didn't think banning pit bulls or other dogs commonly considered vicious - such as Rottweilers - would survive a court challenge.

"Any animal can be vicious," she said. "Where pit bulls get the bad rap is they do have the jaw-locking effect."

They can be "a very loving, loyal pet," she said.

The committee rejected a proposed law that would have banned residents from owning any breed "which attacks people, unless the individual is a licensed dog trainer," according to county documents.

Ms. Proctor said the committee, while sympathetic to what happened to Ms. Chavous, didn't think it would be right to ban entire breeds of dogs.

Similar laws have been implemented in other parts of the country, Ms. Proctor said, and those places are struggling with enforcement.

What the committee is most concerned about, she said, is safety. That's why it continues to urge the council to put animal control under the sheriff's office.

"When someone comes to your door and they have a patrol car and a badge, they are given more consideration," she said. "We need to put more authority behind the laws we have on the books."

If the sheriff does take over animal control, personnel would stay busy. Rodney Cooper, who used to oversee the understaffed department, said it takes in about 6,000 animals a year.

Staff also investigate about a dozen reports of animal cruelty a week, along with nuisance calls.

Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or sandi.martin@augustachronicle.com.