SUMTER, S.C. — Residents in Sumter County tell News 19 roaming animals have become an increasing concern. It comes after a woman was attacked by two dogs on Easter morning.
The Sumter SPCA is one of the shelters stray and roaming dogs are turned into. The manager tells me 148 of the 200 stalls are filled with cats and dogs that have been brought to the shelter. On a normal year, the SPCA sees about 5,000 animals turned in.
"It’s a very big issue and nothing seems to be getting done about it," Sumter resident Stephanie Isaac says.
Isaac and her aunt Carol Hodge say they’ve been having issues with loose dogs jumping into their grandmother’s yard and killing their cats.
"Having to go through that is very traumatic and it’s very hard especially when the owners aren’t doing anything about the dogs and nothing is being done about them," Isaac shares.
To try and solve the issue, Isaac and Hodge tell me they've made repeated calls to Animal Control and the Sumter County Sheriff's Office.
"Animal Control has actually, they’ve come out and they set a trap but it didn’t do any good. Nobody went in the trap," Hodge explains. "When we call, they do respond. The sheriff’s department, they do respond."
While Isaac says law enforcement responds, "nothing is really being done about it."
Mark Bordeaux with the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office says officers are paying attention.
"Of course a loose dog is against the law," Bordeaux says. "It’s a violation of an ordinance."
Which says it’s “unlawful for any dog owner or other person with custody and control of a dog to allow his dog or a dog under his custody and control to run at-large off property owned, rented or controlled by such person within the unincorporated areas of the county."
The Sumter County Sheriff's Office released a statement detailing the punishment if that ordinance is broken, saying "any owner, manager or person violating the provisions of this section shall be subject to a fine for each offense of not more than $25 or to imprisonment for not more than 25 days.”
While Hodge and Isaac say they’ve seen citations issued, it’s not working.
"Maybe the fines aren’t steep enough," Hodge muses. "Maybe it’s gonna take like with all these reports just multiple citations into the thousands of dollars."
Their neighbor, Michael Huggins, says he thinks punishment needs to go further.
"A fine ain't nothing. It needs to be more serious," Huggins shares. "Even if they lose rights to animals until they do proper training and do certification for training."
"It’s not somebody else’s responsibility to keep up with your dogs. It’s your responsibility as a pet owner," Hodge adds. "There’s things you can do as a responsible pet owners and I’m just afraid people don’t want to invest the money into it. They want to get the cute little puppy and then once that puppy get’s grown, it's just like okay you're too much road we’re just going to throw you in the yard or chain you up."
This lack of socialization can lead to aggression, according to Sumter veterinarian William Hudson.
"You’ve got to be careful if a dog’s roaming, any breed can be aggressive," Hudson cautions.
The manager at the Sumter SPCA tells me in her experience, pit bulls have been the most aggressive.
"I think it’s just a stereotype," Huggins counters.
He owns five pit bull mixes, and says he's never had an issue. Dr. Hudson says it's not the breed that matters, but the way it's trained.
"[Pit bulls] tend to be more animal-aggressive than people-aggressive, but it really depends on how you train the dog," he explains.
Hudson says if you see an animal roaming, it’s best to leave it alone and call Animal Control.
Signs an animal might be aggressive include: "eyeballing you, staring you right in the eye, ears back. Some dogs will lunge," Hudson details. "The more aggressive ones will lunge at you and they’ll kind of bristle up, they’ll stand tall."
News 19 brought these concerns about enforcing the ordinance to Sumter County Councilman Carlton Washington. He says the council will discuss this issue during Tuesday night's meeting.
The two dogs that caused Sunday morning’s incident have been located and captured and will be tested for rabies while the woman recovers from surgery.
If your dogs do happen to get out, Hudson says it's important to make sure they have a registered microchip.
"You’d be surprised how many dogs come in here that are microchipped and they never registered," Hudson shares. "If you let them roam, they might not come home."
Bordeaux emphasized that message.
"We encourage our fellow citizens that love their animals not only to keep them with plenty of water, food, and shelter, but also keep them from roaming freely," Bordeaux urges. "If at all possible, keep them in an area where they can exercise and have their own space, but never to allow animals — especially those that have the potential for being aggressive or have been seen being aggressive — to roam."