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Animal shelters across the state are pushing a new bill they say would incentivize owners of pit bulls and related dogs to spay or neuter their pets which, in turn, would curb populations across the state. 

Registration wouldn’t be required for pit bull-type dogs (PBTDs) that are already spayed or neutered under the bill, H. 4094, filed March 17 by S.C. Rep. Chip Huggins, R-Lexington, on behalf of animal shelters across the state.

While registration of “fertile pit bulls” would be required in the new bill, the proposed cost is $25, which is $475 less than a similar 2019 bill that raised hackles of some pet owners.

“We hate mandates in South Carolina. We hate them,” Huggins said Thursday. “They’re trying to make this where it’s not a mandate where they (PBTD owners) have already taken care of their breed.”

Reducing the population

Animal shelter professionals say a bold program to spay or neuter pit bulls, viewed by many as loving and loyal dogs that have gotten a bad reputation by those who breed them for illegal dog fights, will help control populations of unwanted dogs.

“These wonderful dogs are by far the most overpopulated and threatened type of dog in South Carolina,” said Joe Elmore, president and CEO of the Charleston Animal Society. “Pit Bull-Type Dogs account for a disproportionate number of dogs both entering shelters and euthanized at an even higher rate in shelters. 

“It’s simple supply and demand – there are far too many than there are homes. And, it’s costing taxpayers and donors millions of dollars each year.”

In 2018, for example, nine shelters in South Carolina took in almost 20,000 dogs. Almost 6,000, or 30% of the dogs, were pit bulls and pit mixes, Elmore said. In seven shelters, about half of the 3,240 dogs that were euthanized that year were PBTDs.

Barbara Nelson, who heads the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare in Aiken, has a contract to accept Aiken’s stray dogs. Some 70% are pit bulls or mixes, she said. 

“They are the most difficult to adopt and the most returned to us after adoption,” she said. “We also see that they are the most neglected and abused.”

She said spay-and-neuter programs work to control pit bull populations as highlighted since Aiken passed an ordinance in 2005 that required a $100 one-time registration of fertile dogs. 

“In 2005, there were 635 dogs admitted to SPCA by the city,” she said. “In 2020, there were 217. When faced with the $100 fee and associated penalties, owners generally choose to spay or neuter. 

“At the same time, the city set up a voucher system to cover the cost of spaying or neutering for those who could not afford it.”

Increasing safety

Spaying or neutering reduces dog aggression, activists say, which makes pets safer.

Huggins’s bill is called “Jayce’s Law” in honor of a Hampton County boy who died in January after a dog attack.

Elmore pointed to 2019 data that showed there were 7,499 dog bites from known breeds, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. Of those, a third, or 2,433 bites, were by pit bulls or mixes, while the next-highest biters were Labradors and their mixes with 833 bites.

“Studies indicate that approximately two-thirds of dog bites occur by unaltered dogs,” Elmore said. 

He added that passing Huggins’ bill would help to save the lives of dogs, reduce harm to children and adults, make it tougher for people to engage in dogfighting, and save millions of dollars for taxpayers and insurance policy owners. 

The relatively low cost of registering an unaltered dog as would be worth it, Elmore said, because it’s not a burden. The $25 fee is the “cost of one cheap bag of dog food,” he said 

Reducing the number of pit bulls and mixes also means fewer dogs will be euthanized across the state, he added.

The bill currently is in the House Judiciary Committee. Huggins said he hopes it can get to the House floor and be sent to the Senate this year for consideration in the upper chamber next year.