Dog hunters, landowners asked to attend Saturday meeting

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By HEATHER RUPPE & VICKI BROWN

All concerned dog hunters and land owners in Colleton County are being invited to attend a public forum this weekend to discuss potential changes being made to the county’s existing hunting dog ordinance and how dog hunting impacts private landowners.

The “Hunt for a Solution” public forum for hunters and landowners will be held at the Coastal Electric Cooperative parking lot on Saturday, Jan. 15th at 10 a.m. Everyone is welcome.

The event is sponsored by Gar Linder, a private resident and community activist. “A lot of folks are misinformed and by getting them together we can eliminate some of the hostile attitudes and confusion,” said Linder. “A lot of people don’t even know what their rights are or what the law says.”

The discussions are being had about dog hunting and how it impacts private landowners because of a recent proposed change made by Colleton County Council regarding an existing animal control ordinance. Proposed new language change to an existing Colleton County ordinance could mean that hunting dogs could be considered running at large even during an active dog hunt.

Colleton County already has an animal ordinance in place. This existing ordinance says that animals are deemed to be “running at large” if the animal is off of its owners’ property and is not under immediate and direct supervision of the owner, including a restraining device. Traditionally in Colleton County, however, hunting dogs have been exempted from this ordinance, as long as the dog owner was actively looking for the animal.

If the new changes are approved by county council, hunting dogs in an active hunt would no longer be exempt and that hunting dog would be considered an animal that is running at large.

Colleton County Council gave first reading to the proposed new changes on Dec. 7th, 2021. Council was set to give a second reading to the ordinance last week; however, Colleton County Council decided to table making any decision on this ordinance or changes, with several council members saying they had received an overwhelming response from concerned dog hunters in the county.

Colleton County Chairman Steven Murdaugh said in council’s meeting last week that he had received numerous calls by concerned citizens who fear that hunting in Colleton County will be negatively impacted by passing this ordinance. “I think there is a lot of miscommunication out there and we need to get the correct information out there,” said Murdaugh.

Councilman Phillip Taylor stated that he had been approached many times in stores around the county by people who were upset by the ordinance. Councilman Dr. Joe Flowers agreed. “We need to table this and get see what the problem is. We can comply with the state and DNR, but we need to get factual information and background on this issue to clarify,” Flowers said.

The ordinance is temporarily tabled, with no plans by council to take further action on it until a public hearing can be held. Due to Covid-19 safety efforts being made, county council is investigating ways to have a town hall meeting and still follow covid guidelines. Future public hearing dates will be published by this newspaper.

What Started This?

In December, county council had the first reading of Ordinance no. 21-0-17, where council determined that it was necessary to amend the county’s current Animal Control regulations due to complaints from landowners. According to council members, they were receiving complaints from Colleton residents who were upset that hunting dogs are crossing onto other properties, as they search for deer.

According to one source, SCDNR also contacted county council asking for assistance because there has been discrepancy between SCDNR regulations and county ordinances.

With rising conflict on both sides of the dog hunting debate, a council member introduced Ordinance 21-O-17, To Amend Title 6 – Animals, Section 6.04.10 -Definitions and Section 6.04.40.

The new ordinance would define hunting dogs as “running at large,” even if they are actively hunting a deer. This means that hunting dogs not restrained by their owners could be seized by animal control, and dog owners could be fined.

Charles Ruth, a Wildlife Biologist Deer/Turkey Project supervisor, held a study to determine the importance of a trained dog in locating dead and wounded deer. In a study of 500 harvested deer, approximately 50 percent ran when shot and the distance traveled was 62 yards. Using a trained dog helped quickly recover the deer which was much more humane.

According to information given by some residents to this newspaper, landowners are uneasy with hunters following their dogs onto private property. The hunters are armed, the dogs are excited, and this spells danger to property owners who worry about personal injury or liability.

A more serious issue is the allegations of animal cruelty caused by unscrupulous hunters who don’t take care of their dogs; however, according to Colleton Animal Services Director Laura Clark, those hunters are few. Clark says it is always better to take the animal to the shelter to find a new home. But she also wants the public to understand that most hunters take care of their dogs, and those that don’t are followed up by law enforcement.

“We have 88 dogs in our care at the facility. Of those, 19 are hounds and could potentially be dogs used for hunting. Since we have started using Facebook to post our found dogs, we have noticed an increase in the number of hunting dogs being reclaimed by their owners. The majority of the hounds we take in as strays are fairly healthy as compared to other breeds we take in. If a hunter is missing a dog and would like to come see if we have his or her dog, they are welcome to visit Monday through Friday from 11 to 3 or make an appointment to come outside of those hours by calling 843 893 2651,” said Clark.

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