Weak South Carolina Laws Let Convicted Hoarder Keep Cats--and Acquire Even More

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Additional Details From the Investigation

There were no signs directing potential adopters to Sacred Vision Animal Sanctuary (SVAS), which was hidden behind a church in an industrial area. The grounds consisted of unventilated storage units, which had been crammed full of stacks of crates and carriers. Some of the cats at SVAS endured such conditions for months, but most had been confined there for years. The majority of the cats were kept caged 24/7 in wire crates, most of which contained two to four cats each. Only one litterbox was provided per cage, and cats—who are naturally fastidiously clean—had no way to escape the sight and smell of the overflowing piles of feces and urine. The caged cats were denied everything that is natural and important to them—they had no room to stretch or walk around, let alone explore and exercise.

Running out of litter and food was virtually a daily occurrence at SVAS, whose operator, Elizabeth Owen, employed no paid staff. Owen herself did little, if any, caretaking or cleaning and spent most of her time tinkering in the thrift store that she ran next door. Owen often hid cats who were visibly ill or injured and in need of veterinary care in the thrift store. Over several months in 2010 and 2011, PETA's investigator documented Owen's systematic failure to provide veterinary care to many sick and injured cats, who often died prolonged and agonizing deaths as a result. A volunteer at SVAS told PETA's investigator that over the years, she had buried "at least 100" cats who had died at the facility. For more information, click here.

PETA first reported Owen to law-enforcement authorities in July 2010, at which time PETA was assured that Owen would "close" her facility once all the cats were adopted. However, Owen made no effort to find homes for the cats (she had not even put a sign out by the road to indicate that the cats were in need of homes!), choosing instead to keep "storing" the animals and depriving them of any quality of life.

In September 2010, Owen was charged with violating Horry County's animal care and treatment ordinance after PETA brought the conditions at SVAS to officials' attention a second time. No cats were seized at that time, and that case has been continued over and over since then. Owen, who has shown every indication that she is an animal hoarder, even rejected an offer for free veterinary examinations and adoption opportunities for the cats as part of a consent agreement that was presented to her a few weeks before the release of PETA's findings.

Roughly half of the 240 or so cats who were seized from Owen's storage units had to be put out of their misery because of conditions such as anal maggots, herpes, ringworm, tumors, seizures, multiple abdominal abscesses, cracked and bloody paw pads, severe gum disease and missing teeth, and more—all things that cause pain and discomfort and that don't happen overnight. These cats had long been languishing without quality of life. For them, death was a release from a bad life of confinement, stress, and pain. They are in a kinder place.

The county provided the hundred or so other cats, who were also sick, with veterinary care—and many were adopted. For more details, click here. In addition, as a result of the news surrounding PETA's investigation as well as unpaid fines going back several years, the Office of the Secretary of State in South Carolina suspended Owen's registration, preventing her from lawfully soliciting any donations.

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I Support Strengthening S.C. Law to Tackle Animal Hoarding and Other Cruelty

Petition Text: 

I, the undersigned, would support legislation to strengthen South Carolina law and enable courts to prevent convicted animal hoarders and abusers from harming and killing more animals.

Current state law does not prohibit convicted cruelty offenders from keeping any animals they might have and does nothing to prevent them from acquiring more, even immediately. Magistrates--who hear many of the cruelty cases in South Carolina--do not currently have the judicial discretion and tools that they need, such as sentencing offenders to carefully crafted probation, critical to preventing repeat crimes against animals.

For example, in April 2012, hoarder Elizabeth Owen was convicted of denying care to some of the approximately 240 cats she kept in dark, stiflingly hot storage units near Myrtle Beach. The Horry County court that sentenced Owen did not restrict her possession of animals at all--allowing Owen to amass and neglect animals all over again. Hoarders are essentially animal addicts, and they are known to start over once animals are taken from them--unless our judicial system prevents it.

Most states restrict convicted animal abusers' possession of animals. Please pass legislation to update South Carolina law in this way and protect the state's animals from people known to hoard, abuse, and neglect them.

Signed,
[Your Name]

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