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

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PETA's 2010-2011 undercover investigation of Sacred Vision Animal Sanctuary (SVAS)—founded and operated by hoarder Elizabeth Owen—exposed the chronic deprivation and suffering of approximately 300 cats who were kept in filthy, stifling hot, dungeon-like, disease-ridden storage units near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. In April 2012, Owen was convicted of depriving her animals of care and, in part because of South Carolina's weak, outdated laws, was given a sentence that leaves animals in her hands and others at risk!

After reviewing evidence gathered during PETA's investigation, a judge ordered the removal of all the animals from the facility, which finally shut its doors. But the judge allowed Owen to keep 30 cats and a dog after Owen's attorney claimed that those doomed animals were Owen's "personal pets." Owen was required to provide veterinary care to her 31 "pets" within 14 days of the March 1, 2011, seizure.

But in the year or so between the seizure and Owen's conviction, Horry County officials did nothing to ensure that no more animals suffered and died at Owen's hands. Despite having extensive evidence—including video recordings and dozens of photographs—of Owen's conduct and its fatal consequences for her animals, prosecutors (known as "solicitors" in South Carolina) never filed state cruelty-to-animals charges against her. Instead, the evidence was passed from one assistant solicitor to another, and all of them sat on it.

Meanwhile, county officials failed to keep their promise to ensure that the 31 "pets" returned to Owen received the veterinary examinations and care required of her. PETA asked county officials to check on those animals month after month for a year but to no avail. According to solicitors, Owen even left South Carolina—evidently along with those animals—even though a condition of her court case was that she could not leave the state. For all county officials and solicitors know, another SVAS could have started in another community, given that the relapse rate for animal hoarders is virtually 100 percent.

Read more about PETA's findings at SVAS here, and view photos from the investigation now.

The court did not restrict Owen's possession of animals nor order a psychological evaluation—common and critical elements of sentencing in animal-hoarding cases. South Carolina is one of the few remaining states whose laws do not specifically enable courts to prohibit convicted cruelty-to-animals offenders from owning or possessing animals. The state's law does not spell out for magistrates—the judges who preside over many cruelty cases in South Carolina—the ways in which they can prevent future cruelty (for example, requiring a psychiatric evaluation and necessary counseling) when sentencing animal hoarders and abusers.

Please help ensure that South Carolina's animals are better protected from hoarders like Owen. Sign the petition below to let South Carolina legislators know that you support updating the state's anti-cruelty statute to keep animal abusers' hands off animals and empower judges to issue stronger sentences that prevent more animals from suffering and dying.

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

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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.

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