UNION — The shooting deaths of two of Rogers Fowler’s young bulls in their pasture in April were the start of a disturbing trend of animal cruelty cases in Union County.
Since then, the county has seen a rash of animals killed, stolen or maimed. Union County Sheriff David Taylor said reports concerning animals have more than doubled in his rural county in 2014, with more than four months left in the year.
And the most recent case may have been the cruelest and most heartbreaking. Two Great Danes inside a fence on property well away from the road were shot and killed with a crossbow last weekend. One died under a shed, the second in the back corner of the land.
The cases don’t appear to be connected at all. Some of them, like the killing of the Great Danes, appear to be someone angry at the owner or the dogs for something. Others, like the shooting of Fowler’s $3,000 bulls, appear to be someone firing shots from the road at a defenseless, slow-moving target.
“All I know is it is just someone who doesn’t care,” Fowler said. “Not only do they not care about the law, they don’t care about a living creature either.”
Animal rights groups said any increase in cruelty complaints may not mean that animal cruelty is become more common. Instead, people are more likely these days to report suspected cases of cruelty to authorities.
“We’re getting calls now because someone sees a dog on a chain and thinks it’s too skinny. A few years ago, that same person might have driven by and just put it out of their mind,” said Wayne Brennessel, executive director for the Humane Society of South Carolina.
South Carolina isn’t considered a particularly good state for protecting animals. Just nine states ranked worse than South Carolina in the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s 2013 ranking of how well state law deals with cruelty.
But Brennessel and others think that is getting better too. Restraining orders, which courts use to prevent a defendant from harassing or threatening another person, now can be used to protect pets. Additionally, a man in Greenville last month got the maximum five-year sentence after pleading guilty to dragging his dog for at least 2 miles behind his pickup truck. His excuse was he had been drinking. The judge called it one of the most horrible things she had ever heard.
Most of the animal cases in Union County have gone unsolved this year. The sheriff said the cases are harder to investigate because the victims can’t talk and neighbors aren’t likely close enough to see what happens in the county of 28,000 people just south of Spartanburg.
But Taylor said his investigators take them all seriously. Three of his deputies spent hours looking over the scene of the crossbow attack. When four bulls and a cow suddenly died in several pastures earlier this year, the sheriff sent one of the animals off for a necropsy. The examination found it had not been shot or struck by lightning. That left investigators with little to go on, Taylor said.
“Sometimes your only hope in cases like these is someone will talk about it. Maybe they want to brag about what they did,” Taylor said.
It is important to investigate animal cruelty and treat offenders harshly because animal cruelty can be a gateway to more serious crimes against people, said Dr. Randall Lockwood, a veterinarian and vice president of anti-cruelty projects for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
“It not only shows a lack of respect for the law, but it also shows a lack of empathy,” Lockwood said. “And that can cause society a lot of problems down the road.”