During his visit to the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare in Aiken on Aug. 8, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster shook a lot of hands.

He also held a squirming ferret and kissed a Walker hound named Ruby on the snout while taking part in the ceremonial signing event for an animal welfare bill that the state legislature approved earlier this year.

“We hear a lot of great things about South Carolina, and this is one of them,” said McMaster, who was accompanied by his wife, Peggy. “The way we treat our animals is an expression of how we treat each other, and it’s important. If we treat them well, they treat us well. When animals are happy, people are happy, so this law is good. A lot of thought went into it and a lot of time. This is a great step forward and another example of how we do things better in South Carolina.”

The new law does the following:

• Requires magistrates and municipal court judges to receive at least two hours of instruction on issues concerning animal cruelty every four years.

• Provides cost of care reimbursement to organizations holding abused animals after their owners have been arrested on charges related to animal cruelty.

• Decreases stray hold times for litters of cats and dogs so they can be made available for adoption more quickly.

• Expedites the process for out-of-state veterinarians to respond to disasters in South Carolina.

• Authorizes the sending of funds from the sale of spay/neuter license plates to the poorer counties in the state to pay for spay/neuter services for residents’ pets.

• Amends state law to provide for the sterilization of stray cats.

Two provisions were dropped before the legislation, known as Senate Bill 105, or the Animal Cruelty and Care Act, received approval.

One would have created a baseline of standards that all shelters would have to meet in order to rescue animals.

The other provision would have set guidelines for humane tethering.

Albrecht Center President and CEO Barbara Nelson, who owns Ruby, described the bill as “a significant step forward for the improved quality of life for animals and the people who love them here in South Carolina.

“In actual fact,” she continued, “whether you’ve got a heart for animals or not, this legislation improves the common good for all of us and the innocent domestic creatures that depend upon our goodwill – and they certainly do depend on us.”

Nelson served on the legislature’s Pet Care and Humane Treatment Study Committee, which assisted lawmakers in coming up with the provisions that were included in the legislation.

She thanked, among others, the Aiken County Legislative Delegation for its support and a key sponsor, Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Berkeley, who wasn’t present at the event.

Nelson also promised to continue the legislative battle for the provisions that were excluded.

“We will fight for those another day, which means the next legislative session,” she said. “But for now, let us celebrate all the positive things that have come from this bill.”

Jennifer Miller, president of the Friends of the Animal Shelter, and other representatives of that local organization, were among the attendees at the ceremonial signing.

Others included S.C. Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken; S.C. Rep. Bart Blackwell, R-Aiken; and S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken.

McMaster said he chose Aiken for the ceremonial signing because “the delegation here and Ms. Nelson were involved in the effort on this particular piece of legislation.”

He and his wife, who own an English bulldog named Mac, toured the Albrecht Center after the ceremony.

“This is a happy place,” McMaster said. “It’s a grand example of what can be done when people want to get things done. Millions of dollars in private money were raised to build this facility, and it is a first-class facility."

He also said there is "still a lot of work to be done" on animal welfare issues in South Carolina.

​Dede Biles is the Aiken County government, business and horse industry reporter for the Aiken Standard. Follow her on Twitter @DBethBiles.