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Island dogs must must be leashed

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The days of frolicking in the surf on Pawleys Island are over, at least for dogs. The town has discovered that its ordinance allowing dogs to be under voice command at certain times conflicts with state law.

“State law is more restrictive,” Mayor Bill Otis said. “That means our law is null and void.”

Town Council this week amended the animal control ordinance to comply with South Carolina law.

The same state law that allows local government to regulate animals prohibits owners from letting their dogs “run at large” when off their property. It requires dogs to be “under the physical control of the owner.”

The town has allowed voice control between October and May and from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. during those months when dogs must be on a leash.

Town Council agreed that police should issue warnings until May to owners whose dogs are off a leash.

“We should be understanding in the very beginning,” Council Member Mike Adams said.

Police Chief Guy Osborne said the same issue arose recently in the town of Hilton Head, where officials said the conflict between state and local laws is murky.

“I’ve contacted the attorney general on this,” Osborne said.

However, he encouraged Pawleys Island council members to adopt the state law.

“It’s a public safety issue,” he said. “I didn’t enforce it because I didn’t know about it.”

The attorney general’s office is at work on a legal opinion for the town of Hilton Head. “We’ve never been asked for an opinion on leash laws,” said Mark Plowden, spokesman for the office.

But he said the bulk of the work at the office involves discrepancies between state and local laws.

Although legal opinions from the attorney general aren’t binding, “they do become part of the legal record,” Plowden said. As a result, he couldn’t say how long it will take to research and produce an opinion on leash laws.

“We anticipate that it will be studied to answer questions in other municipalities,” he said.

Town Council last month asked Osborne to research ways to require owners to clean up pet waste. That led him to discover the conflicting laws.

The two issues are related, Osborne said. “Waste occurs when dogs are unleashed,” he said. “The owners aren’t going to go check on it.”

He said the town’s animal control ordinance requires owners to clean up after their pets. It will be easier to track down violators if dogs are on a leash, he said.

Council Member Glennie Tarbox said many mainland residents bring their dogs to Pawleys Island because of the voice-control provision. On Georgetown County beaches, dogs must be on a leash year-round.

Tarbox said he favored changing the town ordinance.

But Otis said there are many property owners on the island who also like to let their dogs run on the beach during the off-season. He suggested Pawleys Island could work with Hilton Head officials who have said they would ask state lawmakers to clarify the law.

“Let’s let Hilton Head fight it,” Tarbox said.

The town has a couple of signs outlining the old rules, but Osborne said they are faded. They will be replaced, Otis said.

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