MT. PLEASANT, S.C. (WCIV) — Police training often involves the animals that work side by side with their handlers. Police dogs are used in routine patrols and advanced crime fighting. If state lawmakers pass a bill, people who hurt or kill those animals would face tougher prosecution.
Right now, it’s a misdemeanor crime if someone is convicted of intentionally torturing, disabling, or even killing a police dog or horse in South Carolina.
If lawmakers get their way, it'll become a felony if a suspect is convicted of those crimes—including 10 years in prison.
"They're put in the same situations that we are in law enforcement. So they're asked to give their lives just like we would. And so we think of them as police officers. They're our partners," said Chip Googe, inspector for the Mt. Pleasant Police Department.
Googe recalled an incident last October when one of the agency's canines was attacked by a suspect. He said "Thor" was punched and nearly kicked as officers closed in on arresting the accused car thief. Thor wasn't seriously hurt.
"They need to be held in high regard just like anybody would for a regular police officer or human counterpart," Googe said.
Outside the Charleston Animal Society in North Charleston, there’s a memorial for fallen police and military service animals.
Animal rights advocates are also in favor of stricter punishment for people who try to hurt dogs or horses used for public safety.
"I think any and every tool that we can provide to law enforcement to help them do their jobs and to provide additional protections to them and the animals working side-by-side with them is worth it," said Joe Elmore, chief executive officer of the Charleston Animal Society.
If the bill becomes law, those convicted would also be forced to pay restitution to cover the cost of replacing the dog or horse that was hurt or killed. Also, the offender could be required to perform 500 hours of community service for an animal-related group.
The senate has already approved its version. If the house OKs it, the bill will be sent to the governor's desk for signing.