Months after seven pit bulls were found abandoned and starving to death, a man has been arrested, accused of leaving them to die.
Brandon Cauthen, 26, is charged with seven counts of ill-treatment of animals. Chester County animal control officers got an anonymous phone call on May 15 alerting them to sick and starving pit bulls on Weston Acres Road in Fort Lawn.
When officers arrived, they found the dogs, each tied to trees with heavy logging chains, without food or water. The trailer nearby had no power to it, and the dogs had likely been abandoned for weeks. It appeared their owners had been evicted.
The dogs were extremely underweight, some weighing barely 20pounds instead of 70 or 80 pounds as they should. Their ears were bleeding from multiple fly bites, their ribs and hip bones were visible, and some could hardly stand up.
One dog was giving birth to puppies when officers arrived. All six of the puppies died.
Three of the adult dogs were so emaciated, they were immediately put down after seeing a veterinarian.
"We were just hoping to save some of them," said Capt. Mary Ann Tolbert, who heads animal control in Chester County.
"We weren't even sure at first it would've been better for them to live. They were in very, very, very bad condition," she said.
The surviving four dogs were nursed back to health over several months, and all were eventually adopted out to new homes.
Some doubled and even tripled their weight after they were removed from the property.
South Carolina state Rep. Deborah Long, R-Indian Land, plans to introduce a bill next year to create an animal abuser registry, similar to the state's sex offender registry. It would showcase the names and pictures of people convicted of abusing animals.
"There are a lot of folks who start off abusing animals, then go on to do other things to people," Long said. "I think a registry would be a good place to start."
It's not clear yet just how such a registry would be funded or how offenders would be chosen to appear on it. The bill has been introduced in the past in the state Senate and stalled there, but it has not been introduced in the House.
Long said animal abusers need to be exposed.
"These people are getting busted for this, and they take the animals away, and nothing of any consequence happens to them, and they go out and do it again," she said.
Brandon Cauthen was still in jail late Friday on a $17,500 bond -- $2,500 for each count of ill-treatment of animals.
Deputies have warrants now for a second suspect. They are looking for Kayla Estes, who they said also lived in the home with Cauthen last spring.
She faces the same felony ill-treatment charges that Cauthen faces.
Anyone who knows where she is is asked to call the Chester County Sheriff's Office at 803-581-5131.