A measure of justice has been served in South Carolina, where, following PETA’s undercover investigation, the woman who fatally neglected cats at the now-thankfully defunct Sacred Vision Animal Sanctuary (SVAS) outside Myrtle Beach was convicted of violating a county animal-care ordinance this morning before Magistrate Marge Bellamy Livingston. Elizabeth Owen, who didn’t even bother to show up but instead submitted her plea in writing, was fined $500 and sentenced to 30 days in jail, but both were suspended.
LEGAL ACTION—AND INACTION
In March 2011, a Horry County judge ordered the seizure of a dog and approximately 240 cats from Owen—many of whom were suffering from painful conditions, such as anal maggots, herpes, tumors, seizures, abdominal abscesses, and severe gum disease. Nearly half of the animals had to be euthanized to alleviate their suffering.
County officials returned the dog and 30 cats to Owen. And then it got worse: county officials did not make good on promises to check on those animals’ welfare. Meanwhile, Owen left the state—in violation of her bond, according to a prosecutor—and evidently took those animals with her. Although PETA’s investigatory evidence was passed between four attorneys in the 15th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, none of them filed state cruelty-to-animals charges against Owen. No other jurisdiction has ever failed to file charges based on PETA’s evidence against a hoarder still in possession of animals.
As with many so-called “no-kill” operations, SVAS was merely a cover for an animal hoarder. Owen knowingly deprived suffering cats of veterinary care—even refusing offers of free emergency treatment for dying cats—and stated that she would rather let the cats die at the facility than have them taken by officials.
In a disturbing twist, just before most of her animals were seized, Owen sent approximately 25 cats to Caboodle Ranch, another horrific “no-kill” cat “sanctuary,” in Florida. Based on evidence gathered in a separate PETA investigation, officials there seized nearly 700 cats and arrested and charged Caboodle’s founder and operator, Craig Grant, with felony cruelty to animals.
The recidivism rate for animal hoarders like Owen is virtually 100 percent. The failure of Owen’s sentence to prevent her from causing more animals to suffer and die exposes a critical weakness in South Carolina law, which lacks a commonsense provision—found in most other states’ laws—prohibiting convicted cruelty offenders from owning or possessing any animals.