South Carolina legislators will be debating two new bills this legislative session that look to strengthen the state’s animal abuse laws. One potential law would ban convicted abusers from owning a pet for five years, while the other goes further and bans them from owning a pet for life.

The move to further strengthen the state’s animal abuse laws come several weeks after two Florida lawmakers introduced the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act to Congress for debate, which seeks to outlaw animal abuse at the federal level. Current laws only make it illegal if documentation of the abuse crosses state borders, such as a video posted online.

The new federal bill states that “anyone convicted of intentionally crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, impaling or otherwise seriously harming an animal would face federal felony charges, fines and up to seven years in prison”.

For Columbia animal shelters like Pawmetto Lifeline, the move is long overdue. Denise Wilkinson, CEO and member of the board of trustees executive committee for Pawmetto Lifeline, has heard her share of animal cruelty horror stories.

“A young man, I think he was 21 years of age, had had a fight with his girlfriend and he took her little pit bull puppy, eight weeks of age, and set this puppy on fire,” Wilkinson said. “He put a T-shirt on it, put gasoline all over it and set it on fire.”

These stories are not uncommon in the 21 years Wilkinson has worked rehabilitating and adopting out animals to families wanting a pet. But despite animals with similar abusive experiences coming to her shelter in need of medical care, she believes in the goodness of people.

“We get very, very frustrated but we also want to believe in people and give them a chance and hope that they can change,” Wilkinson said. “So we (Pawmetto Lifeline) are firmly committed to the five years.”

Still, some employees, like Floor Manager Leon Panoo, support a lifetime ban on pet ownership for those who abuse animals. Panoo is in his sixth year at Pawmetto Lifeline and he’s the go-to-guy for everything that happens on the floor of the adoption center. Those six happy years helping animals find their homes are filled with tales of injured pets being abandoned at the shelter.

 “My first year here, I came to work and there was a boxer tied to the front door with her eye hanging out,” Panoo said. “I’ve come and pulled up at the front before and I thought there was a bunch of donations because there was a blue tarp over this thing… and then I heard whimpering and I opened it up and the dog was way to big to be in this tiny, tiny thing.”

The federal bill would help states that do not have the resources to prosecute every animal abuse case by providing federal agents and funding to take it to the court. All 50 states have laws making it a crime to abuse animals.