The rain came down as the signs went up.
Saturday’s steady drizzle didn’t deter protesters from hoisting their poster board messages as they paced beside Collins Park in Conway.
“We wanted to make that point,” said Joan Brooks of Myrtle Beach. “We said, ‘If it’s raining, it doesn’t matter.’”
The reason for the demonstration is the group’s frustration with Pet Safari, the nearby business owned by Renee James.
Earlier this month, Horry County police seized 146 dogs from James’ home on Secondary Highway 65. Officers described the dogs as having matted coats and minor wounds. James later released custody of the animals, and many of them are being adopted through area rescues.
But some local animal advocates contend that’s not enough.
“It just outraged too many people,” Brooks said. “We decided to take a stand.”
Demonstrators held signs that bore messages such as “Don’t shop adopt” and “Horry County stop animal abuse.” There were about as many media members as protesters when the event began at 11 a.m., but the group swelled to about 40 as the rain relented.
“That was very good under the circumstances,” said Myrtle Beach’s Ann Taylor, who helped organize the event. “Everybody had signs. Everybody was upbeat. We had a great response from the cars passing, blowing horns and [giving] thumbs up. We thought it went great.”
Protesters said James should stop selling dogs at her store and they plan to speak with state and local officials about strengthening animal care regulations.
“Something has to be done,” said Elaine Tirmenstein, who runs the Angel Dog Acres rescue in Loris. “Not just in regards to the puppy mills in the area and across the world, but just the general welfare of the animals. South Carolina falls way behind in things that can be done. A lot of places are becoming no-kill. There’s mandatory spay and neuter. There are many things that can be done to prevent unwanted animals.”
James has said that after this run-in with the law she will no longer raise dogs. She could not be reached for comment Saturday afternoon.
Protesters want her to use the store to encourage the adoption of rescue animals.
“If she were to operate in a capacity that was providing caring, loving homes for animals, that would be different,” Tirmenstein said. “But to just have a puppy mill and breed puppies for profit, that’s not right. That’s what we want stopped.”
Some demonstrators said they are forming an organization to advocate for tougher animal care policies. They plan to review legislation from other states and communities and work with local leaders on developing new rules here.
“South Carolina and of course Horry County likewise are both so lax,” Taylor said. “It’s just an open door for more dog breeders and dog fighting situations. Because there is so little oversight. … There’s nobody patrolling any of this, inspecting any of it.”
Many of the protesters know each other through volunteering with local animal rescues. Although the group is in the fledgling stage, supporters insist city and county officials can expect to hear from them. No one should be surprised to see them marching down public sidewalks, either.
“This is not the end of seeing us out here,” Brooks said. “We’ll be back.”