Hawaii Rainbow Rangers provides update on animal control contract

  • ”Sundance,” a dog available for adoption, was recently featured on the Hawaii Rainbow Rangers Facebook page.

Hawaii Rainbow Rangers will provide all animal control services starting Nov. 1 as the nonprofit works toward full staffing and sheltering capabilities, the organization’s leaders recently told Hawaii County Council members.

The Oct. 6 discussion with the Hawaii Rainbow Rangers — the Big Island’s new animal control vendor — resulted in a wealth of information being passed to members of the Council Committee on Public Safety. HRR leaders Mary Rose Krijgsman and Sylvia Dolena addressed concerns about interim services, which HRR began performing Aug. 1 after being awarded the $1.59 million annual contract, and plans to transition into full services in November.

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Citing a lack of funding and resources, Dolena painted a picture of an organization overwhelmed in the early stages of its contract, despite assistance with the transition from the Hawaii Police Department. According to a press release distributed after the meeting, the organization received an average of 100 calls daily for “stray, nuisance, lost and injured animals, including officer assistance requests.”

“There is a huge gap in what we can deliver, are funded to deliver and allowed to deliver and what the public expects,” Dolena told the committee. “For the interim services, the amount of calls that we have been getting far exceeded our expectation.”

She highlighted the approximately month and a half before funding started during the interim contract — invoices for the previous month are paid by the county midway through the following month, according to Dolena — as well as barriers to entry, including only one established county-owned shelter, as the primary sources of struggle.

Personal investments from leadership, donations from throughout the county and help from volunteers have allowed HRR to bridge the gap until full-services funding arrives. HRR’s presentation called attention to the more than $140,000 in investments and donations in addition to an estimated $38,000 saved with volunteer work.

Council members Aaron Chung and Ashley Kierkiewicz each had back-and-forth interactions with HRR’s leadership, expressing concern in their questions following Dolena’s presentation.

“You prefaced everything, you started off your presentation by saying the differences in the funding,” Chung said. “I just want to make sure you can do what you are tasked to do under the contract.”

“Can we do it? Yes,” Dolena responded. “It’s not an issue of capability; it’s an issue of capacity.”

Kierkiewicz followed with wondering whether changes needed to be made to the animal control contract.

“You signed nearly a 200-page agreement with the county that identified your budget, the transition plan, expected scope of work,” she said. “But what I’m hearing now, now that you guys are in the thick of work, that there might need to be some adjustments to the budget and the scope. Is that what I’m hearing?”

Dolena said the budget for interim services — $94,000 per month, compared to the previous vendor’s approximately $175,000 per month to provide full services — is “very much underfunded” for the amount of calls received, what the public expects and the organization is able to deliver. She made particular note in her introduction of the initial 45 days of self-funding. Despite this, she insisted HRR would ultimately be able to uphold its end of the contract as written.

“When we come into full services, knowing that everyone has a 10% decrease across the board, we believe that will be sufficient for the normal full-service operations written in the contract,” she said.

A major source of assistance to HRR to establish a well-functioning animal control program moving forward will come from the mainland: Best Friends Animal Society, a nonprofit no-kill animal sanctuary based in Utah, has agreed to help.

The biggest point of support supplied by BFAS comes from Nick Lippincott, a special programs coordinator and training officer who brings nearly two decades of experience in Florida and Washington, D.C. Lippincott will be fully funded by BFAS for 12 months to implement programs necessary for HRR’s success on the island.

“My being here provides a team of over 800 individuals with a lifetime of experience in data and programs already in place,” said Lippincott. “With that level of support from Best Friends, mostly operationally and program based, and yes, funding and assistance when available, that is going to really increase the curve of what’s able to be provided by HRR and its partners right out of the gate and as we transition through this year and after this year.”

Joining Lippincott at some point will be another fully funded representative from BFAS who will spend two months helping establish HRR’s trap, neuter and return program.

Lippincott updated the council with the shared goals of HRR and BFAS: a 90% live release rate; reaching a national standard for data and tracking analytics; decreasing calls for service and response time; and decreasing the population of homeless pets.

“One of the big goals that we’ve seen upfront that we have to facilitate, both to show the public that we are working to solve the pet population issue very blatantly and upfront as well as set up a system for reducing that population, is working at a very regular basis of getting these animals off island,” said Lippincott. “Whether that be to neighboring islands, to partner shelters and coalitions, if not to the mainland, through transport.”

Though HRR is to assume full animal control services Nov. 1, there will initially be a lack of shelter space as the nonprofit continues to work out of the county-owned shelter in Kailua-Kona.

“We do hope to have, by Nov. 30, two fully operational shelters and then areas where we can provide satellite services — north county and south county,” Dolena said.

An increase to between 38 and 40 staff members is also expected in November, as well as the formation of a full leadership team. Dolena, Krigjsman and Lippincott are currently operating as HRR’s leadership team, though multiple additional community members are expected to join soon.

Krijgsman appealed to the public, stating the organization’s success will ultimately be a group effort from all corners of the island.

“Our mission is to address and implement ways to control animal overpopulation, and we need your help,” Krijgsman said. “We need everybody’s help.”

Hawaii Rainbow Rangers can be reached at 666-9589 regarding complaints and requests for animal services. Phones will be staffed from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Messages left will be responded to as soon as possible, inclusive of those concerning lost pets.

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To make an appointment for adoptions or to view current shelter pets, visit www.HIRangers.org.

Email Tom Linder at tlinder@westhawaiitoday.com.

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