Hawaii Rainbow Rangers now officially providing animal control services for county

  • Courtesy photo Hawaii Rainbow Rangers had 15 animal control officers receive their badges on May 7 in Hilo.

The changeover to a new animal control provider was always going to be a stark transition.

Nine months after being awarded the contract, Hawaii Rainbow Rangers has finally transitioned into conducting full animal control services in Hawaii County. As of May 7, the organization has a full staff of 15 badged animal control officers and three shelters on the Big Island, including a newly opened Waimea location.

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The transition into full services has not been without bumps in the road. Evidence of this includes a stretched timeline — originally, interim services were to last 90 days — and funding concerns broached early by leaders. Hawaii Rainbow Rangers will now receive just less than $164,000 per month from the county for full services, compared to $94,000 monthly for interim services.

It has been more than seven months since Hawaii Rainbow Rangers last addressed the Hawaii County Council on Oct. 6, 2020. During that meeting, four primary goals were shared by the organization’s leaders, Mary Rose Krijgsman, Sylvia Dolena and Nick Lippincott: maintain a 90% live release rate, reach a national standard for data and tracking analytics, decrease calls for service and response time and decrease the population of homeless pets.

Thus far, Hawaii Rainbow Rangers has had success reaching the first two goals. Since October, monthly totals outlining animal intake, outcomes, current population and cases have been released. In six of the past seven months, the live release rate of animals received by Hawaii Rainbow Rangers tops 90%.

The status of the final two goals, however, remains uncertain.

A drastic drop in animals received by the animal control provider — average monthly intakes are about 30% of totals reported in the past two years — has raised concerns. A persistent source of worry was the shuttering of night-drop kennels leading to such a sharp reduction.

“The night drops are essential for the Good Samaritan,” said Kohala Animal Relocation and Education Service president Debbie Cravatta. “We have people on the Hamakua Coast every day who see animals running the highway. People want to help; they want to get the dog off the road, but then they can’t bring it anywhere.”

Lippincott, Hawaii Rainbow Rangers’ director of operations, pointed to two primary reasons as to why the number of animals taken in is lower than in past years.

“One is not being at full staff, not being at full services; there are programs and capabilities that were restricted,” he said. “That’s not as big a part of it as the collaborative. Those animals come in, but now we have tools in place that help to provide diversion.”

Diversion, he clarified, isn’t simply turning animals away. Hawaii Rainbow Rangers directs to its various coalition organizations those animals not required by law to be taken in by animal control.

“We’re the only open admission shelter on the island; nobody else is allowed to take in strays,” Lippincott said. “We’ve collaborated with Hawaii Island Humane Society, with Aloha Ilio, with these other groups. There’s also XYZ options that may provide a better place out of the gate to get them into a home faster and keep space available for those more in-need animals that have nowhere else to go.”

Collaborating shelters also have become transfer resources once animals passed the county-mandated hold period. Hawaii Island Humane Society, for example, takes in transfers from Hawaii Rainbow Rangers on a weekly basis; as of Saturday, it had transferred 228 dogs and cats from Hawaii Rainbow Rangers since October. Having two large-capacity sheltering organizations is unprecedented for the Big Island, according to the humane society’s chief operating officer Lauren Nickerson.

“We have HIHS that’s a private, limited-admission shelter, and then you have HRR that’s the county, municipal animal control shelter,” she said. “We’ve actually effectively built a brand new resource and a community that didn’t exist.”

Still, concerns about the low intake totals persist.

Communication issues with the public have been another significant point of concern in the early months of Hawaii Rainbow Rangers’ contract. Complaints often cited a lack of ability to get in contact with the organization’s dispatch. Lippincott acknowledged that Hawaii Rainbow Rangers is aware of these complaints, and has implemented a new system in for its call center communications within the past two weeks to address them. The previous system proved to be ill-fitted for its smaller dispatch, according to Lippincott.

“We moved over to Microsoft Teams as our main provider for call center communications,” he said. “We’ve already seen a drastic improvement.”

As an organization, Hawaii Rainbow Rangers’ structure has shifted since the contract’s beginning. Since addressing the county council, Krijgsman and Dolena have, by and large, returned to their own organizations — Rainbow Friends Animal Sanctuary and Aloha Animal Advocates, respectively — leaving Lippincott and deputy director of operations Gina Burrows in charge of day-to-day operations. Krijgsman still remains on the leadership team designed as oversight for Hawaii Rainbow Rangers.

Two original partner organizations — KARES and Aloha Animal Advocates — no longer partner with Hawaii Rainbow Rangers. Though Aloha Animal Advocates still maintains a transfer program with the organization, KARES does not. KARES made a public split from Hawaii Rainbow Rangers with a social media post in March, citing concerns about communication and transparency within the organization.

“One of the biggest things was them not listening to the needs of the other animal rescue groups (or) taking our input to heart,” Cravatta said. “We should be working together with them, not under them.”

“Internally, there might have been factors like that that have come into play,” Lippincott said in response. “They ultimately decided that their mission and goals could be achieved without direct relation to HRR. We support them 100% in their continued lifesaving endeavors.”

Lippincott insists the initial partnerships with these organizations were crucial to setting up Hawaii Rainbow Rangers, and their continuing work remains beneficial toward achieving shared goals on the island.

“There’s strife and there’s sometimes some challenges with other groups; however, it can’t be understated what that has shown to be possible for the animals,” he added. “We can’t do that without groups around the island helping us.”

While moving into full services, some of Hawaii Rainbow Rangers’ priorities have been put on hold. Progress toward a satellite shelter in Ocean View remains delayed, and the county recently elected not to run a pilot program to stabilize the population of cat colonies at the Kealakehe and Keaau transfer stations. The Hawaii Police Department clarified that this decision only affects operations as part Hawaii Rainbow Rangers’ contract; individuals or organizations will not be prohibited from providing food and water for cats at those locations.

“If other private entities are going to be running that, as long as it doesn’t conflict with whatever operations (at the transfer station),” said HPD Assistant Chief Samuel Jelsma. “Our only concern at the present is with Hawaii Rainbow Rangers because they’re working directly under the police department contract.”

Moving forward, decreasing the population of homeless pets remains a primary focus. Spay/neuter totals have been encouraging: in interim services, Hawaii Rainbow Rangers and its partner clinics performed more than 3,200 sterilizations since October.

Best Friends Animal Society, a nonprofit no-kill animal sanctuary based in Utah, originally funded Lippincott for 12 months on the Big Island. This timeline appears to be extended, as the society looks to maintain a long-term relationship with Hawaii Rainbow Rangers.

“I’m not going to be leaving in September, and my team is not going to be leaving come September,” Lippincott said. “Our team will stay and continue to work very directly with HRR. It may change over time, but until we can guarantee that we have those key things in place and we have good people to step into, oversee and take the helm, we’re going to continue.”

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Hawaii Rainbow Rangers can be reached at 808-666-9589 regarding complaints and requests for services. For information about adoptions or programs and services, visit www.hipets.org.

Email Tom Linder at tlinder@westhawaiitoday.com.

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