Just days after Hawaii County assumed responsibility for the animal control contract from the Hawaii Rainbow Rangers, Hawaii Police Department Chief Paul Ferreira met with the County Council to explain the rationale for the decision and to provide clarity for animal control’s immediate future on the Big Island.
HPD terminated the animal control contract with the Hawaii Rainbow Rangers (HRR) effective July 1 following a June 21 meeting attended by Ferreira, Mayor Mitch Roth, signatory to the animal control contract Mary Rose Krijgsman and HRR’s chief operations officer Lev Yarborough and board member Lanny Sinkin, as well as other officials from the county.
“They came to the meeting totally unprepared; they had no plan,” Ferreira said Tuesday. “I explained to Mary Rose I was really disappointed. They came to the meeting totally unprepared. The recovery plan they produced was two weeks later, after the decision (to terminate the contract) was already made.”
This meeting appears to have been the final straw among a litany of concerns held by HPD. In particular, Ferreira noted the months-long delay to transition into full services, facilities not kept up to standard, outstanding reports including a financial report and problems retaining staff as worries his department already had with HRR.
Councilmembers echoed these concerns.
“I’ve never had so many calls of complaints about any program,” said South Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung. “We get contacted via email, mass emails about different projects, initiatives, legislation. But on a program of the county, never have I received so many complaints. I’m not trying to put the contractor down, but it’s a fact.”
After terminating HRR’s contract, Hawaii County secured 89-day contracts with Regina Serrano as the temporary director and three animal control officers — one in Kona, Waimea and Keaau — to respond to urgent calls. The Kona facility remains in county hands. HPD is working on arranging a lease at the current Waimea shelter owned by Parker Ranch and looking into leasing Bar-King Dog Kennel in Keaau. The shelters in Waimea and at Kipimana Street in Keaau are currently leased by HRR, who are assisting HPD with care of the animals and facilities for 30 days.
In addition, the Department of Public Works has been asked to continue assisting in the removal of animals from roadways, as they have been doing since HRR took over the contract. Ferreira did make special note of the support HPD has received from organizations around the island.
“I’m amazed at the amount of support that we have gotten from all of the advocate groups asking, ‘Can we help?’”
A group of veterinarians put together by Kohala Councilman Tim Richards, who is a veterinarian himself, has volunteered to step in for the short term to attend to medical issues as they arise. While inspecting the facilities with HPD, Richards mentioned there were no glaring medical needs for any animals. Richards also made special mention of the staff members he witnessed at shelters while inspecting animal control facilities in late June.
“I saw some animal handling that I thought, ‘This is not something that can necessarily be trained. This is something that’s inherent,’” he said. “We have some stuff to work with… I was really impressed.”
Moving forward, the future of animal control on the Big Island appears to be a completely open-ended question. Ferreira intends to use the 89-day transition period to form a more comprehensive plan for best practices the county should take.
“How do we take on the next animal control contract? Do we contract the entire thing out? Should we have personnel in the county taking over some of the issues? The director, animal control officers: should that fold into the county or should it be a vendor issue? Should we stick with one vendor across the island or should we look at doing multiple vendors if we have a director in place somewhere else? Those are all issues that we will be discussing and we’ll be looking at what will be the best way going forward.”
Making these decisions will be a combined effort between HPD, county finance and the mayor’s office. A financial audit will be conducted as well, Ferreira said.
“Mr. (Kaneali’i)-Kleinfelder asked regarding the outstanding reports: one of them is a financial report we’re still waiting on. We’re getting the same inquiries that these individuals have not been paid,” said Ferreira. “We also have gotten the emails that Mary Rose had put in moneys from her own pocket to move the contract forward. We’re asking for validation; if we owe her money or we owe a vendor money, we will see through our obligations. But again, because it’s public funds, I’m not just going to approve of the expenditure unless I see documentation stating what and where it is.”
HPD is also looking into picking up additional 89-day contracts for animal control officers and shelter staff. Once adequate staffing levels are in place, HPD will release new numbers where animal control can be reached in lieu of the current police non-emergency line.
Nonprofit organizations looking to help with the county’s transition are encouraged to contact HPD at firstname.lastname@example.org. Residents with concerns can contact the HPD non-emergency line at (808) 935-3311.