Animal Control Services criticized


Dozens of people turned out Tuesday to voice their frustrations with Hawaii County’s Animal Control Services, only for a planned discussion about those operations to be postponed.

The Hawaii Police Department was scheduled to make a 30-minute presentation Tuesday to the County Council Committee on Parks and Recreation and Public Safety about the current and future plans for Animal Control.


But after nearly an hour of aggrieved testimony about the subject, Hamakua Councilwoman Heather Kimball — who proposed the discussion —moved to postpone it until Oct. 18 following a request from HPD, which she said “has some projects they’re hoping to have more information about” in two weeks.

In their testimony, attendees criticized the police department’s management of stray and feral animals, claiming it has led to the unnecessary deaths of thousands of dogs and cats.

Lori Johnson — who authored an online petition demanding transparency regarding HPD’s practices that has received over 30,000 signatures since being posted in July — directly called for an independent audit of the department and a full accounting of its Animal Control budget.

But most testimony raised objections with how HPD handles animals. Honokaa resident Ron Johnson said HPD regularly turns away sick or injured pets and keeps shelters closed to the public, which violates standards set by the National Association of Animal Care and Control.

“This is a way to keep intake numbers artificially low … without doing much work,” he said, adding that HPD warns away pet owners by telling them their sick or injured pet will be euthanized if it is brought in.

But Animal Control Director Regina Serrano told the Tribune-Herald after Tuesday’s meeting that county shelters are open to the public by appointment only, and typically they keep animals well beyond the 48 hours required by law. The average animal is held for 45 days, she said.

Ron Johnson also said HPD does not post notifications about stray animals in a timely fashion, and relies on third-party website PetcoLove, which he called “cumbersome.”

“How do you know that animal control hasn’t killed the pet you lost?” he said.

Serrano said that the police department does not automatically euthanize animals, but allows them to be medically assessed by partner agencies. For example, she said, a dog was found last weekend with the flesh on one leg stripped away, exposing the bone. That dog was transferred to partner organizations for an amputation and is currently awaiting adoption at that organization.

Serrano conceded that Animal Control is operating with a “skeleton crew,” saying the division’s budget has openings for 37 positions, not all of which are filled and some of which are temporarily occupied by HPD officers. She added that, after paying for salaries and wages, the Animal Control budget only has about $1 million annually for actual operations.

Serrano said HPD is working on a pair of projects it will present at the Oct. 18 meeting. One is a budgetary proposal for a spay and neuter program, which has been requested by members of the public, she said.

“Right now, there is no requirement under the law for the county to provide spay and neuter services,” police Maj. Aimee Wana told the Tribune-Herald after the meeting, adding that there are several free spay and neuter clinics on the island. “But people got used to (previous animal control agency) Hawaii Island Humane Society providing that.”

The other project is an eventual expansion of the county’s Animal Control facilities. Serrano said that both the East and West Hawaii facilities are at close to maximum capacity. Back in February, the County Council approved an HPD request for $2 million to purchase a kennel facility in Puna.

Serrano said she looks forward on Oct. 18 to providing further clarification about Animal Control’s future plans and the restrictions under which it operates.

Email Michael Brestovansky at

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