Many people on Big Island are unhappy with the current state of animal control, and several stories of stray, neglected, and aggressive animals are shared widely throughout social media. The Hawai’i County Animal Shelter and other animal control facilities are in a sad state of disrepair.
After taking over animal control services in July 2021 as part of a pilot program, the Hawai’i Police Department has received numerous complaints about its subpar performance. Similarly, an affordable spay/neuter initiative for the island is required. Many people have spoken out at recent Hawaii County Council meetings, detailing the issues and calling for reform.
At its regular meeting on Wednesday, the Council voted to establish the Hawai’i County Animal Control and Protection Agency during the second and final reading of Bill 22. The Council also passed a resolution to fund the new animal control agency with $1.5 million and establish 45 new permanent civil service positions. These workers include the administrator, dispatchers, shelter managers, animal control officers, and kennel technicians who answer calls and care for the shelter’s animals and infrastructure.
The Police Department’s pilot program funds these positions, but the County has filled them with temporary employees. The goal is that the availability of permanent posts will encourage more people to apply, resulting in a larger pool of qualified candidates from whom to select.
The new organization will protect animals per state and county laws and care for animals in impound. The measure also includes amendments to Chapters 2 and 4 of the Hawai’i County Code required for the new agency to take effect.
The primary functions of the new agency:
- Operating county pounds
- Examining issues with and proposing updates to existing county animal control ordinances
- Enforcing County and state animal control laws
- Investigating animal cruelty and neglect cases
The organization will also have a particular dispatch line for calls related to animal control. With an annual operating budget of $3.4 million, the new agency will be maintained under the pilot program. An amendment to Bill 22 was passed on Wednesday that will force the agency to report to the Council twice yearly so that the public is kept up-to-date on its activities.
“If there was a question in the community about the administration or the Council’s commitment to our animal community, I think this is a strong testament that we support caring for our furry creature friends,” Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz said.
Dogs seized under the County’s dangerous dog statute, and other dogs and cats must be fed and housed by the County by Hawai’i County Code and state law. Although the Hawai’i Island Humane Society used to run spay/neuter programs and take in stray animals, these services are no longer necessary. Nonprofits like the Humane Society are active in this area.
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Although the Hawai’i Island Humane Society had previously been hired to handle animal control duties, they decided not to submit a proposal when the contract was renewed in 2020. The Hawaii Rainbow Rangers were expected to take up the contract in November 2020 but didn’t until April 2021.
The agreement was canceled in June of that year since the company failed to deliver as promised. About a month later, the Police Department assumed over. As a next step, the agency should hire an administrator and more full-time workers, fix the East HHawai’ianimal control facility, build a new facility in West Hawai’i and create an advisory committee or task force to figure out how to address the concerns of the local community best.
Lee Lord, the administrator of Hawai’iCounty, called it a “body in motion.”The County has begun working to put in place all of the required parts. Lord expressed optimism that it may be operational by July, with the task force following soon after.
As part of many capital improvement projects across the island, including providing $2 million for animal control facilities, the Council also approved Bill 21, which permits the issue of up to $127.5 million in general obligation bonds.
The Council recognizes that the new organization is unlikely to address all the problems associated with animal control on the Big Island. Still, it is the preferred course of action.
“This is one of the big community asks to get this program rolling and there’s some concern about the fiscal impact, but at the same time this is such a huge issue in our community on all sides,” Councilman Matt Kaneali’i-Kleinfelder said. “It’s big. It’s a lot to chew on, but I think it’s going to do a lot for our community.”
Heather Kimball, chair of the Council, expressed her delight at reaching this milestone in forming the new agency. She reaffirmed the Council’s commitment to ongoing collaboration with the local community on animal control matters.
On Wednesday, the Council, among other things:
- Approved Resolution 57-23 calls on the Hawaii State Legislature to permanently exempt birth attendants from state licensing requirements and to increase the eligibility criteria for midwifery licensing. The resolution urges the Senate to approve Senate Bill 1047, identical to House Bill 955.
- Waipio Valley Lookout will be protected, preserved, and restored thanks to a $61,056 stewardship grant from the Public Access, Open Space, and Natural Resources Preservation Maintenance Fund approved by Resolution 69-23.
- Approved Resolution 73 reaffirms the County’s dedication to recycling local garbage into climate-friendly products like carbon-negative cement, biochar, green hydrogen, and reclaimed water in pursuit of a zero-waste society.
- Bill 230, which would create the Downtown Hilo Business Improvement District, had its first reading tabled until the April 5 Council meeting. The proposed Downtown Hilo Improvement District would be established to raise money for new and upgraded public safety, sanitation, landscaping, and maintenance facilities.
- Bill 19, which will do away with an antiquated and divisive provision of county code governing public dance halls, has passed its second and final reading.
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