A Maui County Council committee unanimously recommended approval Thursday of a revision of the county's animal control ordinances.
The measure as approved by the council's Housing, Human Services and Transportation Committee maintains discretion for animal control officers to determine whether a dog is "dangerous," and it expands the responsibilities of people to treat animals humanely.
Currently, the Maui County Code requires owners of animals to treat them in a "humane manner."
The bill adds penalties to that. The measure provides that owners of pet animals, such as dogs and cats, would be subject to penalties as provided in the state charge of cruelty to animals in the second degree, a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail.
The measure defines "pet animals" as dogs, cats, domesticated rabbits, guinea pigs, a domesticated pig or caged birds that are not bred for consumption.
The bill provides that the owners of all other animals should treat them in a humane manner or face a fine of no more than $1,000 and jail for no more than 30 days.
In written testimony, Aimee Anderson, a founding board member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and a former Maui Humane Society animal control officer, said the bill strengthens Maui's animal control ordinances by providing that a violation of a "humane manner" provision would be a "jailable offense," and not a fine-only offense.
Currently, the "humane manner" provision carries a minimum penalty of $50 up to a maximum of $500, Anderson said. Instead, the bill would increase the penalty to a fine of not more than $1,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 30 days.
Currently, only "pet animals" as defined by Hawaii's animal cruelty law are subject to protection from animal neglect, she said, but livestock and other animals not defined as a "pet" receive no such neglect protection. They do have protection under the Maui County Code, but it carries a fine only, no jail time.
Anderson said that when she was an animal control officer, there were cases in which an animal owner would be cited for violating the "humane manner" provision for a nonpet animal.
"The owner would go to court, receive a fine and continue to violate the ordinance," she said. "This 'revolving door' scenario did nothing to resolve the neglect issue because the courts had no authority to impose any type or probationary requirements. They could only fine the offender."
The threat of jail time would compel owners of animals to treat them more humanely, she said.
Jocelyn Bouchard, chief executive officer of the Maui Humane Society, also expressed support for the bill's expansion of humane treatment to nonpet animals. Under the bill, inhumane treatment can include not properly feeding animals or not providing them adequate shelter.
Also, the bill provides that an animal control officer may designate a dog as dangerous if it, among other things, poses a threat of serious injury or death to a threatened or endangered animal, she said.
The additional language would protect wildlife from dogs, she said, citing a Sept. 30, 2009, incident in which dogs killed 15 wedge-tailed shearwaters in a Kihei seabird colony near Kamaole Beach Park III. A 16th bird's wing was so badly broken that it needed to be euthanized.
Under the bill, such dogs could be determined to be dangerous.
In testimony before the council committee, Maui Humane Society animal control officers asked that the bill's language that they "shall" designate dogs dangerous under four provisions be changed to "may."
Committee members agreed to change the word from "shall" to "may," thereby giving animal control officers discretion whether to designate a dog as being dangerous. A dog's breed would not be considered when making the determination of whether a dog is dangerous.
Under the bill, the owner of a dog deemed as being dangerous would have 10 days to submit a written request for a hearing to dispute the designation.
The owner of a dog designated as dangerous would need to submit to numerous conditions of ownership, including requirements to confine the dog indoors or outdoors, have the dog wear a muzzle when in a truck bed, the posting of a "beware of dog" sign on the property where the dog is kept, the injection of a microchip identifying the dog as dangerous, the spaying or neutering of the pet and the procurement of liability insurance of no less than $50,000.
Also, a court may order that a dangerous dog be seized, impounded or euthanized if the owner fails to comply with restrictions and if the court believes the dog presents "a continuing threat of injury or harm to human beings or animals."
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.