Wednesday, September 22, 1999

City & County of Honolulu

Judges would discipline
bad dogs, owners under
proposed city bill

By Pat Omandam


The City Council today was to unleash a bill that empowers a District Court judge to decide whether a dog is dangerous.

The measure, an updated version of an earlier city bill on vicious dogs to be sent to committee, also would require the owner to comply with various regulations.

If those aren't followed, the owner faces maximum penalties of up to $2,000 and a year in jail.

"This puts the owners of dogs on notice that they need to be responsible pet owners," said City Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura.

Yoshimura said Bill 73 provides residents with peace of mind that their neighborhoods will be safe. While there is an impression by some dog owners that this bill unfairly targets dogs, that is not the Council's goal, he said.

"We don't want to punish animals," Yoshimura said. "We just want to make sure that their owners are responsible. We share this community with our neighbors and friends, and we need to assure them that they will be safe."

Eve Holt of the Hawaiian Humane Society said the bill has been carefully drafted with community input so it not only addresses public safety but protects the animals as well. On Oahu, the society receives about 150 complaints a year about dog bites, with a few serious cases, she said.

Under the previous bill, which stalled in a Council committee earlier this year, the society's animal control officers were to be responsible for deciding if a dog was considered vicious. In the new bill, the court system makes the determination whether a dog is dangerous.

"Even a dog will have his day in court," Yoshimura joked.

The other big change is that the definition of a dangerous dog is much clearer in the new bill, leaving less room for interpretation. According to the measure, a "dangerous dog" means any dog that, unprovoked, attacks a person or domestic animal, causing bodily injury to the person or serious injury or death to a domestic animal. It also is defined as a dog, unprovoked, that behaves in a manner that a reasonable person would believe poses an imminent threat of bodily injury to one or more persons or serious injury or death to domestic animals.

The breed of a dog will not be considered in determining whether it is dangerous. Holt added that dogs who attack to protect their property or owner would not fall under this proposed ordinance.

"In this new bill, if a dog attacks someone, but that attack is provoked, someone comes onto their property or they're attacking to protect their owner, this bill protects animals in that sort of situation," she said.

If determined a dangerous dog, the court will require its owner to register the dog. The owner must then report any changes in address or ownership; any further instances of a dog attack upon a person or animal; any lawsuits filed as a result of an attack; or the death of the dog.

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