Park signs will specify no feeding of animals
: While walking around Magic Island recently, I noticed a couple feeding the pigeons. I pointed out that there was a sign nearby that stated that feeding the birds was against the law. I realize the Honolulu Police Department has more important things to do than discipline bird feeders, but the same couple was back again the next week in another location. If there isn't any enforcement, the violations will continue. Obviously, we have too many pigeons and too many feral cats. Many, many people feed the feral cats on Magic Island. This needs to be addressed. If feeding pigeons is against the law, certainly feeding feral cats should be also. What can be done?
Answer: This is one of those issues that triggers very emotional debate, as has been reported many times over the years.
As you noted, there are many people who feed the cats at Magic Island, where there isn't a sign prohibiting such activity. But that is about to change soon, a move that's sure to generate a howl among cat lovers.
While many people are bothered by health and sanitary conditions associated with feral cats in parks and other areas, there are others who believe the cats can't simply be left to fend for themselves. Many advocates believe a trap/neuter/release program is a humane way of dealing with the overpopulation of feral cats. Once the neutered cats are released back into the wild -- in many cases, areas like Magic Island -- there are volunteers who feed them.
But health and parks officials are opposed to the feeding.
The problem, according to Dana Takahara-Dias, the deputy parks director, is that such activities pose health, welfare and safety concerns in the parks because of "increased feces, mites, fleas and potential diseases."
She noted that Kualoa Beach Park had a serious feral cat problem several years ago, with staff counting more than 200 cats at "feeding time."
"Through community support and the partnership with several local veterinarians along with the Hawaiian Humane Society, a spay and neutering program of the feral cats at Kualoa was conducted to address this growing concern," she said.
Meanwhile, under the rules and regulations of the city Department of Parks and Recreation, it is unlawful to "feed any animal or bird when signs are posted prohibiting such feeding."
The department has two signs addressing the subject -- one prohibiting feeding birds and the other prohibiting the feeding of animals in general, Takahara-Dias said.
There are no signs specifically prohibiting the feeding of cats.
Signs that prohibit feeding birds are posted at Ala Wai Neighborhood Park, Ala Wai Community Gardens, Moiliili Triangle Park, Queen's Surf Beach, Sans Souci Beach, Kapiolani Park, Kuhio Park, Ala Moana Beach Park and Magic Island, Blaisdell Park, Makaha Beach Park and Kaelepulu Mini Park.
Signs that prohibit feeding animals are posted at Sandy Beach Park, Ala Wai Bike Path, Ala Wai Promenade, Ala Wai Community Park, Ala Wai Community Gardens and Blaisdell Park and Makaha Beach Park.
After we asked why only certain parks had one of the two signs, parks officials decided there needed to be a more consistent policy.
"Effectively immediately, we will be adding the feeding of animals on our standard parks' signs," Takahara-Dias told us on Sept. 21. "It will be added to all our parks' signs."
She said no public hearing is required to post the additional signs because it involves a current park rule, not a new one.
It will take time to install the signs at all city parks, but she said the job would be made a priority.
"We will start first with Kapiolani Park, Ala Moana Park (including Magic Island) and Waialae Beach Park, where it seems the concern is more prevalent," she said. "It might take us awhile, but we will get to all of them."
The new and revised signs will not make volunteers who feed the stray cats happy, she acknowledged, but said she hopes the postings will improve the situation.
However, again, as you noted, enforcement is another matter.
Despite the fact that "it is a park rule" that birds and/or animals in general not be fed, "enforcement becomes an issue," Takahara-Dias agreed. The parks department does not have any enforcement powers.
"If you do see parks staff on the grounds, we will not turn our heads (if you point out a violation)," she said. "We will do our part, but it would be best to call HPD."
Additionally, the "public's cooperation and assistance" in abiding by park rules would be appreciated, to make the parks safe and clean for all park users to enjoy, she said.
Police are not going to monitor the "no feeding" prohibition in the parks, because it's a matter of prioritizing duties, noted Capt. Frank Fujii, spokesman for the Honolulu Police Department. So, this will boil down to officers responding to complaints and being there to witness the violation.
The problem is, "By the time we get there, the people may be gone," he said.
Fujii added that "the feral cat problem is a community problem" -- not necessarily a police enforcement problem.
While police would enforce violations of the posted signs, the state Department of Health's Vector Control Branch also could step in if there are vector problems.
Vector Control inspectors work to prevent vector-borne diseases through inspections, education, enforcement and surveillance, explained Mark Leong, a vector control inspector.
If education and written notices fail to abate a cat-related problem in a city park, then a field citation may be issued to the person feeding the cats or to the Parks Department, he said.
A field citation is a settlement agreement issued in place of stiffer penalties that may be assessed in a formal violation, Leong said.
"Although formal violations and fines have been issued in response to cat-related odor and vector problems at Kakaako Waterfront Park (a state park) and on residential premises on Oahu, no recent field citations have been issued since the citation process has not, yet, been implemented," he said.
Field citation forms and procedures are being finalized, Leong said.
Meanwhile, the state Parks Division is aware of "a conflict" between cat lovers who tend to animals in state parks and those who do not, said Karen Motosue, assistant administrator for state parks. But, while there are signs saying "no animals allowed," except service dogs for the disabled, there currently is no policy or signs prohibiting the feeding of animals in state parks, she said.
We were not able to reach the Hawaii Cat Foundation to get a comment, nor to get a response from the Hawaiian Humane Society before deadline.
More on cats
See tomorrow's Kokua Line for two other questions dealing with cats.
See the Columnists
section for some past articles.
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