COURTESY KAUAI HUMANE SOCIETY
An Airedale mix, above, one of 17 dogs found nearly starved to death at an Anahola property in December, was nursed back to health by members of the Kauai Humane Society. CLICK FOR LARGE
Ruling on dog custody upsets Humane Society
PUHI, Kauai » Despite protests by the Kauai Humane Society, an Anahola man accused of leaving his dogs to die had his 17 surviving dogs released yesterday to a friend.
Steven A. Cummings has pleaded not guilty to 20 counts of animal cruelty and another 20 counts of animal desertion, but a judge has ordered the Humane Society to turn over the 17 dogs to Cummings' friend and fellow pig hunter, Brian Taniguchi of Kapaa.
The judge ruled last week that Taniguchi's property was suitable for the care of the dogs, which were found barely alive on Cummings' property in early December after weeks without food and water, said Kauai Humane Society Executive Director Dr. Becky Rhoades.
The Humane Society had petitioned the court for Cummings to forfeit the dogs so they could put them up for adoption. Cummings, however, wants to keep the dogs, and requested they be moved to the Taniguchi residence until the trial is over.
Yesterday, Rhoades and her staff were upset as they loaded the dogs into Taniguchi's and Cummings' trucks.
"We were hoping to immediately be able to adopt them into loving companion homes," Rhoades said. "But instead they will return to the lifestyle of a hunting dog throughout the trial process."
The remains of three dogs, including one whose skeletal remains had been in a cage for months, were also found on Cummings' "abandoned" property with the surviving dogs, Rhoades added.
Cummings would not comment yesterday. Taniguchi said it will be "my full-time job" taking care of the dogs until the trial.
Cummings is scheduled for another court date March 20. No trial date has been set.
Until then, staff at the Humane Society will be making daily trips to Taniguchi's residence, checking that the dogs are fed, housed and exercised. The dogs also cannot be used for pig hunting until the trial is over, Rhoades said.
If the conditions are not met, she will again ask the court to have Cummings forfeit the dogs and put them up for adoption.
For the past two months, the staff at the Humane Society has provided them with around-the-clock care, Rhoades said, nursing them back to health and trying to acclimate them to a home-style setting.
All 17 dogs have put on about double their weight since they were found Dec. 6. They have been socialized and treated by veterinarians as needed.
"They were almost dead when we got them," Rhoades said. "It was slow going ... (and) we put a lot of effort into them."
Rhoades said the Cummings case is one of the worst she's seen in the decade or so she's been in Hawaii.
"This was deliberate starvation," she added. "They were abandoned."
If Cummings is convicted, he could face one year in jail and a $1,000 fines for each animal cruelty charge, and 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine for each animal desertion charge.
Rhoades said that if Cummings is convicted, the Humane Society will also ask the court for $11,000 in restitution, the cost of nursing the dogs back to health so far.