Unwanted influx of mainland’s dog culture is bad for Hawaii
It is with increasing alarm that I read, at least once a week, something in the newspapers about the growing problem with dogs in the islands. But when a dog recently bit a child on a Maui beach and its owner ran away, that was the last straw. Non-service dogs and their owners have become a serious problem. I teach in Seattle but return a couple times a year to Hilo, where I was born and reared. I'll be moving back soon, but in the meantime, what I'm noticing more and more are the dogs.
On the Big Island, there are signs posted everywhere along the shore and in parks: No Pets or No Dogs Allowed. People walk right past these signs with their dogs. I watch them and conclude they must be illiterate. Then I observe how they interact with their dogs. "Who's your daddy?" they coo, covering the canine with kisses. Often these animals are sporting a jaunty scarf or colorful aloha shirt; sometimes they're carried in a backpack, and I have to wonder where these privileged pets come from. Most island dogs I know are working dogs, guarding the house or riding in the back of a truck or heading up the mountain to hunt pig.
The influx of mainlanders to the islands since 9/11 coincided with the easing of the 12-week state-imposed quarantine of incoming animals. In recent years, the Big Island has experienced the fastest growth in population, and every time I come home to Hilo, I see more new arrivals and more dogs. At the same time, there are more incidents, complaints and letters in newspapers about dogs running loose on beaches, taking dumps in the sand where children play, swimming where honu feed and snarling where monk seals sun. Safety and sanitation are good enough reasons, but the presence of endangered species is another reason dogs are not allowed on island shores and in parks.
Maybe if we keep in mind the ecological fragility of these islands, dog owners will exercise common sense and police themselves. But common sense seems to be in short supply these days. When I go to farmers' markets around the island, where common sense (and the Board of Health) tell us not to bring pets, someone usually shows up with a dog. Last summer at the Hilo Orchid Show, Mr. Clueless strolled in with a pit bull. Orchids and Pit Bulls ... what's next?
We all remember the days when nearly every family had a dog -- we did! But even though we love our dogs, we shouldn't take them to places they don't belong. When a Star-Bulletin columnist stated that there is "a deeply flawed dog-owning culture in Hawaii," ("My Turn" by Stephanie Kendrick, March 9), I had to laugh because from this islander's point of view, the "deeply flawed dog-owning culture" comes from the continent. On the mainland, there are pet owners so crazy about their dogs that they think these animals should go everywhere with them. In her book "Pets in America," Katherine C. Grier traces the history of pets -- specifically dogs -- and shows how some Europeans brought them to the 13 colonies as status symbols. In modern-day America, dogs are often not just status symbols, but opportunities for conspicuous consumption. They wear designer collars and have birthday parties. There's doggie day care, doggie bakeries and doggie dancing. One TV celebrity chef even shows us how she cooks for her dog!
For some of us, this kind of attention to dogs is bizarre.
In Seattle, dogs are everywhere: in parks, stores, offices and coffee shops. But I don't have time to fret over dogs on the continent. I do, however, worry about pampered pooches in our islands. The continental way of life cannot simply be transferred to fragile, remote islands where things are done differently for a variety of reasons. And yet when newcomers move to Hawaii, they often bring along ideas and behaviors that don't always sit well with islanders. Notions about dogs is just one example.
I know what some of you are saying. "Hey lighten up ... it's just a dog!" But if dogs are allowed at the shore, then our beaches will change. If they come to parks, markets and festivals, then our outdoor activities will be affected.
So when you see someone's furry best friend in places it shouldn't be, keep in mind that cute little Fluffy could be helping to bring about unwanted physical and cultural changes to these islands we love. If we don't keep an eye on these dogs and protest their presence, then our islands will evolve into a place no different from the West Coast, instead of being a unique and special legacy to pass on to our children.
Rochelle delaCruz was born in Hilo and graduated from Hilo High. She teaches at Seattle Central Community College and edits and publishes Northwest Hawaii Times, a monthly newspaper for the Hawaii community in the Pacific Northwest.