More to be done on animal abuse


POSTED: Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hawaii has been designated as one of the five worst states in preventing cruelty to animals, a distinction state legislators began to recognize in their last session. They should tackle the problem using the recommendations of a task force they created to deal with the problem of restraint and confinement of pets.

Last year's Legislature approved a bill prohibiting confinement of a pet animal in a cage on public property for more than four hours, but it proved to be inadequate. In October, the Hawaiian Humane Society took custody of 19 cats and a rabbit that had been caged by a homeless woman on a Kakaako street corner, but to little avail.

The legislative action, now law, outlawed such confinement of animals but only in a “;cruel or inhumane manner.”; While Pamela Davis, president of the Honolulu-based Animal Advocate, argued that the woman's caging of animals was indeed inhumane, Keoni Vaughn of the Humane Society said it could not act because the caging was in compliance with the law, since she let the cats out and walked them on leashes.

Another new Hawaii law forbids fastening a dog to a house, tree or other stationary object using a choke, pinch or prong collar except while walking the dog with a hand-held leash.

“;The issue of pet confinement, whether you are talking about anti-tethering or confinement of pet animals in cages or carriers, is a truly complex issue and one that deserves full attention at the statewide level,”; Kawehi Yim of the Humane Society testified in support of creating the task force.

In ranking Hawaii among “;the five best states in the country to be an animal abuser,”; the Animal Legal Defense Fund cited other inadequacies. Foremost is Hawaii's inclusion among only 11 states that treat cockfighting as a misdemeanor rather than a felony. Nor does it treat extreme neglect or abandonment of animals as a felony.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund also criticizes Hawaii's laws for lack of restrictions on those convicted of animal abuse, failure to require veterinarians to report suspected abuse, no separate crime for sexual assault of an animal, inadequate animal fighting laws — dogfighting was belatedly made a felony in 2007 — and inadequate enforcement of laws that are on the books.

Hundreds of animal abuse bills were introduced in state legislatures across the country this year, and dozens of them were enacted. In its upcoming session, Hawaii's Legislature should take a comprehensive look at its animal abuse laws, beyond the issues assigned to the task force. Making cockfighting a felony should be at the top of the agenda.