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Thursday, November 23, 2000

Bill would stiffen
penalties for dangerous,
nuisance dogs

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

A bill designed to put tighter reins on dog owners who have loose leashes on their pets has won a preliminary approval from the City Council's Community Services and Parks Committee.

The measure now goes to the Council for a vote.

City attorneys say the law may be in conflict with, and pre-empted by, existing state laws, but Community Services Chairman Gary Okino said the Council needs to take a stand.

"My feeling is although we may be pre-empted, this bill is really needed," Okino said. "We cannot just stand by and work with a weak state statute that allows people to get away with having dangerous dogs."

Okino noted that both Hawaii and Maui counties have passed similar dangerous dog ordinances without being challenged.

The bill's effective date was pushed back to July 2001 to allow time for the city to work out the pre-emption issue at the state Legislature.

Under the bill, a "dangerous dog" would be defined as "any dog which, without provocation, attacks a person or domestic animal, causing bodily injury to the person or serious injury or death to a domestic animal."

Also falling under the definition would be a dog which "behaves in a manner that a reasonable person would believe poses an imminent threat of bodily injury."

The bill calls for penalties of up to $2,000 and 30 days in jail.

Existing state law allows only a $20 fine.

The bill was endorsed by Pamela Burns, president of the Hawaiian Humane Society.

The committee also moved out bills that would stiffen penalties for:

Bullet Dog owners who are repeat offenders of the stray-dog ordinance. Owners of dogs not under control by leash, cord, chain or other means of physical restraint would still need to pay $50 for a first offense within two years. A second offense cost would be upped to $100 from $50 for a second offense during a two-year period, and between $500 and $1,000 for subsequent offenses during that period.

The bill also would delete provisions allowing for a 30-day jail term to be imposed.

Bullet Animal owners who violate the animal nuisance ordinance, which is defined as either barking continuously for 10 minutes or intermittently for one-half hour. The bill calls for fines to be upped to $50 from $25 for the first offense, and as much as $1,000 from $100 for a third offense within a two-year period. The bill also allows for the court to require that a violator get training to stop an animal nuisance.

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