Split decision voiced on barking dog ordinance

A Kaua’i County Council bill requiring owners to keep dogs from barking excessively has drawn more opposition than support.

At council-sponsored public hearing at the Kaua’i War Memorial Convention Hall Thursday, a dozen speakers said the legislation to prohibit excessive barking, if adopted, would alter Kaua’i’s rural lifestyle.

Others said such a law would be unreasonable because “dogs will bark” and sometime incessantly, when they are confronted by strangers or see other animals.

But at least a half a dozen supporters of the bill, including the Kauai Humane Society, said the legislation would allow dog owners and non-dog owners to live harmoniously and is a tool to allow dogs to remain with families.

But some audience members like Anne Punohu, an election-year candidate for the council, sought a compromise to prevent a confrontation between longtime residents and transplants to Kauai.

They suggested more dog owners get involved in fine-tuning the bill and to discuss it in upcoming meetings.

Richard Stauber, a Kaua’i resident, said the situation should not be one “of us against them.”

A tandem bill also heard at the hearing – controlling dangerous dogs and imposing fines – drew unanimous support.

The dog nuisance bill has been brought up by other county councils, but has been rejected due to lack of support.

A critic of the newest bill, Larry Saito said Kaua’i is made up of different ethnic groups who have tolerated each other’s differences over the years. “Newcomers” who are lobbying for the passage of the bill should show the same tolerance, he said.

Before “newcomers” move into a neighborhood, they should find out whether homes have a lot dogs, Saito said.

If the homes do, and they find the situation unacceptable, they should find housing elsewhere, Saito said.

Shirley Parraga said ownership of dogs is a tradition on Kaua’i and that “we haven’t had no complaints of dogs barking.”

“Now that mainland people come to Kaua’i, they have a lot of complaints about dogs barking,” she said. “If they have the right to speak. I guess the dogs have a right to bark.”

On the dog barking bill, Punohu said “I side with the people who see this as yet another way to curb a (rural) lifestyle.”

She said the public hearing didn’t allow people enough time to digest the content of the bill and suggested more meetings.

Councilman Gary Hooser said council committee meetings scheduled for Oct. 3 will allow for more public comments.

Instead of trying to push the bill through, the county, Saito said, should work instead on a more pressing issue facing the island – drugs.

Saito also said pushing the bill forward was pointless because the county has done a poor job enforcing the animal lease law.

Another critic of the bill, Terry Souza said she and her husband have ten dogs they consider to be part of her family,” and that approval of the bill would change the fabric of their household.

“They are our babies, and they greet us with a howl or bark,” Souza said.

Souza said the barking of her dogs, sometimes incessantly, have protected her and husband from trespassers and prowlers.

“Our babies, which are my dogs, need to what they were born to do, bark a few times,” Souza said.

A hunter, Tony Silva said hunters keep many dogs in their yards, enjoy hunting and go every week.

Silva said they object to having a law that would allow “somebody coming into the neighborhood and telling us to shut up our dogs.”

Speaking in support of both bills, Dr. Rebecca Rhoades, D.V.M., said the legislation is fair and that they can work on Kaua’i if people are educated on its benefits beforehand.

A public education for a dog nuisance law on O’ahu helped to significantly reduce neighborhood conflicts on that island, Rhoades said. “People want to meet their neighbors. They want to resolve their problems.”

A survey done for the Kauai Humane Society, Rhoades, showed that Kaua’i:

– Is a “dog-loving community.

– 40 percent of the households have at least one dog.

– 1.5 percent of the households with a dog have ten or more dogs.

– Only 7 percent of those surveyed said they use dogs for hunting.

– 61 percent of those survey reported no problems with an animal.

– 24 percent reported having a problem with noise from an animal in their neighborhood.

– 14 percent complained about neighborhood animals or strays fighting with their pets.

Rhoades said that most dog owners are responsible and want to be good neighbors.

A supporter of the bill, Suzy Vance said up to 40 dogs kept by a neighbor make sleeping at night nearly impossible.

“I am awaken nightly, 3 (a.m.), 2 (a.m.) , 5 a.m. on a regular basis,” she said. “Not just howling, but incessant barking… It is hard to sleep.”

She said that it seems the dogs that howl the most are those kept in cages.

Supporting the bill, Laura Wiley, president of the Kauai Humane Society, said one of the top goals of the organization is to keep dogs and families together.

“Our goal is not to go on a citation rampage, and we can help families who don’t know how to control dogs with excessive barking,” Wiley said. “We are great problem solvers…We have a lot of experience.”

By evaluating each case of excessive barking on a “case-by-case basis, the humane society can create solutions that will “not only create harmony, but also will protect the family’s pet,” she said.

Dawne Morningstar, an assistant to Rhoades, said she continually receives calls about excessive barking and agrees with supporters of the bill that people should be responsible for their dogs.

The bill would prohibit excessive barking and would require dog owners to keep their pets from behaving in a way that interferes with the “public health, welfare, safety, peace, or comfortable enjoyment of life and property.”

The law, if adopted, would apply only to residential neighborhoods.

Billy DeCosta said that isn’t fair for people who live in smaller residential lots and have dogs that could be bothersome to neighbors.

An impetus for the dangerous dog bill was an incident last year in which three pit bulls attacked a horse as it was being ridden on a trail overlooking Hanalei Valley.

The rider wasn’t injured, but the dogs drove the horse over the ridge, resulting in its death.

The dogs and their owners have not been located, but a police investigation continues.

Following the incident, a group of citizens formed to study dog issues and helped draft the bill, Rhoades said.

Rhoades said dogs identified as being dangerous need to be controlled and managed, but people have unwarranted fears that dogs will be “put down” or put to sleep.

The intent of the bill is to provide protective measures for people from a “known dangerous dog” and to establish conditions and penalties that may be imposed on their owners.

The bill notes a dog owner would be liable if he or she fails to take reasonable steps to prevent a dog from attacking without provocation, an animal or person, and such attacks result in serious injuries.

A convicted dog owner could face imprisonment up to 30 days. In lieu of jail time, the owner could be given probation of not more than six months, and would be required to pay restitution to those injured.

The convicted dog owner also would face fines not less than $50 and not more than $2,000.

Enforcement of the legislation would be carried out by law enforcement officers.

Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and mailto:lchang@pulitzer.net

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