A bill protecting residents from dangerous dogs and making owners responsible for dog attacks has been approved by the County Council.
The council approved the legislation last Thursday and will be sending it to Mayor Maryanne Kusaka for approval.
The catalyst for the bill was sparked by 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 was not hurt, but a chase by the dogs drove the horse over a ridge, causing its death.
Following the incident, a group of citizens connected with the Kauai Humane Society formed to study dog-related issues and to help draft the bill.
Along with the horse attack, three hikers were attacked in Wailua in September, leaving one with serious injuries.
Nick Hill, a 21-year-old Kaua’i man who was the most seriously injured, reportedly has recovered from his wounds, for which he sought initial treatment at the Kauai Veteran Memorial Hospital emergency room.
Councilman Daryl Kaneshiro, a rancher, called for quicker council action following the latest attack, contending owners of dogs that attack people have to be held responsible. There were no reports of any arrests in either of the two dog attack cases.
Under the council legislation, a dog owner commits the offense of negligent failure to control a dangerous animal if the person fails to take reasonable steps to prevent the dog from attacking a person or animal and the attacks lead to injury to a person or maiming or serious injury to an animal or to its destruction.
A convicted dog owner would be subject to a fine ranging from $50 to $1,000, jail time of up to 30 days or probation of not more than six months.
The convicted dog owner also would be required to pay restitution.
Under the legislation, a law enforcement officer, in addition to making arrests or issuing summons, can have the dog seized and impounded if the dog poses an imminent threat to a person or animal.
A sticking point of the bill with council members dealt with situations where the dog may have justification for attacks.
At least one council member said trespassers and burglars were essentially fair game for dog attacks. But other council members said that interpretation was too severe.
The legislation spells out action against dogs that attack without provocation.
But the law provides a “defense” for dogs and dog owners in attacks triggered under certain circumstances, according to councilman Randal Valenciano, an attorney.
These conditions include:
– The dog was protecting or defending its owner or a member of its owner’s household from an attack or assault.
– The person attacked was committing a crime while on the property of the owner of the dog.
– The dog attacked a person who entered or remained in a dwelling unlawfully.
– The person who was attacked had been teasing, tormenting, abusing or assaulting the dog or had done so in the past.
– The dog was attacked or menaced by an animal.
– The dog was responding to pain or injury inflicted by a person or animal that attacked the dog.
– The dog was protecting its offspring from the “attacked person or animal.”
The dangerous dog bill was part of a tandem bill related to dogs. The dog nuisance bill has come before past councils, but has been rejected because of the lack of support.
At a recent public hearing sponsored by the council, some dog owners said the bill has no merit because barking is part of the natural existence of dogs.
Critics of the bill said dogs will bark, sometimes incessantly, when they encounter strangers or see other animals.
Those supporting the bill said the bill, once it became law, would allow dog owners and non-dog owners to live without conflict and would allow dogs to remain with their families.
The council delayed action on the bill to allow hunters to meet with the Kauai Humane Society to discuss recommendations that might be incorporated into the legislation.
Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and mailto:email@example.com