Dog neglect case nets jail, fine

An emotional ending to an animal abuse case had animal advocates and members of the defendant’s family noticeably upset yesterday, as the owner was sentenced to six months in jail.

The case, which stems from the discovery of 20 mistreated dogs — three of which were found dead at an Anahola residence Dec. 6, 2006 — had those on both sides of the fence boiling over with strong opinions.

The dogs belonged to Steve Cummings, 48, of Kapa‘a.

Dr. Becky Rhoades, executive director of the Kaua‘i Humane Society, said she was grateful for the sentence handed down by Fifth District Court Judge Trudy Senda, which, in addition to six months in jail, included $12,150 in restitution. The money is to reimburse the Kaua‘i Humane Society for the costs incurred for the dogs’ rehabilitation and care.

Members of the Cummings family maintained the tragedy was the result of a misunderstanding, which, though tragic, was lacking in malice and cruelty.

As tearful members of his family surrounded Cummings, his father was rushed to the hospital by medics directly following the hearing.

Candice Agustin, Cummings’ ex-wife, said the misunderstanding over who was to care for the dogs took place when her ex-husband, who was supposed to go out of town, asked someone else to take care of the dogs. Because the dogs were not in the same town — Cummings was staying in Kapa‘a — he was not aware the person he asked to take care of the dogs had stopped doing so, she said.

“It’s different when you have your dogs in the backyard in the house you’re living in than when the dogs are on separate property and you think someone is taking care of them.”

When Cummings canceled his trip, neither party assumed responsibility for the dogs, which were housed in elevated cages in Anahola, she said.

“It’s been a tough seven and a half months,” Agustin said. “We’re just simple people and what we know is from the heart. Dogs have been a way of life for us for many, many years. It really was a miscommunication. We’re not bad people. Nobody knows how this feels until they’re going through it themselves.”

As part of the conditions of his sentence, Cummings surrendered his dogs.

The Kaua‘i Humane Society will not adopt the dogs to hunters, the legality of which Brandon Flores, Cummings’ attorney, questions.

Though Cummings’ dogs were used for hunting, Flores said taking aim at the hunting community isn’t the solution to cracking down on animal abuse.

Rhoades said she isn’t taking aim at the hunting community, but said the KHS, a private organization, has the right to determine which adoptive families are chosen.

“Our animals are companion animals, they’re not working animals,” she said. “Most hunters take good care of their dogs. I’m not against hunting dogs. We’re a helping-hand organization. If someone can’t take care of them, all they have to do is call us and we’ll come pick the dog(s) up, no questions asked, and we’ll find it a new home.”

However, she added, “Pig hunting dogs are the only thing we don’t want to adopt out for, because it’s very risky for dogs to hunt pigs. They can get lost and injured.”

That said, KHS staff will assess the dogs to determine whether the dogs pose any threat to the public before giving the green light to offer them for adoption.

“Most of them are fairly social and used to being handled,” she said.

While the fate of Cummings’ dogs is yet to be determined, Flores said he hopes the dogs won’t be euthanized.

Rhoades said that was her goal, too.

“Believe me, we’re going to do everything we can to find these dogs a home,” she said. “We’ve invested a lot of love and care. They were almost dead. Our main mission is to protect Kaua‘i’s animals.”

The dogs that are deemed safe are expected to be put up for adoption by this weekend. By that time, the animals are expected to have been spayed, neutered, monitored and given any other necessary medical attention, Rhoades said.


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