Dog debate continues

Residents urged the Kaua‘i County Council to look at the facts, the norms and the consensus among its constituents before voting on three bills that would allow leashed dogs on the multi-use path, toughen the animal nuisance ordinance and create new dog parks.

The Parks and Recreation Committee on June 18 at the Historic County Building heard testimony from community members on both sides of a growing public debate over the proposed legislation. It deferred the measure until next week, citing the need to wait for the county attorney’s opinion and consider amendments.

“It’s working in other places in the country, it should be able to work here,” Kapa‘a resident Sue Hansen said. “We’re tired of being told what to do and what not to do. We want to have a voice.”

The bills passed first reading May 14 and went through a lengthy and lively, packed public hearing on June 12.

“Clearly, dogs are popular on this island,” said Councilman Tim Bynum, who introduced the legislation that would strengthen dog-owner responsibilities while allowing leashed dogs on the Eastside coastal path.

“We have a problem on Kaua‘i with dogs,” he said, noting how owners let their dogs run free in public places and fail to clean up their dogs’ defecation. “We’ve been too loose with enforcement and compliance with those laws.”

He said his proposed bills provide a chance to work with the community to resolve these issues before they become major problems.

“I’m hopeful that dog owners on Kaua‘i are going to be more cognizant,” he said. “We need to do better. This whole dialogue is an opportunity to do that.”

Bynum said the owners of the 20,000 dogs on island have a “serious responsibility.”

Councilman Ron Kouchi said there are critical elements the bill must contain for him to support the measure. He said the most noticeably absent piece is a sunset clause.

Councilman Jay Furfaro circulated an amendment that would insert such a clause for allowing leashed dogs under control of the owner on the county’s shared use path system “for a trial period of 18 months.” It would also restrict leashed dogs on the path south of the Wailua River bridge, specifically banning them in the higher activity Lydgate Beach Park and Lydgate campground areas.

He voiced concern over the need to hear from the administration on how the proposed law would be managed and what training would be available for volunteers.

The 16-mile proposed multi-use path project is planned to run from Nawiliwili to Anahola. The completed segments include a 2.3-mile stretch from Kapa‘a to Kealia Beach and a 2.5-mile route at Lydgate Park.

Councilwoman Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, an outspoken critic of the proposed bill to allow leashed dogs on the path, said she plans to submit amendments after she receives the county attorney’s opinion.

She and Councilman Mel Rapozo continued to raise liability concerns, including some met by noticeable skepticism.

Rapozo said he will not support Bynum’s proposed bills or any amendments to them, but supports Council Chair Bill “Kaipo” Asing’s proposed measure that would establish new dog parks.

“You are asking me to approve a bill that could cause a kid to jump off a cliff,” Rapozo said.

He and Iseri-Carvalho said allowing leashed dogs on the path could present a scenario on a narrow stretch of the 10-foot-wide path where there is only a 4-foot cushion from the path’s edge to the side of a rocky cliff — leaving a child who feels threatened by a dog on a 6-foot leash nowhere to go.

“We’re talking about a path that is dangerous,” Rapozo said. “The trial period, in my eyes, is already going on.”

Iseri-Carvalho, who noted three documented Kaua‘i Police Department cases concerning dogs on the path, said she is unwilling to sacrifice one person being mauled by a dog.

But current law, as Bynum and other residents have pointed out, allows dogs on 8-foot leashes in public areas such as crowded urban sidewalks.

The administration’s position remains unclear.

Parks and Recreation Director Bernard Carvalho said the current ordinance, which bans animals from county parks, will continue to be enforced. If the law is changed, he said, then those regulations will be enforced.

Some council members, including Kouchi and Bynum, said the administration could have proactively changed the rules to regulate animals in parks to allow leashed dogs on the path, which falls under the Parks and Recreation Department’s management. Because no action was taken, they said they must assume the administration is opposed to the proposed bills.

Carvalho said he will deliver a full presentation to the council at its next meeting on Wednesday.

The meeting also provided Iseri-Carvalho and Rapozo a chance to publicly tackle Kaua‘i Humane Society Director Becky Rhoades’ “zero liability” comments she made at the public hearing.

Rhoades e-mailed testimony clarifying her remarks.

“I apologize if I gave the impression in my testimony on June 12 that there is a state law which exempts government from being sued with respect to a dog bite — there is no such law,” she says. “The government, a private business or a homeowner can be sued for just about anything, including a dog bite that occurred on their property. In my experience, however, the dog owner/handler is held responsible with regard to dog bites here in Hawai‘i due to the law below and our dangerous dog ordinances in each county.”

Rhoades continued that she was unaware of any dog bite case in which the county or state was successfully sued or paid damages, and noted that the risk is low with less than 1 percent of the island’s dog population involved with reported bites.

State statutes say the owner or harborer of an animal shall be liable if the animal causes either personal or property damage.

But Rapozo said liability extends beyond financial implications.

“I could care less about the money,” he said. “The bottom line is the county is not protected.”

Kapa‘a resident Bob Yotsuda was among the community members who testified against allowing leashed dogs on the path. He cited safety and liability concerns, saying Kaua‘i should be unafraid to go against the norms for path use nationwide and make its own rules.

• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or neagle@kauaipubco.com

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