‘Teeth into the punishment’

LIHUE — People abandoning animals on Kauai and throughout Hawaii is a problem, so the state plans to try and stop it.

“Abandonment is an issue because people can’t take that extra level of responsibility to take it to a shelter for someone to take care of it,” said Penny Cistaro, executive director of the Kauai Humane Society. “It’s a particularly a problem with cats; we have a lot of feral cats on the island, and when people see them, they’ll dump their cat with the feral cat colonies, thinking it will be fed.”

But that’s not always the case, she said.

“Some cat colonies aren’t welcoming and indoor cats are used to being with people,” Cistaro said.

While the issue is mainly with cats, the humane society has received calls about abandoned dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs and horses.

“It doesn’t matter what animal it is, they can be abandoned,” she said.

Thousands of pets are abandoned on the islands every year. To combat that, Hawaii lawmakers have introduced a bill that will make deserting animals a petty misdemeanor with a $1,000 fine, according to the draft.

The bill, SB 2512, also proposes a $2,000 fine when an animal suffers “death or substantial bodily injury,” the draft says.

“The fines prior to this bill were minimal,” said State Rep. Jimmy Tokioka. “This puts teeth into the punishment for people who abandon pets.”

Currently, people who desert their pets face a petty misdemeanor with a $50 fine, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

Tokioka said he voted in favor of the bill because he’s seen examples throughout the state where people have deserted animals.

“People have options when they no longer want a pet, and abandoning them isn’t one of them,” he said.

State Rep. Dee Morikawa agreed.

“People should be publicly penalized because there should be ways to get animals in the shelter,” she said.

The most recent draft of the bill also provides an exemption for animals released under a “population management program,” meaning pets can be released if they are spayed or neutered.

The bill also addressed the danger abandoned pets have to native wildlife.

Cistaro believes the proposed bill will have mixed results.

“It may deter some people, but others might do it under the cloak of night,” she said.

The next step for the bill is in conference next week.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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