KEAAU, Hawaii >> Efforts to retrieve or rescue animals in Leilani Estates have become chaotic as residents and the Hawaii Island Humane Society work under evacuation orders and lava inundates the rural subdivision.
The ongoing eruption has displaced most of the neighborhood’s 1,800 residents since Thursday, destroying at least 27 homes. Authorities have allowed residents back into Leilani Estates to retrieve property, but some may be leaving behind dogs to guard their homes, according to Hawaii Island Humane Society officials.
Others with access to the subdivision are apparently going into yards to rescue animals left behind.
Either act — leaving dogs behind or taking them from someone’s property — violates the spirit of a Hawaii County Civil Defense decree allowing residents to return to Leilani Estates to gather personal belongings. Officials say it’s also causing confusion in ongoing animal rescue operations.
Humane Society animal control officers since Saturday have responded to about 50 reports of missing animals — going into Leilani Estates to track them down by address, while also looking for stray animals. Officers tracked down six dogs and two tortoises on the first day.
However, animal control officers Justin Crusat and Marie Kuahiwinui-Eggers have run into people rounding up animals on their own.
“Now we don’t know who owns them,” Crusat said. “It complicates it.”
It’s easy for officers to link up animals they find in owners’ yards, especially when they have specific missing-animal reports. It’s much harder when someone they meet on the street simply hands over dogs, Crusat said.
“They said, ‘We’re helping you guys out.’ I told them, ‘You guys cannot be doing this.’ Apparently they’re driving around picking up animals that they see posted on Facebook,” he said.
On Sunday, residents were allowed in for the first time, and it’s unclear how many of them retrieved their animals without notifying the Humane Society, according to Adam Pereira, manager of the Hawaii Island Humane Society’s Keaau shelter.
However, he said no animals have been discovered dead inside Leilani Estates.
“We’re leaving out lots of food and lots and lots of water,” he said.
Cats remain hard to capture, he said. But all of the dogs taken in by the Humane Society were healthy, except for an older dog that seemed to be having temporary breathing problems, but is otherwise all right, he added.
The Humane Society normally keeps stray animals for four days, and animals with embedded chips stay for 10 days.
But animals marked “lava” or “Leilani Estates” will remain at the shelter indefinitely, Crusat said.
As far as whether returning residents should refrain from removing animals from other people’s yards, Pereira attempted to thread the needle on whether the effort is helping or hurting.
“It’s a sticky thing,” Pereira said. “I would like to see all the animals get out for safety. The more the better.”
He pointed out that leaving dogs behind to guard property can expose them to dangerous sulfur dioxide if more fissures erupt, as happened Tuesday.
It’s clear people independently retrieving animals have good intentions.
Chris Andrews and Heather Hedenschau pulled up to the Humane Society on Tuesday with three dogs in the back of a pickup truck. Hedenschau’s 37-year-old son, Chris Carroll, had found the dogs “huddled in a corner” at the intersection of Leilani Avenue and Kaupili Street on Monday.
They kept the dogs overnight at their home in Hawaiian Paradise Park before delivering them to the Humane Society.
Hedenschau called her son “an angel” for trying — along with his friends — to connect lost animals to their owners.
“My son and his friends are driving around Leilani looking for lost pets because they feel so bad for them,” she said. “He’s a true hero.”
Andrews added, “To some people these animals are like family. We’d be worried to death if our dogs were missing.”