A Honolulu City Council committee Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a bill that would require registered pet dogs and cats to be microchipped and would shorten the minimum time that strays need to be held by the Hawaiian Humane Society to five days from the current nine.
After winning unanimous approval Tuesday from the Council Parks, Community Services and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, Bill 59 now goes to the full Council for the second of three votes. It will make a return trip to the parks committee for further refinement before a final vote.
Bill 59 is supported by the Humane Society, which contends that the changes bring a more modern and thoughtful approach to animal control laws.
Pet store owners say the measure cedes too much control to the organization.
Current city law says a dog 4 months or older must be licensed and receive a dog tag that costs $10 if the animal is sterilized, $28.50 if not sterilized. The license must be renewed every two years. There is currently no licensing for cats, although the owner of a cat that is expected to spend time outdoors is supposed to be microchipped.
Under the bill, the dog tag system would be replaced by a microchip registration process that would apply to both dogs and cats.
Stephanie Kendrick, public policy advocate for the Hawaiian Humane Society, said a microchip can easily be found for under $25 and that the Kapahulu nonprofit will do it for $20. There would be no need for a renewal, although a change in ownership or ownership information would require an update.
Kendrick said the proposed changes are backed up by research into the best practices for handling animals in sheltered environments. Switching to a microchip-based system on the mainland has led to a spike in pet licenses of as much as 300%, she said.
Councilwoman Kymberly Pine said her constituents are uncomfortable with the reduction in the hold time to five days. Pets are “family to some people,” she said.
Kendrick said “short shelter stays for pets actually lead to better outcomes for them by reducing the time that they’re spending in a stressful environment, which can cause illness and distress.” More important, the shorter hold time means animals not reclaimed by their owners are made available for adoption more quickly.
Under the bill, once minimum hold times are reached, the Humane Society can allow the person who released the animal to the contractor to redeem the animal, offer the animal up for adoption or euthanize it.
Animals with no identification of any sort are subject to only a 48-hour hold period under the current law, and that won’t change under the bill.
Kendrick said nearly 90% of the stray animals with an ID that are brought to the Humane Society go home within five days.
She stressed that the actual time an individual cat or dog is held is determined on a case-by-case basis.
Bill 59 also would:
>> Impose a penalty of $30 for the owners of animals determined to be “frequent strays,” which is defined as three or more stays within a 12-month period.
>> Increase the hold fee (or boarding fee) charged by the Humane Society to $10 a night, up from $2.50. The fee was last increased in 1983.
>> Require that any dog brought in as a stray three times within a 12-month period be spayed and neutered.
Randy Leong, deputy director of the Department of Customer Services, which administers the licensing program, said the city supports the changes but wants time to implement the new system. The current draft of the bill gives no effective date.
Leong said compliance has become an issue under the old system. The number of dog tags issued and the revenue generated for the licensing has fallen significantly in recent years. In 2017 an estimated 17,000 tags were issued, bringing in about $200,000 in revenue, and in 2018 about 12,600 tags were issued, bringing in $156,000.
“We wish to bring pet licensing into the modern age,” Leong told the committee.
Ricky Baker, owner of the Pet Hale pet store in Mililani, testified against the bill.
“The authority that this bill would give to the animal control contractor, the Hawaiian Humane Society, is too broad and far-reaching, in my opinion,” Baker said. “I’m not saying microchipping is bad; I just think it’s the owner’s decision to do that.”
The animal control efforts should focus more on education, “letting people know how important it is to license” their animals, Baker said.
Cathy Goeggel, head of Animal Rights Hawaii, said she did not submit testimony because she had not been able to access the latest draft.
Goeggel, a longtime critic of the Humane Society, said she’s bothered by the proposal to shorten hold times.
The organization is secretive and does not take into consideration the opinions of people who care for strays in their neighborhoods, she said.