Editorial: Toughen rules for stray animals
Because the Hawaiian Humane Society holds the city’s animal services contract, it tends to an array of pet welfare matters including stray rescue and pickup, sheltering and medical care as well as adoptions.
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Because the Hawaiian Humane Society holds the city’s animal services contract, it tends to an array of pet welfare matters including stray rescue and pickup, sheltering and medical care as well as adoptions. It’s also tasked with enforcing laws such as those pertaining to pet ID.
Over the course of a recent year, the nonprofit welcomed slightly more than 16,180 stray animal arrivals. There were also nearly 4,000 reunions with owners, and some 3,550 animals were placed with new owners. While stories of reclaimed animals and adoptions are often heartening, unfortunately, much of the stray population is not part of either group.
Given the safety threats tied to “at large” animals — ranging from traffic accidents to bites and attacks — along with over-population concerns, the Humane Society rightly contends that a tightening of animal welfare regulation could help curtail stray-related problems.
The City Council’s Parks, Community Services and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee last week gave preliminary approval to such a measure. Among Bill 59’s sensible provisions: mandatory microchipping; increasing the daily hold fee for stray dogs and cats; and imposing a fine on owners whose dogs repeatedly turn up at the Humane Society as strays.
Current city law requires a dog 4 months or older to be licensed and issued a tag. There is currently no licensing for cats. While dog tags can be lost, microchips are permanent. Plus, while a tag must be renewed every two years at a fee of up to $28.50, a microchip is a one-time implant and one-time expense of no more than $25.
The proposal, which would include both dogs and cats, would likely step up license compliance. Further it could dramatically increase Oahu’s stray-owner reunion count. The Humane Society has pointed to that as an upshot in mainland jurisdictions. In Dallas, in the three years following a microchipping requirement, the reunion rate increased by 300%.
Regarding the daily hold fee, the current rate of $2.50 was set in 1983 and falls far below rates on neighbor islands, which range from $10 to $15, and the Humane Society’s gauged “true cost of care.” The proposed hike to a $10 daily fee seems overdue.
Also, currently, no penalty is imposed when an animal turns up as a repeat stray. This, too, seems overdue. For the sake of encouraging owner responsibility, Bill 59 calls for slapping a $30 fine on owners whose dogs have been brought in as strays three or more times in a 12-month period.
Another proposal calls for mandatory spaying or neutering of an unsterilized dog brought in for the third time within a year. While the intent to prevent overpopulation makes some sense, this element of the bill needs more debate to address potential snags. For example, should the city’s contractor be able to spay or neuter a pet without owner permission?
Another provision that raises questions would reduce the current hold time — nine days — for stray dogs and cats with ID. The Humane Society wants to set the limit at five days. It contends that 90% of animals in this grouping are reclaimed within five days, and the shorter time frame would spur a small number of owners to act sooner while also reducing animal stress and freeing up shelter space.
But five days seems hasty — and may not be a long enough hold period for, say, a traveler who comes home to realize that a pet is missing and that contact information tethered to a microchip or tag is not current.
While Bill 59 holds potential to improve the city’s animal welfare practices, some of the possible outcomes linked to provisions are in need of further vetting.