Could an independent animal control agency help Hawaiʻi Island?
The Hawaiʻi County Council is working with the administration to establish an independent animal control agency.
Councilmember Cindy Evans, who introduced Bill 22 in part with Council Chair Heather Kimball, said this comes after years of issues and influx contracts.
"We really want transparency, we want accountability, we want to make sure that we deal with proper shelter management," Evans said during a council meeting last week. "We want the ability to have a task force or ability for the public to feel that they can weigh in and oversee what's being done."
Bill 22 would establish an independent agency to care and maintain impounded animals.
The Hawaiʻi Police Department has overseen animal control operations since July 2021. Since then, Hawaiʻi County Managing Director Lee Lord said HPD control has increased transparency because it gave the county direct oversight.
"The reason that we decided to do a one year pilot program where the county took it over was because what was happening wasn't good," Lord said. "The county wasn't knowing exactly what was going on unless we made visits to the sites."
But residents have continued to show concern with HPD’s animal control arm. Frequent issues that arise include staffing and worn-down facilities.
Last fall, HPD Maj. Aimee Wana told the council that the department was working on it.
"The facility in West Hawaiʻi does need a lot of tender loving and care," Wana said. "We are again working with county departments to bring those facilities up to par and make them safe for both animals as well as our workers and the community."
By creating an independent animal control agency, the county could hire a shelter administrator with the skills to address many of the issues the island faces.
"The police department has been doing the work all the work up until this point since we took it over, so that we get somebody in there that has the breadth and depth and knowledge and expertise on the subject to ensure we're doing the best for the community and for the animals," Lord said.
Lauren Foo, who testified at a council meeting last week, said without a clear path forward, a new agency may falter.
"I for one am extremely concerned about how we as a community are going to get from here, where we are right now to where we will be once the agency is established," she said. "If you take away all the stuff, what you're really asking us to do is to wait and trust another 9 to 10 months."
She said there needs to be concurring operations.
"While all this planning is being done, we need a parallel process on how we as a community transition from here to there," she said. "In other words, we need support to help bridge the gap in services we all know exists today."
Bill 22 is moving to a second and final reading next month.