“This is a huge issue, keeping many from walking their dogs in public places,” said Whitney White, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) Maui. “No one has respect for the law, because it isn’t enforced. Plus, many people may not even know there are leash laws because it is so common to see dogs off-leash.”
FormerMaui Humane Society (MHS) Animal Control Chief Aimee Anderson supports raising the fines, but warns, “Stricter penalties are great, but if they’re not going to be enforced, what difference does it make? On Maui, we have a major enforcement issue.”
Considering Maui County’s “bark is worse than its bite,” what can concerned dog owners do to prevent or protect against an attack?
Colleen Doherty, with the Cruelty Intervention and Advocacy department of New York City’s American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), encourages defensive dog ownership:
1. Be vigilant. Practice the same precautions while walking your dog that you would while driving; look in all directions, be aware of your surroundings and remain alert. Don’t talk on your cell phone or listen to music while walking your dog.
2. Carry dog treats. If an unattended dog approaches, hold onto your dog’s leash and toss some treats far away from you. Many dogs will go after the treats, allowing you to make a calm getaway.
3. Carry Spray Shield. Also known as Direct Stop, this citronella spray interrupts attacks without painful side effects.
4. Fence in your yard to give your dog exercise time outside while protecting your pet from free-roaming dogs.
Anderson recommends carrying a walking stick. “Usually, the dog in these situations is not after the human,” she said. “It’s trying to get to the other dog. If it bites, it will bite whatever’s closest to its face. If you see the dog coming, wave the stick at it, and let it bite down on the stick while you retreat. Carrying a stick also makes you a bigger target—your overall shape is widened, and can make you appear larger and more threatening to a dog.”
MHS CEO Jocelyn Bouchard also shared tips for handling a dog attack. “If a dog is coming at you aggressively, the instinct is to run, and maybe scream—and that would make it much worse. It’s better to stand very still, and curl into a ball if knocked down.”
Bouchard acknowledges the difficulty of safely extracting your dog from a fight. “If you get in there to separate them, you’re very likely to get bitten,” she said. “The best way to keep yourself safe is to drop the leash and leave, but who’s going to do that? I certainly wouldn’t.”
A dog off its own property that causes “serious injury or death” to another animal can be deemed a “dangerous dog” by Animal Control. This is a step above a Dog Bite citation. Under Maui County code, a dangerous dog must:
• Be kept contained within a secure structure at all times while on its own property;
• Be muzzled and on a leash of three feet maximum length while in public;
• Be accompanied at all times while outdoors by an owner over the age of 18;
• Be spayed or neutered and micro-chipped;
• Be covered by an insurance policy taken out by its owner of no less than $50,000;
• Post “Dangerous Dog” signs around the perimeter of the property where it resides.
Section F states that an animal control officer may deem a dog dangerous if he or she believes it poses an “imminent threat of bodily injury” to a person or domestic animal. According to Section C, a second offense by a dangerous dog means the dog may be taken away and destroyed, while the owner may face up to a month in jail or a $1,000 fine. However, under current law, a dog may not be taken away from the owner on the first offense, no matter how severe.
Central Maui Animal Clinic in Kahului, sees dog-attack victims on a regular basis—many fatal. Head receptionist Carlie Johns does her part to decrease this number by carrying extra leashes when walking her dog. When she sees another dog owner walking his/her dog off-leash, she’ll offer, “Did you forget your leash? Here, I have extras!”
Both Johns and Anderson believe behavior will only change when all law-abiding dog-walking citizens demand that everyone follows the rules.
“This is partly why off-leash dog parks work safely,” said Anderson. “Because what enacts change? Public pressure. The people that use dog parks are really good at keeping the peace amongst themselves, because they want to keep the dog park!”
“We understand the conflict of wanting to exercise your dogs properly while having to keep them on a leash,” explained Bouchard. “This is why MHS is involved in supporting local efforts to bring more dog parks to Maui. All that needs to happen is to have the spaces designated. We have some great groups in the community that are willing to take on fundraising, put up fences, etc.”