A coalition of local animal welfare organizations gathered at the J.W. Cameron Center on Monday, July 9, for an informal discussion of animal law issues in the State of Hawai'i.
The two-hour grassroots meeting focused on the ongoing battle to improve existing animal welfare laws, as well as efforts to introduce new legislation and regulations that would ensure the protection of creatures great and small across Maui County.
The evening featured presentations from several animal protection groups, including guest speakers Inga Gibson, the Hawai'i State director for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Maui Humane Society CEO Jocelyn Bouchard, Rep. George Fontaine and Rene Umberger, speaking on behalf of For the Fishes.
Looking for a new best friend? MHS is sponsoring its “Feline Frenzy” adoption special throughout July, featuring “Two-fer Tuesdays” (a two-for-one adoption fee), $30 Thursdays and Senior Sundays ($10 for cats 7 years and older as determined by MHS staff). MHS CEO Jocelyn Bouchard said the month of August is for the dogs, so residents should stay tuned for more special adoption promos.
"The issues surrounding animals on Maui are so numerous and complicated that they cannot be addressed by any one individual or organization," said Bouchard. "That's why we are so thrilled to be part of a new coalition of animal welfare groups who all recognize how much more effective we will be working together on behalf of the animals."
To many, Hawai'i has demonstrated leniency toward clear animal rights, and as a result, the state has ranked among the worst states in the nation in terms of animal welfare. Some believe the state Legislature's failure to enact strict, unambiguous animal protection laws is embedded in the sanctioning of cultural and traditional practices such as cockfighting and consumption of dog meat.
For example, in 2011 legislative session, a bill that would have prohibited the slaughter and trade of cat and dog meat was deferred. Rep. Fontaine, who represents the South Maui district in the state House of Representatives, was bitterly disappointed by the outcome of the so-called "Dog Meat Bill."
Rep. Fontaine agreed that the legislative process is often riddled with complexities, which can generate a lot of frustration.
"It's a challenge as a legislator to protect these vulnerable creatures," Rep. Fontaine said. "This is why it's so important to speak up and let your elected officials know that animal cruelty is not okay, and rally around those who support animal rights."
Rep. Fontaine has been an ardent supporter of animal welfare legislation, stemming from incidents of animal cruelty he witnessed firsthand during his years with the Maui Police Department.
"We appreciate Rep. Fontaine's support of animal-related bills and his understanding that these issues reach far beyond the animals themselves," said Bouchard. "We understand all too well the frustration of people using cultural practices to excuse cruel and inhumane acts of violence."
But Gibson, a lobbyist who helped enact last year's landmark law prohibiting the sale or possession of shark fins, said 2012 has also seen its fair share of victories. Gov. Neil Abercrombie recently signed HB 2296 into law, which makes it illegal to sell, transport or purchase products containing bear bile and gallbladders. The governor also signed SB 3001, which prevents the spread of axis deer by prohibiting the interisland smuggling, release or abandonment of feral deer.
In addition, the state has made strides toward galvanizing and expediting the forfeiture process of companion animals into protective custody pending animal cruelty case investigations by passing SB 2503.
Gibson said one of the critical issues she hopes to tackle in the next legislative session is the protection of dogs at commercial breeding facilities (otherwise known as "puppy mills").
"There are currently no laws that regulate breeders or pet stores, " Gibson said. "These operations go unchecked."
And acts of animal cruelty are not limited to dry land, according to Umberger, who shared some staggering statistics regarding the aquarium trade. Once they are relocated to "hobby tanks," animals often die within weeks or months from stress-related diseases or toxic conditions, she said, and up to 40 percent die before they reach the tanks. It's a vicious cycle; as more of these animals die, more are being collected to "replace" them.
"Mortality rates drive collection rates," she explained.
While the County of Maui has taken this message to heart--it recently passed two laws regulating aquarium fishing and inhumane treatment of fishes--Umberger urged the community to be proactive in its efforts to ensure larger-scale protection of animals across the state.
What can Maui County residents do to help? Gibson, Bouchard and Umberger all agreed that the first step is to get educated--and get involved.
For more information about the Humane Society of the United States and the Maui Humane Society, visit www.humanesociety.org and www.mauihumane.org. To learn more about the For the Fishes, visit www.forthefishes.org.