The Hawaiian Humane Society Investigator
The Hawaiian Humane Society’s 13 animal officers ward off aggressive dogs, rescue cats from storm drains and enforce animal cruelty laws. To find out what the job is really like, we rode along with an HHS investigator.
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› 8:30 a.m.: The Complaint
Ling maneuvers the truck up a steep, narrow Palolo driveway where an emaciated dog is tied up in the front yard, according to a caller. “Sometimes the situation isn’t as extreme as the caller says, which is a good thing,” says Ling. “But we’re still obligated to check it out.”
The owner of the house comes out and Ling identifies himself and says he’s a humane investigator with the Hawaiian Humane Society. “I always pull up close to the house and honk my horn so people know that I’m out front,” he says, noting that, because of his uniform, people might mistake him for a deputy sheriff. “I make sure to identify myself with a friendly approach.”
He lets the owner know that he’s received a complaint. Two smaller dogs peer out of the front door screen and start barking. She knows immediately what Ling is talking about and walks around the house. The dog is an older female Ridgeback.
She is, indeed, underweight, but can stand up, and, tail wagging, walks over to her kneeling owner to lick her face. “She’s been sick, that’s why she’s skinny,” says the owner. “She’s 12 years old and has a tumor on her neck. I’ve also been treating her for fleas.”
Ling brings over a dog weight chart and tells her that a healthy dog is rated a five, whereas the Ridgeback is around a three or four. “I’d like you to take her to the vet for peace of mind and have her checked out. You can have the vet’s office fax the paperwork over to me,” says Ling. Investigators have the authority to mandate that owners take their animals to a vet, and follow up with them afterward. Ling notices that the dog is tied up using a choke collar, which is supposed to be used only to train dogs so they don’t hurt themselves. Ling lets the owner know of the recently passed law making it illegal to tie a dog up using a choke collar and asks her to put a different one on. He then asks if the dog’s registration is current. It’s not, so he has her fill out a new form, and she writes a check for $28 made out to the city and county.
Investigating complaints of tied-up dogs is common for Ling, but, as we leave Palolo, he recalls a rarer, more unpleasant type of investigation. “The worst is going to homes where the owner is dead and the animals are protecting the body,” he says. “That happened to me before, and it was my birthday.” Ling went to a home where a man had been dead for several days and his dogs were inside. “They were barking and growling and I had to get them away from the body.”
› 9:43 a.m.: The Investigation
“I’m crossing my fingers they let us in; I’m not the regular investigator,” says Ling. We’re navigating the back roads of Waimanalo. He’s on his way to check up on a large-scale dog-breeding operation—more commonly known as a puppy mill. Owning and operating a puppy mill is not illegal in Hawaii. A federal law is in place, but if federal authorities from the U.S. Department of Agriculture don’t investigate, neither HHS nor HPD have jurisdiction to shut down puppy mills. “We can only enforce animal cruelty laws,” says Ling. So, for the last couple of years, HHS has inspected the facility to make sure the dogs have food, water and clean cages.
Ling pulls up to a barnlike building. Beagles, cocker spaniels, labs, terriers and other breeds—all males—are housed outside in a fenced area. The dogs start barking when they hear the truck. The female dogs, some with newborn litters, are housed inside a “nursery,” sectioned into fenced, wooden cubiclelike cages. The dogs have water and food dishes; in several cages the kibble is scattered on the floor. It’s clear by the amount of the feces in the cages and tattered newspapers strewn about the dogs that they are not let out often. Large areas of the linoleum floor are wet with urine. Despite the grunginess of the cages, and the animals themselves, the dogs appear to be well fed and healthy.
The owner isn’t on the premises, but two men work in the nursery cleaning the cages and giving the dogs water and food. “We usually have the cages clean by now, but we’re short staffed today,” says one of the men. He’s friendly and lets Ling inspect the cages; he even mentions that he used to be homeless before he got this job. He promptly moves a cage housing two beagles when Ling points out they are in the sun and panting.
The puppy mill is on dual agricultural and residential land, explains Ling, but the operation facilities are on the agricultural zone of the property. “The [county] law states that people cannot have more than 10 dogs per household,” he says, but this operation isn’t in a residential area. The puppy mill has 124 dogs. The owner purchased a local pet store where he sells the puppies—and he is looking into buying another store—as well as through online sales on websites such as Craigslist, according to HHS. A normal female dog usually gives birth to two or three litters during its lifespan, while dogs in puppy mills give birth a couple of times every year until they are no longer able to reproduce, at which point many are euthanized.
Ling seems satisfied that there are no instances of animal cruelty, and jumps back in his truck. “It’s a big improvement from the last time I was here about a year ago,” he says. “They built more adequate facilities. The dogs used to have fleas; I’d leave and just see all the fleas on my pants.” Until an anti-puppy-mill law passes in Hawaii, Ling and the other investigators can only make sure the dogs aren’t being abused or neglected.
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