Why Can’t Honolulu Be More Pet-Friendly?

This city has great beaches, campgrounds, swimming areas and other public state parks—but dogs aren’t allowed at many of them.


My apartment building has a strict no-pets policy. It’s sad, because I love animals. I’m especially a sucker for Shih Tzus and cats with smushed faces. For close to a decade, I never saw a single person with so much as a service animal coming or going. Then, a few years ago, I was in the elevator with an older lady who reached for something inside her Louis Vuitton purse when the fuzzy face of a Pomeranian suddenly poked out and looked at me.


Doggie Bag

Illustrations: Getty Images. Composite: James Nakamura


The lady and I both gasped. Me, because I was delighted to see the little guy. Her, because she thought I was going to rat her out to the property managers. (I’m no snitch.) She must’ve eventually realized I was cool because she waved hello when I saw her again a few weeks later.


In the park near our building, she showed me how she trained her dog, Hodu—which means walnut in Korean, how cute is that?—to stay hidden and be quiet when he’s in her handbag. He was free to run around when they got to the park for their daily walks.


After that, either the rules relaxed or the folks in charge became more forgiving because, over the course of a year, one tiny hidden Hodu turned into a handful of dogs in the building. I say good for them.


Honolulu isn’t particularly pet-friendly. While we have wonderful beaches, campgrounds, swimming areas and state parks for public use, dogs aren’t allowed at many of them. Bills were introduced in both the state Senate and House in 2019 that would have given Hawai‘i restaurant owners the choice of whether or not to allow dogs under certain conditions.


The Hawaiian Humane Society was all for it. But the Hawai‘i Food Industry Association wasn’t, testifying that dogs can carry harmful bacteria. The Hawai‘i Restaurant Association also opposed the idea, citing possible allergies and other liabilities that dogs in restaurants would present. Ultimately, the bills failed.


Some version of dog-friendly dining laws have been passed in 17 other states, including California and New York, which poses some interesting questions, such as: Do dogs in Honolulu carry more bacteria than dogs in Los Angeles? Are local residents really more allergic to dogs than the 8 million people who live in New York City? Are dogs here somehow more of a nuisance than dogs in San Francisco or Denver, where free doggie poop bags are offered in the parks?


Wherever you stand on the issue, I think we can all agree that pets themselves aren’t as problematic as irresponsible pet owners who don’t train their dogs properly and don’t clean up after them. Or pretend to need service animals just so they can bring their dogs with them to restaurants or the mall. Sure, there’s a law that sticks people with fines up to $500 for faking it, but how often do they get caught? And it’s the actual people who need service animals who are hurt when a dog that isn’t certified starts acting up.


Which is sadly what ended up happening in my building: Someone walking their “service” dog outside my apartment encountered little Hodu, and the bigger dog snapped at him. There was no harm done—the other dog was a puppy, he didn’t mean anything by it—but a few of my neighbors saw the encounter. Now my building has gone back to its old ways, with “No pets” signs taped up in the elevators and common areas. I haven’t seen any more fake service animals, or any dogs for that matter. Hodu and his fellow compatriots who live here have been forced back into hiding. (My heart goes out to those hoping to fit their Labrador in a handbag.)


I’m no pet owner. But if you ask me, I’d happily abide a hundred people sneaking in dogs like Hodu over a single person who believes buying a fake service animal vest allows them to let an untrained pet run wild. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to return to my nightly routine of feeding treats to the semi-friendly feral cats outside my building.