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Keauhou HOA Fines Condo Owner $26K (and Counting) for Feeding Cats

By Tom Hasslinger
June 6, 2022, 5:05 PM HST
* Updated June 6, 8:10 PM
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Pamela Cooper

A Keauhou condo owner is facing upwards of $26,000 in fines from her homeowner’s association for feeding two wild cats who have lived in the condo complex for years.

Those fines are increasing $100 a day, too. 

They’re rising daily because Pamela Cooper doesn’t intend to stop feeding the cats – named Bob and Carol and estimated to be around 9 years old each.

They’ve lived on the property longer than Cooper has owned her condo there.

The felines aren’t wild in the sense that they appear feral and unhealthy, Cooper said. Rather, they are “community cats,” who are healthy, well-behaved and have lived outdoors around the Kona complex for the last nine years.

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“They just took a liking to my unit or something,” Cooper told Big Island Now. “I took it to heart to feed them.”

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Or continue feeding them, in the case of Cooper.

Cooper, 73, began renting out the condo she purchased in 2015. Around three years ago, she learned that her tenants had been feeding the cats on the lanai every night around sunset. The evening ritual didn’t seem to bother her neighbors, Cooper said, or anyone else.

The cats eat on Cooper’s lanai. PC: KARES

So, when Cooper rented the condo out to new tenants, a condition of the agreement was that new residents continue to feed the felines dinner – a process Cooper estimates takes 6 to 7 minutes.

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“They’re community cats,” Cooper said, adding she knew of the cats well before she learned her tenants were feeding them. “They don’t bother a soul.” 

But around a year ago, the HOA – the Keauhou Palena – informed Cooper that keeping and feeding animals go against the HOA rules, and she could be subject to fines if she didn’t stop.

Cooper said not feeding the cats wasn’t that simple for her.

Before Bob and Carol were there, another community cat, named “Uncle,” lived and was fed on the property until he died. It was never an issue.

Precedent aside, Cooper said that suddenly withholding food or water from animals in a place “they consider home,” is considered animal cruelty under Hawai’i Statute 711.1109, a second-degree misdemeanor offense.

“And that’s their home,” Cooper said. “I’m just caught between a rock and a hard spot.”

After her warning about a year ago, Cooper continued to feed the animals.

Then, on March 15, she received a letter from Michael Kennedy, Keauhou Palena senior management executive, notifying her that she had incurred $25,900 in fines for feeding the two cats.

The letter lists the bylaws that prohibit feeding and keeping animals and informs Cooper she had been warned since June of 2021 that such a punishment could be levied against her if she continued to feed the animals.

“As of today, you or someone in your unit has been feeding the cats for 259 days,” the letter states. “You are now being fined $25,900.00 and the amount will be added to your Association amount.”

The letter continues that the fines will increase if the cats are still fed.

A copy of the letter from Keauhou Palena sent to Pamela Cooper. PC: KARES

“Witnesses have been reporting daily feedings on the lanai and going forward you will be fined $100 for each report of feeding cats on Keauhou Palena property,” the letter states. “If the reports of feeding the cats on property continue, the Board will continue to increase the fines until this issue is resolved.”

Hawaiiana Management Company, Ltd. is the property management company that cares for the property. Reached by phone on Monday, the company referred all questions to Kennedy, who did not return a phone message to Big Island Now but sent an email stating “I am not the person to speak to” and referred all questions to the association’s attorney.

When asked for the attorney’s contact information, Kennedy stated in an email that he provided the attorney with Big Island Now’s contact information and “if he would like to speak to you, he will call you.”

Big Island Now was not contacted by the attorney on Monday. A phone message left with the president as well as a phone message left with the vice president of the Keauhou Palena Board of Directors went unreturned. This story will be updated should the board contact Big Island Now.

A hearing on the matter has been scheduled via Zoom with Cooper and the board of directors for June 16.

Cooper has hired an attorney to represent her, Sara Vargas, of Kailua-Kona.

Vargas said the case seems unusual to her not only because of the “outrageous” dollar figure of the fine, but also because the cats have been on the property for nearly a decade, as have other cats, and no other owner, according to the attorney’s research, has ever been fined.

There has been a substantial shift in behavior by the board from taking no action regarding any of the cats to a sudden and profound action taken against Cooper, Vargas said.

“Selective enforcement is what I would call it,” the attorney said.

The definition of a pet by the Hawai‘i statute definition is also tricky, she added. It defines pets as animals not being kept for consumption, which the cats in question would fall under. But the law doesn’t specify for cats like Bob and Carol who are not pets by the common conception of household family members, so to speak, but who live outdoors and on properties.

Vargas said she couldn’t speculate why Cooper was being subjected to fines when other residents hadn’t been in the past.

“I would sure love to know the answer to that same question,” she said.

Cooper is also receiving help from Debbie Cravatta, Kohala Animal Relocation and Education Service, or KARES, founder, who is helping Cooper raise funds for her legal fight.

“I’m digging my teeth into it because it’s ridiculous,” Cravatta said.

Cravatta said that relocating feral cats isn’t a feasible solution because there is nowhere to take them. Also, cats are very territorial animals, and often find their way back to the place from which they were taken. 

Cooper said she wants to continue to do the right thing, which is to feed the cats, which is also to say, not begin starving them.

“I don’t understand why it’s become an issue after all these years,” Cooper said. 

She’s added that she heard she could have a lien levied against her condo in light of the escalating fines, but even that possibility won’t stop her from feeding the cats.

“What’s right is right,” she said. “What’s wrong is wrong.”

Tom Hasslinger
Tom Hasslinger is a journalist who lives in Kailua-Kona. Prior to joining Big Island Now, he worked as the managing editor for West Hawaii Today and deputy editor for The Garden Island newspaper on Kauai. He's worked for over 15 years as a reporter for the Oahu-based Civil Beat news outlet, as well as in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and Douglas Wyoming.
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