Former zoo veterinarian technician to head up Hawai‘i County’s newly established Animal Control and Protection Agency

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Matthew Runnells

A zoo veterinarian technician from Melbourne, Florida, will head up Hawai‘i County’s newly established Animal Control and Protection Agency, starting Friday.

With 25 years experience working with animals, from small domestic pets to large zoo animals, Matthew Runnells’ appointment marks a significant milestone in the county’s ongoing efforts to ensure the safety and well-being of the community’s animals, said Hawai‘i County Mayor Mitch Roth.

“His extensive experience, coupled with his genuine passion for animal care, makes him an ideal fit for this crucial role,” Roth said. “We are confident that under his leadership, the agency will thrive and provide outstanding services to our residents.”


Runnells worked as a veterinary technician at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park at Disney World in Florida for 12 years. Prior to that, he worked at Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Florida. Overall, Runnells’ has traversed five zoo institutions and managed the hospital for at least two of them, according to Runnells’ Facebook page.

“I will be applying the same drive for excellence that has served me so well,” he wrote on his post.

“Runnells’ comprehensive skill set extends beyond animal care, encompassing critical areas such as case management, supervision, financial management, marketing and supply management,” county officials said in a press release Thursday. “His proven track record is further highlighted by his successful ownership and operation of his own animal-related company for 19 years.”


Hawai‘i County Council approved the creation of the new Animal Control and Protection Agency in March. Formerly operated under a pilot program with Hawai‘i Police Department, the agency will continue under that same program with an annual $3.4 million operating budget and 45 full-time funded positions.

The police department has operated the animal control services for the past two years under a pilot project that was implemented when the short-lived contract with Hawai‘i Rainbow Rangers ended. The agency took control of animal control services on July 1.

The primary functions of the new agency:

  • Operating county pounds
  • Examining issues with and proposing updates to existing county animal control ordinances
  • Enforcing county and state animal control laws
  • Investigating animal cruelty and neglect cases
  • The agency also will provide a dedicated dispatch for animal control calls.

The new agency will be required to report to the council twice a year to make sure the public knows what it’s doing.

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