August dog attacks in Ocean View lead residents to take action, pressure animal control
November 12, 2023, 1:00 AM HST
When Jake Elliott walks his three Siberian huskies, Denali, Mahina and Poliahu, and his Belgian Malinois named Radar, he carries a baton, taser and knife.
The reason? To protect himself and his pets from aggressive dogs, some who run in packs, that for months have been terrorizing Hawaiian Ocean View Estates.
Aggressive dogs and abused or abandoned animals have been an issue for years for the sprawling rural Ka‘ū community. But now, residents feel the problem has escalated following two attacks in August that resulted in the death of 71-year-old Robert Northrop and two bites to the leg of Jason Canaan, who was fortunate it wasn’t worse after being encircled by a pack of about six to eight vicious dogs.
Resident Hannah Janssen is so fearful she recently has stopped going on walks in the neighborhood unless she has an escort with a weapon or a dog.
Feeling they are not getting help from Hawai‘i County’s new Animal Control and Protection Agency, Elliott and his neighbors on Palm Parkway and Lono Lane are taking matters into their own hands. They have bought a $200 dog trap to capture a skittish, starved pit bull that’s been rummaging through Janssen’s trash for weeks.
Elliott said he doesn’t want the aggressive dogs harmed; he wants them to no longer be freely roaming the neighborhood.
Canaan said there is frequent discussion to pressure the county to do their job by coming out and capturing the feral canines and holding their owners accountable. Multiple neighbors have reached out to animal control for help in catching animals.
Matt Runnells, the director of the county’s new Animal Control and Protection Agency — which took over those duties from the Hawai’i Island police on July 1 — said last week that animal control offers were evaluating places where they could place traps to catch animals.
With only seven full-time animal control officers for the entire island, Runnells said his officers are spread thin. They make visits to the Ka‘ū community once or twice a week. The county department is also addressing dog packs reported in Volcano and Pāhoa, where there also have been people severely injured in attacks.
“It’s a sign of the area,” Runnells said. “The mentality that they don’t see animals as part of the family but a piece of property when we live in a throw-away society.”
While overcrowded animal shelters and strays have always been a prevalent problem on Hawai‘i Island, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the issue with pets being abandoned by unemployed or underemployed people facing economic hardships.
Runnells is in the process of building a larger staff and hopes to have a total of 16 full-time animal control officers by next spring.
“We’re a new department,” he said. “It takes time. Most positions are being created from scratch.”
He added: “We are trying to steer ourselves to those areas that need drastic attention and we can’t get out there fast enough.”
He also is looking into setting up a staging post in Ocean View for officers to process animals they catch throughout the area.
“Those animals would be transported to a permanent facility at the end of the day,” he explained, adding he’s also looking into bringing on a mobile vet unit.
Runnells is in the process of getting more traps, that have been successful in getting aggressive dogs. Now, the department only has about a dozen. He said a shipment is on its way with 80 cages (a trap with a spring door).
With the traps, his officers have caught a few of the dogs running packs but they get replaced by other packs.
Many residents in Ocean View want the issue to be addressed before anyone else gets hurt.
Canaan was attacked around Palm Parkway and Catamaran Lane while walking across the 5-mile subdivision a couple of weeks after Northrop was fatally mauled. He suspects it was the same pack of dogs, who probably were trained to hunt pigs.
Canaan was able to break the circle, but not before being bit twice. The next day, Canaan took police to the area where the attack occurred, but officers wouldn’t go to the home where the dogs came from.
“They [the police] just told me to avoid the area,” he said.
Canaan said he’s been back to that area recently and said he hasn’t seen the dogs.
“I just want dogs to be properly restrained,” Canaan said.
Canaan and Janssen think the neighborhood could use a professional sweep by animal control.
Janssen said she wants the county to start fining dog owners for animals unleashed or non-confined.
“I’m not interested in being killed or injured by dogs,” Janssen said. “I see them all the time while driving. While [I’m] in the car, they will menacingly chase and bark.”