Hawai‘i County Council presents resolution urging lawmakers to increase penalties for vicious dog attacks
Hawai‘i County Council gave a favorable recommendation to a resolution urging state lawmakers to increase fines and penalties for dog owners whose animals attack a person.
During Tuesday’s Government Operations and External Affairs Committee meeting, the family of Bob Northrop, an Ocean View man who died after being mauled by a pack of dogs in August, testified in favor of Resolution 430-24 and expressed frustration over the lack of action by law enforcement in their father’s case.
“It doesn’t make sense to me. None of this makes sense to me,” said Northrop’s daughter Anna Schamber.
The resolution also expressed support for HB 2058 which would establish requirements and penalties for dog owners that allow their pets to injure or kill other animals or people. This includes convicting dog owners of a class C felony for a dog attack that results in severe bodily injury, or a class B felony when the attack results in a death.
With vicious dog attacks being an ongoing problem on Hawai‘i Island, the council passed an ordinance in 2022 that made it possible to prosecute people with dangerous dogs that maimed or killed people as a felony.
While Hawai‘i County passed the bill before Northrop’s death, there is no state law equivalent to the county measure. As a result, Councilmember Ashley Kierkiewicz said the law couldn’t be implemented.
“I’m feeling really devastated by that, but now, the state has an opportunity to rectify this, to give counties that authority,” Kierkiewicz said. “I don’t think a class C felony goes far enough.”
Schamber expressed frustration during her testimony saying her father’s death was 100% avoidable. She testified that Northrop’s neighbor was bitten by the same dogs before the attack on her father.
“If the dog owners had been accountable the first time, my dad would be still here,” she said, adding nothing is stopping these people from owning more dogs or letting their dogs out to kill more people.
“They’re completely irresponsible, and they have zero consequences right now, and I think that’s unacceptable,” Schamber said.
Northrop is survived by two daughters and five grandchildren ranging in age from under 1 year old to 10 years old.
“This trauma has left long-lasting emotional damage and PTSD for our family,” said Schamber’s husband Dean-Paul, adding their 6-year-old son is terrified to be in the presence of any dog not just because of his grandfather but because he was also bitten.
Dean-Paul Schamber said the family just lost their 14-year-old dog, Drake. As of now, they have no desire to bring another canine into the family.
“And I know that totally pains my wife, who has always been a dog owner her whole life,” Dean-Paul Schamber said.
John Matson, Schamber’s brother-in-law also testified saying the past six months have been hard for his family.
“Shannon and Anna [Northrop’s daughters] were raised to understand the power of acts of service, and also to care for animals. So to have Bob taken how he was is…exceptionally painful,” John Matson said.
Matson said he hopes the law gets straightened out from the state and county so not only does someone lose their life again, but that another family doesn’t go through what his has been through.
Kierkiewicz said there also needs to be more standardizing of definitions in the state laws concerning vicious dogs.
“If counties can make different definitions and they’re not aligned with state statute, we’re going to be in another really weird and awkward legal situation on whether or not we can pursue,” Kierkiewicz said. “That needs to be cleaned up.”
The councilmember added that nobody wants to play the blame game.
“They just want a solution so that families can heal and find closure,” she said.
The resolution passed with seven votes in favor and Councilmembers Michelle Galimba and Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder excused. The measure will go before the full council on Feb. 21.
“I just want there to be some sort of justice for my father, and that other people never have to experience this kind of pain and heartbreak,” Schamber said.