HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A frantic search for a missing golden retriever named Mele is raising questions about laws meant to protect stray animals from theft.
On the evening of Aug. 9, Ani Izuta says her dad went hiking with Mele along Hawaii Loa Ridge Trail ― something they did every week ― when the dog ran ahead.
It hasn’t been seen since.
For weeks, the family and volunteers searched the mountains and valleys using drones, infrared binoculars, motion cameras, and hunters ― without any luck.
"She's not just a pet to us, she's our family," said Izuta. "There's just an emptiness in our home without her."
Now the family believes Mele may be with someone, and are offering a $2,500 reward, no questions asked.
"Everything points to she's not up there (in the mountains). We just want her back in our family. We don't want anyone to get in trouble. We just want her home," said Izuta.
Hawaiian Humane Society officials say that under state law, if you come across a lost pet and can’t track down the owner immediately, you must call them.
“You’re actually obligated by law to contact us,” said Daniel Roselle, Hawaiian Humane Society director of community relations. “Once you secure the animal, let us know and you actually file a found report.”
Because pets are considered personal property, Roselle says keeping someone's animal is considered a theft that comes with penalties.
"Pet owners can report it to the Honolulu Police Department, and that would go to them because that would be considered stolen property," said Roselle.
Lawmakers say right now the fine for breaking this law can be up to $500, but state Rep. Chris Lee, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, says it should be much more.
"It doesn't make sense to have such a low fine when (a pet) is such a huge part of someone's life," said Lee. "You want to create an incentive for people to turn in lost pets, not just keep them because it's cheaper paying a penalty than actually going out to buy a pet at the pet store."
The Humane Society reiterates the importance of microchipping your pets and keeping your address on the microchip up to date.
If you see Mele or have any information about her whereabouts, you’re asked to call (808) 226-3270. Her owners say she weighs about 50 pounds, has a pink nose, and was last seen wearing a purple collar.