State laws complicate removal of animals from homeless camps despite recent dog bites

State laws complicate removal of animals from homeless camps despite recent dog bites

Over the past several days five people have been bitten by loose dogs at Kakaako Waterfront Park. In each case the animal belonged to homeless campers.  But according to the Hawaiian Humane Society, laws don't permit officials to confiscate an animal, even after an attack.

The most recent bite happened late Wednesday afternoon. The victim was a social worker for the homeless.

"They were surrounded by about seven dogs and one or two of them actually bit him," said Connie Mitchell, Executive Director Institute for Human Services.

It's estimated there are between 20 and 25 dogs that belong to homeless campers at the park. Some are tied up while others roam free. There are even puppies.

The Executive Director at the Institute for Human Services says it's a problem that's happening at encampments across the island.

"They've been encountering dogs in the Nimitz area.  They've encountered dogs in central Oahu. Where ever you go it's kind of part of what we've come to expect," said Mitchell.

The Hawaiian Humane Society says removing animals is complicated.  The only time the agency can legally confiscate a dog is if it's loose and the owner is not present, or if the animal is being abused.  In most cases the owner has the right to keep the dog -- even if it bites.

"There are two areas of law that cover dog bites. One is just a nuisance. A minor dog bite.  There is no provision under the law to take a dog for a nuisance," said Harold Han, Field Service Manager for the Hawaiian Humane Society.

The other provision deals with dangerous dogs.  Han says even if a dog is involved in a serious attack there's a chance it could be returned to it's owner as long as the animal is safely contained.

Han says after Wednesday's attack, the owner voluntarily gave up three of their dogs.

Meantime Mitchell says she refuses to put her workers in harms way.  For now, IHS has stopped outreach at Kakaako park and under the Nimitz Viaduct.

"You have to ask yourself are we really going to allow people to continue to put others at risk," said Mitchell.

Han says the Hawaiian Humane Society is working with the state to come up with a plan to better address the problem.

If you are bitten by a dog you're told to call 911 and immediately report the incident to police.

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