Experts shed light on animal shelter operations, lack of regulation


We were there Wednesday as more than 270 dogs were taken from the Friends for Life animal shelter in Makaha.

Many were in poor health, including one with ticks on both ears.

Dr. Joseph Edhlund with Gentle Vets said tick infestation can occur rapidly.

“That particular dog, although he looked awful, that particular infestation could have actually come from one female tick that hatched in his area. A single female tick can have 20,000 eggs in her,” he explained. “The bottom line on shelters, and operating a good shelter, is having adequate resources to do so.”

Edhlund explained tick control can be expensive: “Tick preventative is something like $10 per month per dog. That’s $2,700 a month just for tick control (for 270 dogs).”

What’s in place to ensure a shelter has the resources? It starts with a permit to build a commercial kennel on a large enough piece of land that’s not in residential zoning.

Once it’s approved and built, who regulates the shelters? The city says it makes sure the building was built according to plans, but doesn’t regulate day-to-day operations.

Inga Gibson of the Humane Society of the United States told us the lack of state and federal laws regulating animal shelters are a challenge.

“This is what we see, not only in other cases across Hawaii, but across the country, is that people get in over their heads,” Gibson explained. “They don’t have the resources to properly care for the animals, and they end up actually doing a disservice to the animals. Hawaii has no state laws that regulate standards of care, that allows for routine or even random inspection.”

KHON2 spoke with Sasha Kamahele, a Mililani resident who volunteers with non-profit K9 Kokua with her 9-year-old daughter, Rylee.

“Do you think things need to be changed?” we asked.

“Absolutely,” said Sasha Kamahele. “I think any animal shelter with integrity would have no problem with a pop-up visit to make sure animals are being care for properly. There needs to be a lot of changes with our law system with our animals here, and a lot more needs to be enforced.”

“It needs to be transparent,” said Rylee Kamahele, who is K9 Kokua’s youngest volunteer. “They’re seeing everything they’re doing, and they need to be good, even if someone is not watching them.”

The Humane Society of the United States says the public should look out for red flags when visiting an animal shelter:

  • Shelters should be a registered non-profit organization. In Hawaii, non-profits are also required to be registered with the district state attorney general’s office.
  • Shelters should advertise hours where it’s open to the public.
  • Shelters should allow public access to see the conditions animals are raised in.
  • Shelters will have a licensed veterinarian on staff.
  • Shelters will spay or neuter all animals before going out for adoption.

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