Standing Up For Animals

By Pamela Burns
Wednesday - February 01, 2006
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Hawaiian Humane Society CEO Pamela Burns hangs out with her friends “Katie” the kitten and “Miracle” the puppy
Hawaiian Humane Society CEO Pamela Burns
hangs out with her friends “Katie” the kitten and
“Miracle” the puppy

In the 16 years that I have served as president and CEO of the Hawaiian Humane Society, it has been a pleasure to be a part of this energetic and creative educational and advocacy organization that is working to make compassion and caring of all living creatures an intrinsic part of our value system in the islands.

The community’s growing compassion for animals becomes more and more evident with each year. Just in the last decade, we’ve seen dog ownership escalate from 24 percent of Oahu homes to about 40 percent. And pets of some kind are part of 56 percent of Oahu families.

As more and more dogs move from the back yard into our living rooms and outdoor cats have become indoor dwellers, it’s clear that families are becoming more educated and better caregivers. These animals share our hearts and lives, not as second-class family members, but often as our family’s most joyful source of unconditional love. A recent affirmation of the rising status of animals is Governor Lingle’s announcement that Hawaii will have pet-friendly emergency shelters by the next hurricane season, simply because pets are family too.

While many think the Humane Society’s focus is on fur and feathers, it’s really on families. We’re as much about helping people as we are about caring for animals. This year, we’ve piloted an educational program that puts humane values curriculum into fourth-grade classrooms islandwide. We’ve also broadened our programs to include Pets of Patriots, which fosters pets for deployed military, and established the Pals Program, which offers emergency fostering and in-home pet care services for people in crises. It may be a spouse fleeing a domestic violence situation, or an elderly person who has been hospitalized. Our advocacy program also works to establish more dog-friendly places and more pet-friendly housing so that people are not forced to choose between a home and their animal companions.

In terms of public policy, we’ve helped to establish new legislation such as the Cat Protection Law, which requires identification and sterilization of cats allowed outdoors. This has enabled us to reunite thousands of lost cats with their owners. This year we return to the Legislature, giving voice to the animals who have none.

The proposed Aggravated Animal Cruelty Bill establishes felony penalties for people who commit the most brutal forms of animal abuse. This measure allows the court to sentence someone to up to five years in jail. Currently, cruelty to animals is a misdemeanor with a penalty range as low as a $50 fine and maximum of one year in jail. Forty-one states have already established similar felony laws.

Our other initiative is a bill that would establish Custody Rights of Cruelty Case Animals, which would allow the court to grant adoption rights to a law enforcement agency if the owner charged with animal cruelty does not post bond for the care of his animals while a case awaits resolution.

This bill is a priority for us as animal cruelty cases can take months and sometimes years to resolve. As the case moves through the courts, the animals lives are in limbo. Several states have established similar laws.

We care deeply about the passage of these bills because stronger laws help to protect animals and people. For instance, most criminals involved in violence against people have also committed similar crimes against animals first. This transference of abuse can and does happen. The FBI began to see this connection in the ‘70s, and animal abuse is one of three indicators to help identify serials killers.

Our commitment to Hawaii’s people is part of our history. More than 100 years ago our organization was founded to care for a variety of vulnerable populations from unwed mothers to human and pet orphans. We oversaw the protection of children until 1935.

Today, we continue to welcome the abandoned, the abused, the homeless and unloved - focusing on animals as our catalyst for fostering compassion and other humane values in the community. The humane society was established with a mission to do just this - create a truly humane society where compassion for all living creatures is a cornerstone for our community. We hope that more who care about people and animals will join our cause.

Next Week: Jean Nakanishi of Subzero

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