Maui ‘Humane’ Society

There are many good and decent people who work at the Maui Humane Society, but I’ve got to say I’m not surprised at all at the really awful, heart-breaking stories appearing in The Maui News and Honolulu Advertiser these days about mistaken euthanizations and internal staff quarrels. Five years ago, I wrote about exactly these issues for Maui Time Weekly. The story is no longer in the paper’s online archives, so I’ll just reprint it here. See for yourself if any of this sounds familiar:

Mourning Coco
Why the Maui Humane Society killed a puppy after just 48 hours
By Anthony Pignataro
This is a story about a very cute little puppy named Coco who loved people but ran away from home and then would up at the Maui Humane Society, where, after staying there just 48 hours, was deemed “unadoptable” and euthanized.
Coco was about six weeks old when Kula resident and Paradise Spice owner Charles Bunch adopted her. A friend’s dog had just given birth to a large litter, and Bunch’s family decided to take one of the puppies. A bulldog-terrier mix, Coco was  very friendly and, like most puppies, had a tendency to cry when left alone.
On July 20, Coco dug underneath the chain-link fence that surrounds two sides of Bunch’s quarter-acre home and escaped. But that day, another Kula resident found Coco. Not knowing whom she belonged to–she wore no collar or tags–the neighbor took her to the Maui Humane Society. Three days of fruitless searching later, Bunch finally contacted the shelter. Humane Society Director of Animal Control Aimee Anderson took the call. At first, Anderson seemed hopeful. She asked Bunch to describe the puppy. But then she got quiet. She asked Bunch if Coco cried when separated from people. Bunch said she did.
“I’m afraid I have some terrible news,” Bunch remembers Anderson saying. Anderson began to cry as she told him Coco had been killed just 24 hours earlier.
Bunch said the realization that his puppy was dead devastated him. He set up a website showing pictures of Coco and announcing that the shelter “failed” its stated mission of trying to find a home for “every orphaned animal.” And he wrote letters to local newspapers excoriating the shelter. An edited version ran in The Maui News on July 30.
“An ounce of common sense could have prevented this death,” Bunch’s original letter said. “[Coco] cried because she was lonely for her owner, or even simple human contact. Are these signs of an unwanted, stray animal? She was used to being loved… Who now wishes to take a lost animal to the Maui Humane Society?”
Anderson said Bunch’s criticism stung the shelter, but refused to blame him. “Management made the decision to euthanize,” said Anderson, who’s worked at the Maui Humane Society for 16 years. “I didn’t make the decision and I’m not going to question the decision because it’s not an easy decision to make. [But it’s] something we need to actually look at. When you’re running at full capacity, have nowhere to put dogs, that’s when decisions have to be made.”
Despite her wish not to question the decision to euthanize, Anderson kept returning to the issue. “How do you make that decision?” she asked. “I don’t think two days is long enough, personally.”
Anderson said state law is very clear on the issue of killing dogs left at the shelter. The Humane Society must hold licensed dogs for at least nine days, but need only hold unlicensed dogs for two. Because Coco wasn’t wearing a collar, she fell in the latter category. According to Bunch, Coco suffered from a skin disease that made it impossible to attach a collar to her neck. Ironically, the disease–which Bunch said a month of antibiotics had nearly cured–contributed to shelter management’s belief that no one would want the dog.
“We have 24 kennels and they’re always full,” Anderson said. “In the isolation area in the back are seven kennels and those are all full. Every day we get dogs. We can have three, four days when we don’t have to put down any dogs. That’s joyous. Then there are weeks when we put down dogs every day. The other day we got 28 puppies in one hour. That’s tough. One of the litters has ringworm, and that’s not helpful. Our goal is to become a no-kill shelter. But the only way to do that is to get adoptions up.”
Bunch said he understands the shelter is crowded. But he insists that “better judgment” would have saved his dog. “The main thing I would hope happens is they at least give owners a week,” he said. “Animals are supposed to be saved, not destroyed.”
[August 5, 2004]
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