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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Public divided on whether dog rescue worth $50,000

 •  Rescue effort extends to wildlife

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Hawaiian Humane Society's $50,000 would-be rescue at sea of Forgea — arguably the luckiest pooch on the planet — has kept tongues wagging in Honolulu like a panting dog on a hot day.

It seems like such a simple debate.

The critics: How could you?

The humane society: How could you not?

"It was the greatest thing they did, rescuing that dog," said Napua Moikea, who was training her black miniature poodle yesterday at Kapi'olani Park. "I'd do the same thing," she said, "if I had all that money."

She paused, holding her dog tight, since he's not always very friendly.

"I guess if you have had a dog you'd understand," she said.

Now, for those who have missed the saga that prompted all this, here's the short version:

The Indonesian refueling tanker Insiko 1907 catches fire in March, loses power, drifts at sea for 20 days. Crew nearly gives up hope when — ahoy! — the cruise ship Norwegian Star rescues everyone.

But the captain's dog, Forgea, is left behind — that was her barking on a tourist's video camera as the cruise ship sailed away. So the Humane Society begins a search, spending almost $50,000 to save the dog.

After nearly three weeks and two failed searches, the Insiko is found. Sailors from two longline fishing vessels board the ship to whisk Forgea to safety and a survivor's welcome in Honolulu.

Instead, Forgea hides below decks. At last report, the 2-year-old mixed-breed terrier was not ready to leave.

Amal Al-Misky has heard the debate, and isn't unsympathetic to animal lovers — she's one, too, who has adopted pets out of the pound more than once.

"I'm not going to disregard the lives of animals, but it seems a little wasteful to spend that much," said Al-Misky, a University of Hawai'i graduate student who was studying at Kapi'olani Park. "They could put that money toward the animals that have been rescued here. It's sad. The mission of the humane society is to save animals."

It's very easy to understand why people are so passionate about pets, even other people's pets, she said.

"I think pets are innocent creatures," she said. "They don't have any intentions to do harm. They comfort. They're loyal."

Across the park, Brant Swigart gave his 6-year-old daughter another shove on a swing and shook his head. He's heard the debate, too.

"Rest assured, there isn't another place where that would happen," he said. "But I think that's taking the word 'humane' to extraordinary levels. And I'm a dog lover. I have a golden retriever."

He waved over his wife, Felicia Bell.

"What do you think about the dog?" he said.

She shrugged, grinned.

"Well, how could you not?" Bell said, arms folded across her chest. "It's human nature."

And that's the heart of the issue. It's natural for people to want to help.

Ask Pamela Burns, president of the Hawaiian Humane Society. She has the donations checks to prove it.

Once word got out about the search, the first of about $48,000 worth of donations came in.

"This story has touched people," she said. "People who are animal lovers are extremely passionate, and it is the same around the world. It doesn't matter if this dog is Taiwanese, American or Hawaiian. It unites us."

But it's more than that, she said.

People need Forgea. It helps them feel better about life.

"I think people are looking for a happy story," Burns said. "Times are tough and the news hasn't been so great, and how lovely for us to spend time with a happy story about a shaggy white dog."

Burns has never seen anything like this. National and international media requests have kept her telephone with more zest than, well, a yapping lap dog.

"Did you see the CNN poll?" she said. "It was amazing."

The online poll, held Monday at the CNN Web site, drew 248,537 responses, with 59 percent of them saying the money was well spent.

That same day, it turns out, the CNN online story about the would-be rescue was its third most e-mailed story — not quite as popular as the story about the father who bit off his son's thumb, but more interesting than the human remains that were found inside a shark.

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.