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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 10, 2002

81 dogs in Maui 'dungeon of horrors'

By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor

Eighty-one dogs and 14 cats were removed from a Ha'iku home that a Maui Humane Society official described as a "dungeon of horrors."

The few surviving dogs from the 81 removed from a Maui home still face an uncertain future. Many were euthanized for health reasons. The house also contained 14 cats kept within sealed cabinets.

Christie Wilson • The Honolulu Advertiser

The dogs were kept locked in every room of the 1,200-square-foot, three-bedroom house. Most of the cats were confined inside lower kitchen cabinets that had been nailed shut.

Only seven dogs and two cats are alive today; the others had to be destroyed because of malnutrition and other health problems or because they were unsuitable as pets, Animal Control Supervisor Aimee Anderson said yesterday.

The woman who owned the dogs and lived in the home on West Lelehuna Place called for assistance Friday after one of the dogs was killed by the others, Anderson said. The woman reported that her dogs were fighting and said she had no food for them and couldn't take care of them anymore.

"What a waste of life," Anderson said. "It's very depressing. I wish they'd called us a long time before it got to this. This has taken an emotional toll on all of us."

Anderson said there is a lot of evidence that must be compiled before the case can be sent to county prosecutors for possible animal cruelty charges.

Cruelty to animals is a misdemeanor with a possible penalty of a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. With the potential for at least one misdemeanor charge per animal, the punishment could be severe.

The woman and her husband do not have a telephone in their house, and they did not respond to a reporter calling to them from outside their driveway gate yesterday.

Their daughter, who lives on Maui, called the situation "heartbreaking."

Her mother is "really upset at what's going on and she's taking it very hard," said the daughter, who did not want to be identified for fear of being harassed by those angry with her parents. "It was the best thing for the dogs and for her. It just got so overwhelming for her, and she didn't know what to do."

The daughter said she was not aware that her parents were keeping so many animals.

"It's heartbreaking to see her home trashed like that and sad for the dogs to see how they were living," she said.

Four of the dogs have been put up for adoption, and three others that the owners want returned are being held until Anderson can determine whether the couple can be prevented from regaining possession of the animals.

Anderson has put two sick, underweight cats under her own care to see if they can be saved.

The dogs living in the home were medium- to large-sized and of mixed breed and were not being raised for any particular reason, Anderson said. They apparently had been reproducing over a number of years and it took 10 hours and two teams of animal control workers to remove them from the house last week.

Sixty adult dogs and 21 puppies were taken away, and one dead dog was found in a puddle of blood in a hallway. The dogs were suffering from malnutrition and dehydration, hair loss, severe bite wounds, heartworms and urine burns, and some were pregnant.

"They were acting like dog packs," Anderson said. "The bite wounds were horrific. A lot of dogs died in that house over a time."

The house where the dogs lived was filled with animal feces and other filth. The rooms had no lights or window coverings and were devoid of furnishings. The living room had been partitioned into two separate pens for the dogs.

"This is the worst case in Maui Humane Society history just by sheer volume and deplorable conditions," Anderson said.

Neighbor Maria Bantilan had been working for two years to document noise and odor problems at the nearby house and organized neighbors to write letters to officials. During that time, Bantilan said, she filed dozens of complaints with police, animal control officers, county prosecutors and the Department of Health, but got little action.

She said Anderson was particularly helpful, but because the animals and the mess were confined in the house and the owners would not allow authorities onto their property, there was no visible evidence available to obtain a search warrant.

Anderson said that even with the complaints, "nobody had any idea" how bad the conditions were inside.

Bantilan said the smell was so bad that her children couldn't play outside and she had to keep the windows closed in her front living room. She also has three audio tapes of loud howling and barking recorded from her front yard.

A Department of Health inspector finally came over a week before the animals were removed and wrote up a report, Bantilan said, but there was no indication any official action would be taken anytime soon.

In the end, it was the woman who owned the dogs who sought help from officials and had the animals removed.

Bantilan said she would like to see a new county ordinance limiting the number of dogs someone can own before they must register as a kennel and obtain appropriate permits.

"It's just wrong," she said. "Every animal deserves to be treated just as good as you and me."