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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 11, 2002

Maui woman says officials 'slaughtered' her pets

 •  Previous story: 81 dogs in Maui 'dungeon of horrors'

By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor

Jean Bermudez chokes back tears as she recites the names of her beloved dogs: Zeus, Mahi, Buddy, Kimo, Lava, Hope, Princess, Sam, Ginger, Dutchess, Nani, Molly, Ebony, Chance, Jade, Buster, Boomer.

Ninety-six animals — 82 dogs and 14 cats — were taken from Jean Bermudez's home. The Haiku, Maui, woman said she would not have turned them over to the Maui Humane Society if she had known nearly all would be euthanized.

George Wolf • Special to The Advertiser

The list goes on — there are 82 in all.

"They all had names. I loved all of them," Bermudez said yesterday. "But sometimes it was difficult to take care of them. We're not rich. We do the best we can."

Only seven are alive today, a week since the Maui Humane Society removed the animals from inside Bermudez's home in Ha'iku after she called for assistance.

Animal control officers also removed 14 cats; only one will survive. A second cat that was put under foster care has been diagnosed with a fatal disease.

One of the dogs was found dead in the house after it had been mauled by others. Maui Humane Society officials said 74 dogs and 12 cats were destroyed over the weekend because they were too sick or were deemed unsuitable for adoption.

Bermudez and her husband, Tim, said that if they had known their animals were going to be killed, they never would have turned them over. They said the animal-control officers assured them that the dogs would be spayed or neutered and that new homes found for them.

"I turned them over to slaughter," said Jean Bermudez. "My heart was broken in half when I heard what they did to my dogs."

Animal Control Supervisor Aimee Anderson said Bermudez signed several papers surrendering control of the animals, and was told only that the agency would do its best in finding new homes. No promises were made, she said.

Anderson said she was faced with the tough decision to euthanize most of the animals because of their poor health, lack of socialization, and lack of space and resources at the animal shelter. The shelter already was at full capacity with 24 adult dogs and 30 puppies, she said.

"In an ideal situation, we could have kept them longer perhaps with a lot of time, a lot of medication, and a lot of socialization" Anderson said. "But that would have meant wiping out the adoptable animals that were there already for these that had myriad problems.

"It was not an easy decision, and it's still tragic."

Neighbors had been complaining for at least two years to police, the Humane Society and the Department of Health about the noise and smell from the Bermudez house. Officials said they were unable to respond because the homeowners refused to let authorities onto their property. Since the dogs were kept indoors, there was no visible evidence that justified obtaining a search warrant.

Bermudez said she never intended to have 82 dogs and realizes it was a mistake to let them continue breeding. She said only intended to provide a loving home for the animals and save some strays. Plus, "I just fall in love with puppies."

The animals demanded so much attention, Bermudez said, that she was able to work only two days week, as a cook at a neighborhood store. A large chunk of the couple's income went toward pet food.

Bermudez said she cleaned up animal feces immediately and used disinfectant on the floors. The pools of urine that animal-control officers reported were actually water that spilled from bowls during the commotion, she said.

As for sharing a home with 96 animals, Bermudez said: "I was used to it. Like I said, I loved them."

She denied reports that the cats were kept in kitchen cabinets that were nailed shut. She said the cabinets had been converted into cages, with a few of the doors replaced with metal grilles, and the nails used as latches.

"They were fed and cleaned daily," she said.

Bermudez said that most of the animals were in good health and that the Humane Society did not take the time to evaluate each dog.

"They weren't bad dogs if you take them one at at time," she said.

At least one of her neighbors agrees that the agency may have acted too hastily. Lisa Hudgens said yesterday that more animals could have been saved if the Humane Society asked for help from other animal rescue agencies on Maui and from members of the public who were willing to serve as foster caretakers and to train the dogs to become good pets.

"They should have at least spread the news to the public. I'm pretty sure 80 people would have gone down there and rescued those dogs," she said.

Hudgens, who adopted four poi dogs from the shelter, also doesn't accept explanations by officials who said they were helpless to intervene.

"If they had done something a year ago or a year and a half ago when the complaints first started coming in, there would have been fewer dogs to put down," she said.

"Her heart is in the right place," Hudgens said of Bermudez, "but you can't have that many animals and not take care of them."

The Bermudezes pointed out there are no laws limiting the number of dogs a person can own, and they feel their property was illegally taken. They have consulted a lawyer and will continue to seek the return of the remaining seven dogs.

"It feels like a tomb at home and I miss them a whole lot and I want them back," Jean Bermudez said.