Pet owners blast state quarantine
By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau
KAHULUI, Maui Pet owners vented their frustration at the state's animal quarantine rules yesterday in the first of a statewide series of public hearings on a proposal to reduce the holding time for dogs and cats arriving in the Islands to five days or less, as long as certain precautions are taken.
A crowd of about 75 people spilled out of a hearing room at the state Department of Agriculture's offices in Kahului. Many who testified didn't speak specifically to the five-day quarantine proposal but instead called for eliminating the waiting period altogether.
"The system is wrong, unnecessary, outdated and painful," said Ann Evans of Pukalani, who was one of numerous pet owners who said they faced hardship when they moved to Hawai'i.
Evans said that after moving to Maui last fall, she remains separated from her Chinese pug because she won't allow the animal to "do time at Halawa Station."
"It is cruel, unsafe and would simply kill him," she said.
Arriving animals are required to complete a 120-day confinement at the State Animal Quarantine Station in Halawa on O'ahu to prevent the introduction of rabies to Hawai'i, the only rabies-free state in the nation. In 1997, the nearly century-old rule was changed to allow a 30-day quarantine option requiring two recent rabies vaccinations, implantation of a microchip for identification, a blood serum test to check for rabies antibodies and a 90-day waiting period from the time of blood testing until the pet's entry into the state.
The Board of Agriculture is recommending that a five-day quarantine option be established, with similar pre-arrival conditions as in the 30-day quarantine, but with a 120-day pre-arrival waiting period. The 120-day period is necessary, officials said, because of the long incubation period during which the rabies virus can remain in an animal before clinical signs of the disease become apparent.
The proposed rules include a provision that would allow immediate release of a pet upon arrival if all the pre-arrival requirements are met.
Many who spoke yesterday recounted how their pets were injured physically and psychologically during the quarantine period. They complained of excessive quarantine charges and how the law has prevented them from making a complete move to Hawai'i.
Chris Brigham, a physician who practices in both Honolulu and South Portland, Maine, argued there is no scientific basis supporting a quarantine as long as proper precautions are taken. He travels monthly to Maine to be with his toy poodle, Cubby, who Brigham said suffers from separation anxiety.
Greg Ring, a nurse at Maui Memorial Medical Center, said the O'ahu quarantine left his Australian shepherd with rashes, boils and hair loss, and ultimately killed him.
"He came in a healthy dog. He left a wreck," he said.
Mari Sheets of Kula said the proposed 120-day pre-arrival waiting period will not make it any easier for her to travel to the Mainland with her golden retriever to visit family.
"I love my home here, but unfortunately as life progresses and parents get older, I'm finding the need to be off-island more than I'd like. This is difficult because I can't take Duke," she said.
Part-time Wailea resident Bobbi Newman and her husband take turns visiting Maui, while the other stays in California to care for their dog. The couple want to expand their restaurant chain to Hawai'i but won't as long as there's a quarantine, she said.
"I wouldn't put my dog in (quarantine) for one day," she said.
Additional hearings will be held today at 10 a.m. at the Department of Agriculture conference room at 4398A Pua Loke St., Lihu'e, Kaua'i, and at 1:30 p.m. at the department's plant quarantine conference room at 1849 Auiki St. in Honolulu; Thursday at 1:30 p.m. at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawai'i Authority conference room at 73-4460 Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway in Kailua on the Big Island; and Friday at 1:30 p.m. in State Office Building conference rooms A, B and C at 75 Aupuni St. in Hilo.