Ex-caretaker of 400 animals says he's victim of 'vendetta'
• Photo gallery: Animal Haven
By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer
On July 13, the day Norman Pang's wife, Bonnie, died, he got a call offering help with more than 400 dogs, cats and birds his wife had cared for at their rural Nanakuli home under the name Animal Haven — which he described as a no-kill hospice for abused, abandoned and unwanted animals on the Leeward Coast.
The call was from Jennifer Kishimori, vice president of the O'ahu Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
"I said a friend of his had called, and I asked how could I assist him," Kishimori said. "And he said, 'I'm not able to care for all these animals. My wife passed away. And I need help.' "
What followed over the next five days involved three animal welfare agencies and what's been described as the largest animal rescue operation in O'ahu's history.
And although Pang has not been cited, arrested or charged, he is facing possible prosecution for animal cruelty — even though some animal activists say that's not the case and that Pang's cooperation is what made the rescue operation a success.
"I thought they were here to help me in my time of need," said Pang, who believes he has been the victim of a "spiteful vendetta" that has damaged his name and reputation. "But it's evidently not turning out that way."
Two days after his wife's death, Pang signed a surrender statement giving Kishimori's group full ownership of all the animals at the shelter. Because the O'ahu SPCA is barely a year old, Kishimori requested the assistance from the Humane Society of the United States, which has resources and experience in animal rescues. The national agency accepted and flew a small team to Hawai'i.
Pang had specifically told Kishimori he did not want the assistance of the Hawaiian Humane Society because his wife, who began the animal shelter nearly two decades ago, disapproved of the society's euthanasia policy. That, and the fact that the society had taken Bonnie to court in 1995 for cruelty to animals, although a judge dismissed the case.
On July 19, members of the O'ahu SPCA, assisted by the Humane Society of the United States, began moving dozens of animals from the Pang residence to a hastily prepared emergency animal shelter in Kalaeloa.
But during the move, Pang said he noticed a man and woman from the national Humane Society videotaping and photographing emaciated and sickly animals that had recently come into the compound.
"I questioned the guy about what he was doing," recalled Pang, 64. "And he said, 'Oh, we're doing a training film.' And I says, 'You sure you're not using it for evidence against me?' And he said, 'Oh, no, no, no. We're doing it for the training film.' And I took their word that they were just doing it for training purposes."
Later, Pang said a video of the rescue appeared on the national Humane Society Web site describing the shelter as a "hoarding situation," and featuring emaciated dogs and cats along with descriptions of "open wounds" and "external and internal parasites."
Still photographs from that Web site have since shown up on the Hawaiian Humane Society Web site along with negative characterizations of Animal Haven as a "hoarding/breeding operation."
Among the "commonly asked questions" the Hawaiian Humane Society Web site says it has received about the Animal Haven rescue is one unattributed comment that reads, "I heard the rescue groups on the news say that there was no point to charging the abuser with cruelty. Why should he be allowed to get away with murder?"
The Web site also states the agency has "provided the Prosecutor's Office with photographs, video and statements as evidence."
Jim Fulton, with the prosecutor's office, acknowledged that a criminal investigation is ongoing but said he could not comment further.
Inga Gibson, Hawai'i state director of the Humane Society of the United States, said her organization turned video footage and still photographs of the Animal Haven rescue over to the Hawaiian Humane Society when it was asked to do so.
"Any time a request is made (for) information related to a possible criminal investigation, we have a legal obligation to provide that information," said Gibson, who pointed out that the Hawaiian Humane Society is an animal control law enforcement agency, which Gibson's organization is not.
Had the materials not been turned over, she said the Humane Society of the United States could be susceptible to charges of withholding evidence in a criminal case.
Gibson said it is standard procedure for her organization to post videos and still photographs of rescues on its Web site as a way to keep members informed about what the agency is doing.
Pam Burns, CEO of the Hawaiian Humane Society, said it's up to the city prosecutor's office to decide if Pang has violated the law. She said because the Pangs would not allow her investigators to enter the property, it wasn't possible for her organization to make a firsthand assessment.
However, based on the national Humane Society's video footage, photographs and personal statements of one of that organization's on-site rescuers, she said, "We believe that it (Animal Haven) was in violation of the animal cruelty law."
Others don't see it that way.
Alicia Maluafiti, president of the O'ahu SPCA and former community relations director for the Hawaiian Humane Society, said the Pang residence has long been known as a shelter of last resort for sick and abused animals on the coast.
"We believe that Mr. Pang is doing everything he should be doing, and for that he doesn't deserve to be prosecuted," said Maluafiti, who thinks the Pangs, out of kindness, accommodated and cared for as best they could the never-ending menagerie of forsaken creatures they inherited.
"They were overwhelmed. It was through no fault of their own that the people of the community continued to dump their animals there."
Added O'ahu SPCA's Kishimori, "When she (Bonnie Pang) received most of these animals, they were in horrific condition. It wasn't as though she neglected them. That's the way she received them. I'm amazed at what all she did with all these animals — although she was in way over her head."
Maluafiti and Gibson both say the rescue operation went smoothly and quickly because of Pang's cooperation and assistance.
Of the more than 400 dogs, cats and birds taken, only three had to be euthanized. Approximately two thirds of the remainder have been adopted or are in foster care. The rest are doing well and are being cared for by volunteers at the temporary shelter.
Honolulu attorney Michael Ostendorp has sent a letter to the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States accusing the organization of unethical and deceitful conduct in telling Pang it was making a training film that is now being used as evidence against him, and in "working surreptitiously to carry out the Hawaiian Humane Society's spiteful vendetta against the Pangs."
Pang says what he's looking for from the Humane Society of the United States is an apology, a retraction and for it to remove the negative video of the Animal Haven rescue from its Web site.
And that's all he wants.
"Yes," he said after thinking it over. "I think that's it — for now. If they don't, then I'm going to have to go in a different route."