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HONOLULU (KHON2) — Lawmakers want to add more teeth to laws against pet owners whose dogs bite people. The family of a man killed by a pack of dogs says dog owners need to be held accountable.
Dog attacks leave victims with more than just physical scars. Many said they were traumatized and living in fear.
A number of diabolical incidents made headlines, including Death of Robert Northrup, 71 In August 2023
“Yesterday was the six-month anniversary of the death of my father, Bob Northrup. He lived in Oceanview. He was out walking and was killed by four dogs that were loose,” explained Shannon Matson. “And the dog owners. Haven’t experienced any side effects yet. There were no consequences, no accountability, no charges brought.
Matson is not alone. Many people who have experienced dog attacks say there is little recourse, adding insult to injury.
Stephanie Kendrick, Hawai’i Humane Society director of community engagement, said the problem is a lack of proper laws regarding dangerous dog incidents.
“What we have is a multitude of statewide laws and what we have are very modest penalties for these crimes,” Kendrick added. “I’m talking about misdemeanor crimes, and that’s regardless of the nature of the assault.”
The passage of a new bill in the Legislature aims to change that.
“What this bill does is it creates a designation for dangerous dogs as well as the act of imprisoning a dog,” explained Representative Gregor Elgin. “And for serious situations where a dog attacks a human, there are appropriate penalties.”
According to HB2058, a dangerous dog is defined as “any dog that, without provocation, causes injury by biting a person or another animal.”
Kendrick said the bill doesn’t target any specific breed of dog, it puts the onus on the dog owner.
“We don’t want a dog to be punished for natural behavior,” Kendrick explained. “So someone comes onto their property and there’s a stranger, the dog reacts negatively, well that’s the dog’s job.”
But if the attack is unprovoked, Elgin said the dog’s owner could be charged with a Class C felony. And that said, if the victim dies, the dog can be put down and the owner can spend up to five years in prison.
“We need to encourage proper responsibility for dog owners,” Elgin said. “We need to make sure dog owners are looking after their dogs and keeping them on their property and not harming others.”
Matson knows nothing will bring her father back but said stricter laws will help her family get some closure.
“We feel that strong legislation will help ensure that both in memory of our fathers and in the hope that no one else has to go through this again.”