Pam Burns deserves the thanks of the people of Hawaii for many reasons.
Burns was president and CEO of the Hawaiian Humane Society for the last 27 years. She died peacefully at her home after an illness Sept. 18. She was 65.
Burns should be thanked for saving the lives of thousands of unwanted animals by finding them new homes. And thanked, if they could thank her, by all the lost cats, dogs and pet rabbits she joyfully reunited with their owners.
The list of her accomplishments goes on and on.
But to animal welfare advocates and crime fighters, Burns’ legacy will be the laws she forged to change the way animals are viewed by law enforcement and the courts.
She was focused and fearless in her quest to get animal abuse taken more seriously by the Legislature. She believed the worst abusers should go to jail.
Her crusade had a central theme: The law must look at pets as more then mere property; they are to be regarded as living, feeling beings entitled to some of the same legal protections as human beings.
“She felt a misdemeanor was not enough for people responsible for the suffering of many animals.” — Deputy Prosecutor Janice Futa
Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro called Burns “a hero to animals.” He said, “She was tireless and persistent and never gave up. She was never offended when a bill she knew was needed failed to pass. She just came back to try again and again.”
Burns realized early on that it was not enough to urge people to be kind to animals, there also had be stiff fines and jail terms for criminals who neglected, tortured or killed them.
“We really think the Legislature is an important way of increasing the protection of animals,” she told the Star-Advertister in 2012.
Working with state lawmakers and the Honolulu prosecutor’s office, Burns helped push through dozens of laws to make life safer for animals, including a measure to add a felony provision to the animal cruelty law.
In 2007 the legislature added a felony first-degree cruelty to animals charge. In addition, the Legislature amended the misdemeanor second-degree cruelty to animals charge to make it a felony if 10 or more animals were involved.
On July 14, James Montgomery was slapped with the felony provision for animal cruelty and was sentenced by Circuit Court Judge Shirley Kawamura to serve nine months in jail and four years of probation, during which he is prohibited from owning animals.
“We were pleased that justice was served along with one of the stiffest penalties I’ve seen in my career for a crime against an animal,” said Deputy Prosecutor Janice Futa.
“A felony provision to the law was very important to Pam,” Futa said. “She worked hard to get it. She felt a misdemeanor was not enough for people responsible for the suffering of many animals.”
Montgomery, a former Kaiser High School teacher, was convicted of running a puppy mill in his Kahuluu house where in July 2016. Investigators rescued 33 dogs from a home reeking with the odor of feces and urine, according to Allison Gammel, Humane Society community relations director.
In a trash can outside, investigators found a dead dog and another small, filthy dog still clinging to life, Gammel said.
It was the second time Montgomery had been convicted of animal cruelty. In January 2005, the Humane Society rescued 64 dogs from his home, where they were similarly mistreated, living in feces and covered with flies and mosquitos. In that case, Montgomery pleaded guilty to 55 counts of animal cruelty.
After the animals were seized, the Humane Society had to care for them for more than a year at a cost of $269,000 while Montgomery awaited trial. The law then did not allow the society to take immediate ownership of the animals to put them up for permanent adoption.
At Montgomery’s trial in 2006, District Court Judge Rhonda Nishimura granted him a deferred acceptance of a guilty plea and gave him back the dogs, which she ordered him to sell in 21 days. Montgomery was able to make a profit off of the animals he had abused.
“It was all backwards. He had harmed the animals yet he was still allowed to make money off of them. Pam felt this was wrong,” said Keoni Vaughn, who at the time was an investigator for the Humane Society.
But it didn’t happen the second time, when Montgomery was given jail time.
Burns had finally succeeded in getting a forfeiture law, which was signed by Gov. David Ige on July 6.
The new law allows any organization for prevention of cruelty of animals to petition the court for full custody of animals immediately after they are rescued from inhumane conditions.
“The new forfeiture law has made a huge difference, especially during large-scale animal rescues,” Futa said. “Pam pushed so hard for the law. We really need to allow the courts to deal quickly with the animals as opposed to waiting until after the disposition of the trial.”
Now that the forfeiture new law is in place, many abusers transfer ownership of their animals to the Humane Society even before a special court hearing is requested for forfeiture.
“It allows the suffering animals to be put in permanent loving homes quickly,” Vaughn said.
Futa said Burns was helpful to the prosecutor’s office because “she made sure her investigations were done in the right manner. She put a lot of effort and expense to training her investigators to do through investigations to reveal facts that would stand up in court.”
Burns championed another new law to include the protection of pets in temporary restraining orders when there are accusations of spouse abuse.
“Pam helped put the spotlight on the connection between pet abuse and spouse abuse,” said Nanci Kreidman, executive director of the Domestic Violence Action Center. “Many women will not leave their abusers because of their responsibility and connection to their pets and their fear that their pets will be hurt by their abusers. It is not uncommon for people who abuse their spouses and children to also abuse their pets.”
“She tried unsuccessfully, year after year, to get a law passed to regulate animal breeders.” — Mary Steiner
Jacque Vaughn, former community relations director for the Humane Society, said, “That law meant a lot to Pam because it is known that abusers will often use a family pet as leverage in an abuse situation, threatening to kill the pet if the abused spouse leaves.”
Kreidman said Burns also created a program at the Humane Society to find foster care for the pet of a owner fleeing from abuse.
Mary Steiner, a longtime friend of Burns and one of her advisors on public policy, said there was still so much more Burns wanted to do to better protect Hawaii’s animals.
“I hope we see a law coming up in Pam’s name,” Steiner said. “She tried unsuccessfully, year after year, to get a law passed to regulate animal breeders by limiting the number of animals they could breed at any time and setting conditions for the animals’ welfare such as the kinds of enclosures they could be kept in. In the puppy mills that have been closed down, the animals were suffering great pain in their feet from standing all their lives on wire in their cages, sleeping in their own filth and never getting outside for exercise.”
The bill would require periodic inspections of facilities and set minimum standards of care.
“If we could something passed along that line, it would a dream come true,” said Steiner. “I know Pam would favor that.”