Hawaii County is looking for a new animal control vendor after severing ties with its previous one, which lasted only one year on the job.
Several residents on Tuesday called for the Hawaii County Council to investigate what transpired between the county and Hawaii Rainbow Rangers, the animal control operator whose contract wasn’t extended June 30, after allegations about mass euthanasia, misappropriated funds and staffing issues surrounded the contract.
“I’ve never had so many complaints about one program,” Councilman Aaron Chung said.
The end of the contract came a few weeks after Hawaii Rainbow Rangers transitioned into providing full animal control services for the county in May and about a week after a West Hawaii Today article outlined several concerns raised since the nonprofit was awarded Hawaii Island’s animal control contract last year.
Among the variety of grievances, the newspaper reported, were sudden changes in leadership and allegations made by current and former HRR workers regarding illegal independent contractor agreements, unhealthy conditions for the animals and misappropriated funds.
Hawaii County Police Chief Paul Ferreira dispelled rumors about reasons surrounding the removal of HRR, such as euthanizing animals en masse, but told the council that HRR simply wasn’t up to the job, despite having good intentions. The vendor’s inability to provide the services such as timely responses were the reasons the relationship ended.
“I don’t believe they fully understood what they were undertaking,” Ferreira said.
HRR received $94,000 per month for interim services and just under $164,000 monthly for full services while it served as the vendor.
The county has entered into an 89-day contract with HRR to help with the transition as a new organization takes over.
Ferreira said the police department, which took on the responsibility of animal control complaints, will work with Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth’s office and the county to determine how animal control responsibilities will be handled in the future, and by whom, as officials look to fill the void created by the severance.
One of the things to consider will be if the county should take on the responsibility itself, the police chief said.
“What is the best alternative?” Ferreira said. “These are questions we are all trying to get answered.”
According to the county, a temporary moratorium on animal intake is now in place, and animal control services are limited to the care of animals currently in facilities. Nonprofit organizations looking to help with the county’s transition are encouraged to contact HPD.
Complaints about HRR in the local media said that HRR’s rigid no-kill stance led to overpopulation in the three shelters, at which several hundred animals are housed. Staffing issues and leadership change also pointed to an organization that wasn’t running well, some said.
Weeks after transitioning into full services for Hawaii County’s animal control contract, HRR director of operations and its deputy director of operations were removed from their posts, and HRR’s partnership with Best Friends Animal Society, a nonprofit no-kill animal sanctuary based in Utah, was also dissolved.
HRR director Mary Rose wasn’t present at the council meeting Tuesday when the issue was discussed and didn’t respond to Civil Beat messages requesting comment.
The council closed the meeting without scheduling a deeper look into the contract expiration, despite urging by residents. It said it was pleased with Ferreira’s update, which clarified a situation that was inundated by rumors, such as the one warning of mass euthanasia taking place.
“That was a complete falsehood, I think, to incite emotions,” Councilman Tim Richards said.
“That’s where we are,” Ferreira added.
Sign up for our FREE morning newsletter and face each day more informed.
Not a subscription
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service.
That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.
Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.