Dolores Oskins, an 85-year-old Keaau resident, was out searching for her dog Hea in August of last year when multiple pit bulls attacked her outside her neighbor’s property. She died from those injuries 22 days later at Hilo Medical Center.

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On Wednesday, her husband Jack Oskins filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Marilynn Hoapili, the landlord of the neighboring property from where the dogs had evidently escaped, as well as her four tenants, Ana Kauvaka, Telika Rahiua, Meleana and Taeiola Taumoefolau, who owned the animals.

Nicole Kalakau, an attorney representing Oskins, said there were at least three dogs involved, and all were either a pit bull or pit bull mix. The attack happened outside the fence of Hoapili’s property on the evening of Aug. 14, 2021.

Kalakau said Jack Oskins, who attempted to intervene in the attack, has recovered from his physical injuries but is still reeling from the “unexpected and tragic loss of the love of his life.”

Hawaii News Now Dolores Oskins
Ernest Waltjen, Jack and Dolores Oskins were all brought to a nearby hospital after they were attacked by their neighbors’ pit bulls. Courtesy: Hawaii News Now

Jack Oskins, who turned 90 in February, sustained bites to his head, face, and body while trying to protect his wife from the dogs. He was driving by their property when he saw the dogs attacking her.

He, along with his wife’s biological son and daughter, Vernon Medeiros and Johnalynn Hanohano, are also suing Hoapili and her tenants for his medical expenses, physical pain, extreme emotional distress, and several other general damages, according to the lawsuit filed in 3rd Circuit Court.

“These dogs were not only dangerous, but trying repeatedly to get out of the property,” Kalakau said. “So I think that makes it even more devastating, because it was something that was known and easily could have been prevented, by Marilynn either paying the tenants to get rid of the dogs, or telling them that they had to leave.”

The dog owners surrendered the pit bulls to Hawaii County Animal Control Services, and the animals were “subsequently euthanized,” Denise Laitinen, a spokeswoman for the county’s police department, said in an email Friday.

Correction: In an earlier version a photo caption said it was unclear what happened to the dogs.

Ernest Waltjen, a neighbor who the Oskins employed to do their yard work, also tried to help Dolores Oskins and was attacked by the dogs. He is suing Hoapili and her tenants too.

Waltjen, who was honorably discharged from the Army about 50 years ago, sustained dog bites to the neck, chest, arm, hip and leg. The 88-year-old lost about one-half of his ear, required at least 45 stitches, and also had broken teeth and several infections, according to his attorney, Phillip Carey.

“This guy is strong and tough,” Carey said. “The problem is, he would never go to a psychologist or anything, but I know he’s got some kind of PTSD about dogs now, and that’s not so good when you’re working in yards.”

Dolores Oskins Dog Attack
Dolores Oskins was born in Hakalau, along the Hamakua coast of the Big Island. She was a retired office manager for Oskins Electric. Courtesy: Hawaii News Now

In August, Top Marketing Agency published a study that ranked the top 5 adopted dog breeds in each of the 50 states, by analyzing a dog adoption database of 500,000 adopted dogs, and surveying 1,000 dog owners across the country. In Hawaii, chihuahuas were first on the list, followed by pit bulls.

Carey said that he has three or four ongoing cases that all involve pit bull attacks.

“Pit bulls can be nice animals if they’re treated properly and properly contained,” Carey said.

The Oskins’ lawyers said the animals involved in this attack were treated inhumanely.

“There were a lot times where the dogs weren’t given food,” Kalakau said. “They were crying … trying to dig underneath to the Oskins’ house. So the Oskins knew those dogs were being mistreated, and to our knowledge, Marilynn also knew.”

Jeffery Sia, Hoapili’s attorney, said he was unable to provide particular details about the case, but said Hoapili had an understanding that if and when her tenants’ dogs were outside that they were tied up.

Both Waltjen and the Oskins’ court files say Hoapili recieved payments directly from governmental agencies for leasing her property from the Section 8 Housing Choice Landlord Incentive Voucher Program. Both lawsuits also say that Section 8 Housing Rules prohibit tenants and landlords from harboring or allowing to be harbored more than one dog, or specifically pit bulls, attack dogs, or other vicious or fighting dogs.

Harsher Penalties For Owners Of Dangerous Dogs

Waltjen and Dolores and Jack Oskins are not the only ones who have recently suffered from pit bull attacks in Hawaii.

Three months after Dolores Oskins was attacked, 6-year-old Puna resident Violet Beatte was injured by two of her neighbor’s pit bulls and flown from the Big Island to Kapiolani Medical Center on Oahu for treatment.

Beatte’s mother, Shalaye Newman, told Hawaii News Now that Beatte was walking home from the bus stop with her two older sisters when one of the pit bulls “grabbed her on the thigh and dragged her to the ground and the other was biting her face.”

Newman said the pit bulls were usually behind the fence, but when her daughters walked by that day, the gate wasn’t closed.

“They told me if the bite had been a millimeter higher, she would have lost her eye,” Newman told HNN. “And if the bite had been an inch lower on her neck, she would have lost her life.”

Now, almost a year after the attack, the family is stuck in an insurance payout battle and still waiting for compensation. But some think it’s the dog owners who should be held accountable.

Hilo Medical Center's new vacination site is below Hilo Medical Center at the Arc of Hilo. Photo: Tim Wright
Dolores Oskins stayed in the Hilo Medical Center for 22 days after she was attacked by her neighbors’ pit bulls, until she died from her injuries on Sept. 5, 2021. Tim Wright/Civil Beat/2021

In April, the Hawaii County Council passed a bill that will impose harsher penalties on owners of dangerous dogs, based on how severe the injuries caused by the animals are.

Sylvia Dolena, co-founder of Aloha Animal Advocates, a nonprofit based on the Big Island, said her team was instrumental in the passing of the bill, and the law was in part inspired by Dolores Oskins’ death and Beatte’s injuries.

Under the bill, an owner of a dog that causes serious bodily injury can be fined up to $25,000 or face 10 years of imprisonment.

Dolena expressed that it was unfortunate the bill can’t be retroactive. “It’s very sad because there’s no recourse for those victims,” she said, adding that now, dog owners can be charged with a Class B or Class C Felony.

Randy Linville, the business director at Big Island Pet Care Center, located 3 miles away from the Oskins’ house, said it seems like dog attacks happen about once a month in Hawaiian Paradise Park.

Owner and veterinarian Dr. Sterrett Grune of the center, who has about 4,000 clients and sees around 15 dogs a day, six days a week, said at least 50% of his clients own some sort of pit bull, pit bull mix or American Staffordshire terrier, which is a breed that looks similar to a pit bull.

Grune, who has been in practice for 36 years, said in his experience, “there are more good pit bulls than bad ones.”

“I think it’s bad owners that make their dogs, you know, act stupid,” Grune said. “They tend to be pretty well tempered, good dogs as long as they’re brought up properly … I think mostly bad dogs are that way because they’ve never been socialized or cared for the right way. And that to me is the people’s fault, not the animal’s fault.”


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