Russell Ruderman: Hawaii County Should Step Up Enforcement To Prevent More Fatal Dog Attacks - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Russell Ruderman

Russell Ruderman is a former state senator and Big Island business owner. He writes about state and county politics, business, agriculture and the local food industry. Russell lives in Kea’au with his wife and daughter. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Civil Beat. You can reach him at

Responsible owners are doing their part. Government agencies need to do theirs.

For the second time in as many years, uncontrolled dogs have killed people on the Big Island. It needs to stop now before there are more needless deaths.

Dolores Oskins, an 85-year-old Keaau resident, was walking in Hawaiian Paradise Park in August 2021 when multiple pit bulls attacked her outside her neighbor’s property. She died from those injuries 22 days later at Hilo Medical Center. Her husband, who was injured trying to save her, filed a wrongful death lawsuit last year.

Then last week, news outlets reported that four large dogs attacked and killed 71-year-old Bob Northrop as he walked down his street to a friend’s house in Ka‘u.

His daughter, my friend Shannon Matson, described him as an animal lover who suffered an “especially cruel twist of fate.”

“Hopefully this will be the last time anyone on our island loses their life to a dog attack,” she told the Hawaii Tribune Herald. “He wasn’t the first but I will do everything in my power to make sure he is the last.”

Just imagine the horror of being attacked by dogs, and bleeding to death alone on a street near your home.

This latest tragedy didn’t have to happen. Neighbors have for years reported similar incidents, but fortunately survived.

Regrettably, the situation does not seem to be improving even with a new law on the books requiring stiffer penalties for failing to control dangerous dogs.

In Northrop’s case, the four large dogs as well as a litter of 10 puppies were taken away but no one has been charged. If this longstanding problem had been taken seriously, Bob would not have needlessly died from a dog attack.

I share this heartbreaking story because it needs to change. This lack of enforcement has resulted in the death of a much-loved innocent man.

Robert Northrop died Aug. 1 while walking to a friend's house in Hawaiian Ocean View Estates when a pack of dogs attacked him. (Courtesy: Hawaii News Now/2023)
Robert Northrop died Aug. 1 while walking to a friend’s house in Hawaiian Ocean View Estates when a pack of dogs attacked him. (Hawaii News Now/2023)

There have been numerous other attacks that have left innocent people injured. How many? We don’t know because there is no central database and most are not reported.

They are not reported because there is usually no action taken and no consequences. Anecdotally there are dozens of such attacks in the last few years alone, and the frequency is seemingly increasing.

Pets and farm animals are also killed or terrorized by loose dogs. Twice I’ve cleaned up the horrible mess when chickens were killed by roaming dogs, and taken pets to the vet for treatment after such attacks. But let’s start with protecting people.

My friend Deborah Ward was attacked a few years ago and suffered disabling injuries. No action was taken against the dog owners in that case either.

In May of this year, Amber Clausen, 32, was mauled in Ainaloa and suffered many broken bones and serious injuries.

“It went on for 15 or 20 minutes, I was screaming for help,” Clausen told KHON News. “I was trying to hold my arm because my arm felt like it was going to fall off.”

Amber’s mother was also reportedly bit, possibly by another dog during the attack.

After the fatal mauling of Oskins last year, the Hawaii County Council wisely passed a law to try to prevent such tragedies by making it a felony.

In the Clausen case, Frederick Kassebeer, who owned the dogs, is awaiting trial under this new law. In the death of Bob Northrop, there have been no arrests yet, which is unexplained.

This is not just a rural problem. There have been attacks in wealthy neighborhoods, on beautiful residential streets, as well as the country roads of the Big Island. As for fatal attacks elsewhere, it’s just a matter of time unless more is done to prevent them.

Shannon Matson's father died Aug. 1 after being attacked by a pack of dogs in Hawaiian Ocean View Estates. (Courtesy: Hawaii News Now/2023)
Shannon Matson’s father died Aug. 1 after being attacked by a pack of dogs in Hawaiian Ocean View Estates. (Hawaii News Now/2023)

But what to do?

It can seem heartbreaking to hold the dog owners responsible. In some cases they were merely careless or irresponsible, and in other cases it’s just a tragic accident when the dogs break free. The attacks weren’t provoked or justified, and it’s often on public property such as a road. It doesn’t appear to be dogs protecting their own turf against an intruder.

Even without ill intent by the dog owners, we have no choice but to demand consequences for those responsible. Otherwise the attacks won’t stop.

It’s necessary but not enough to remove the dogs. The owners must face serious penalties for allowing it to happen, both for justice for the victims and to prevent future attacks by making people take it seriously.

When a drunken driver kills someone, they didn’t intend to do so. It was an accident. When someone negligently leaves a loaded gun for children to find it’s the same thing.

They didn’t intend any harm, same as the dog owner, but someone gets hurt or killed and it’s the driver or the gun owner’s fault. A potentially dangerous situation was created by neglect or poor judgment, same as with uncontrolled dogs.

In response, there have been organizations formed to alert neighbors to the locations of threatening, loose or dangerous dogs.

A great example of such recently formed on social media for the area where Bob Northrop was killed, Ocean View Dog Tracker. On this Facebook page, a map provides info on such dogs so they can be avoided. Other solutions are being discussed here and elsewhere.

This is noble and helpful, like a neighborhood watch program. But it cannot be the full answer.

We have a right to walk on our streets without being attacked. Will everyone have to carry pepper spray, sticks or other weapons in order to feel safe? Will those tools even work? Or do we have a right to safely walk on our streets, without being armed for basic safety?

When a dog attacks or threatens someone, law enforcement and animal control must take these events much more seriously.

In some cases attacks are reported and no action is taken at all, as was the case with Bob’s neighbor, resulting in fear and animosity among neighbors due to the inaction.

But in most instances, they are not reported because it is understood that no enforcement will happen. Fear rules, and the perpetrators are emboldened. This must change.

Animal control agencies are understaffed and underfunded — this we understand. We all realize the police have other important things to do, and are understaffed.

But this is a matter of protecting life, and can no longer be ignored.

When a dog owner allows their dogs to threaten or attack neighbors, the dogs must be taken away. Then we can stop living in fear as we walk down our street.

If this seems too much, please consider the wounded or dead neighbors whose right to safety is more important than a dog owner’s imaginary right to let them run uncontrolled.

Only by doing so will we prevent the next attack.

Responsible dog owners do their part, now the county agencies must do theirs. Prosecution after the fact is not good enough — we need enforcement to prevent the attacks.

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About the Author

Russell Ruderman

Russell Ruderman is a former state senator and Big Island business owner. He writes about state and county politics, business, agriculture and the local food industry. Russell lives in Kea’au with his wife and daughter. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Civil Beat. You can reach him at

Latest Comments (0)

Los Angeles County (population 10M+) has significantly fewer loose dogs, and dog problems than Hawaii County (population 200+K). It also has a well written leash law, which is rigorously enforced, with stiff penalties ($100 - 1st violation) - with additional liability for dog bites. I couldn't find similar HRS, or Hawaii County, codes/laws. Yet Honolulu has some leash regulations.When working as an animal control officer (ACO) in Los Angeles County, it was routine to attach citations to impound slips when the dog's actions jeopardized community safety (traffic hazard, injuring animals, etc). However, when I did this as a Kauai ACO, for a rottweiler that aggressively attacked postal, and neighbors, in Lihu'e, I was severely reprimanded, and threatened with termination, for "causing problems" (by citation/ enforcement). Big Isle ACOs have refused to cite killer dogs when asked.Breeds, irresponsible owners, contribute to the problem. However, rigorously enforced leash laws (regardless of dog's license status) nip loose dog problems in the bud. I've seen it. When it affects an owner's wallet/ time, it's amazing how they can suddenly find a way to keep their dog contained.

RJ · 1 month ago

Government resources are always limited, so priorities must be set. I would prefer that we DEFUND law enforcement of victimless crimes until there's enough spill-over funds to support that. I think it far more important to spend law enforcement funds on animal control than giving speeding tickets to people who are not driving dangerously. Far more important to spend money on animal control than arresting drug dealers, IMHO.

Vanessa_Ott · 1 month ago

If law enforcement is already maxed out then passing more laws or insisting "somebody do something" is a waste of time. That means everyone needs to take responsibility for their own personal safety and carry an effective weapon if they plan on venturing out on foot. When dogs who run wild stop coming home, the behavior of the owners will change.

Cackles · 1 month ago

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