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Activists Work to Shut Down Hawaii’s Underground Dog Meat Industry

Shockingly, a legal loophole allows for the breeding, slaughtering, and eating of dogs in Hawaii. Here's what the Humane Society of the U.S. is doing to stop these practices.

Lisa Plummer Savas  |  Jul 15th 2015


Think Hawaii, and you would never imagine that such a beautiful, tranquil place also houses a very gruesome secret – an underground dog meat trade. That’s because in the Aloha State, even though it’s illegal to slaughter an animal classified as a pet, it’s legal if the animal is “bred for human consumption” and killed in a “humane” manner.

So thanks to this glaring loophole, a small percentage of Hawaii’s population has continued to satisfy its taste for dog meat, with few repercussions.

All that could have changed with the passage of SB773, a bill reintroduced earlier this year by the Hawaii office of the Humane Society of the United States, which would have closed that loophole for good and strengthened the state’s existing anti-cruelty law. But for the second year in a row, Hawaii’s state legislature killed the HSUS-sponsored bill before it ever had a chance to reach the governor’s desk.

The Hawaii State Legislature. (Photo by Eric Broder Van Dyke / Shutterstock)

The Hawaii State Legislature by Eric Broder Van Dyke / Shutterstock.

“We have cases of dog slaughter every year, but none of them can be prosecuted fully because of the way the law is currently written,” explains Inga Gibson, HSUS Hawaii senior state director. “This bill simply would have closed the loophole and explicitly prohibited the selling, breeding, raising, transporting, trafficking, or consumption of dogs or cats, as well as given law enforcement more tools without having to catch the perpetrator in the act of slaughter.”

For most people in the U.S., especially those who consider pets family, the idea that our country would have any sort of link to dog eating is both shocking and upsetting. But as someone who grew up in Hawaii and worked in animal shelters and as a humane investigator for many years prior to coming to the HSUS, Gibson says she is all too familiar with Hawaii’s ongoing dog slaughter problem.

“It’s been happening here for years,” says Gibson. “Unlike some developing countries, Hawaii does not have free-roaming, unowned dogs, so the dogs who are killed for their meat here are lost, stray, or stolen pets. There have been numerous reports of dog slaughter over the years, including two cases last year where dogs were found decapitated with their feet removed, a common method used to prepare a dog for consumption. Most people know that it’s been happening for some time, but it’s something everyone’s brushed under the rug, just hoping their pet doesn’t end up being a victim.”

Despite plenty of evidence to support the need for a stronger anti-slaughter law, Hawaii’s lawmakers have been historically resistant to taking action, says Gibson. In fact, proposed legislation explicitly prohibiting the slaughter of dogs and cats has come before the state legislature for the last eight years, somehow never managing to gain enough traction to make it through the necessary hearings, she explained.

“It’s never been publicly voted down but was always held up due to some process, such as running out of time or not being scheduled for the appropriate hearings,” says Gibson. “However, it’s only since last year that HSUS has made this bill a priority, and that was because of the 2007 case of Caddy.”

As the most well-known victim of the private dog meat trade in Hawaii, Caddy was an eight-month-old Lab/Shepherd mix who was stolen from the Moanalua Golf Club after his owner left him in an equipment shack while he golfed. Landscape workers at the club later pleaded guilty to stealing and slaughtering the dog with the intent to eat him. While both men were charged with felony animal cruelty, both got off on probation.

Still, thinking this case would send a strong message to the community about the consequences of engaging in such cruel activity, the HSUS hoped the problem would dissipate. But when Gibson continued to receive reports of dog slaughter throughout Hawaii, the HSUS decided it was time to push for a stronger law.

Caddy.

Caddy with owners Debbie and Frank Manuma.

So in early 2014 the HSUS did just that, introducing SB 2026, an anti-slaughter and trafficking bill that received overwhelming support from the community and passed unanimously all the way through its Senate and House committees.

“It then died when the House failed to schedule it for a final hearing,” says Gibson. “It shocked me because we had the most heartfelt testimony from people; people crying, telling stories about dogs being stolen by people they later found out were dog traffickers. Even with all that the bill didn’t pass. And the headlines were, ‘Still Legal in Hawaii: Eating Pets,’ and we thought, this is the message we’re sending, this is so shameful.”

While the majority of Hawaii residents abhor the practice of eating dogs, Gibson theorizes that the small percentage of the population engaging in this practice aren’t doing it out of necessity but rather to satisfy a taste for dog meat cultivated in their home countries, where today that practice is in fact illegal.

“No one is consuming dog meat here due to poverty or war times or because it’s a food staple,” says Gibson. “This isn’t a dietary issue, it’s a food choice, and they’re using the excuse of ‘culture’ for the continuation of those activities. They know it’s not socially acceptable, as this is all done in backyards with dogs who come from underground sources, but I don’t know if they know it’s wrong legally. But these are people’s pets, these are family members, and they deserve protection.”

A group of dog lovers and supporters of the proposed bill showed up for the 2014 hearing.

A group of dog lovers and supporters of the proposed bill showed up for the 2014 hearing.

Besides being cruel, this illegal and unlicensed backyard industry also poses serious public health risks in the form of toxoplasmosis, E. coli, cholera, trichinellosis, and other infectious parasitic, bacterial, and zoonotic diseases that can be transferred to humans when slaughtering, handling, or even eating dogs or cats. Rabies transmission through dog meat is the reason Asian countries — including the Philippines, Hong Kong, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand — have long prohibited the trade, although enforcement remains their biggest challenge.

While Hawaii is a state that indeed has a problem with dog slaughter, it should also be noted that technically, it is actually legal to raise and slaughter dogs and cats for personal consumption in most U.S. states. While all 50 states have felony animal cruelty statutes, many of them are unclear and porous, leaving plenty of loopholes for pet eaters to get away with their crimes, depending on how the laws are interpreted.

In reality, in most places in America, one could go to a shelter, “adopt” a dog or a cat, take him home, fatten him up, kill him, butcher him, and eat him in the privacy of one’s own home.

Inga Gibson.

Inga Gibson

Only two U.S. states — California and New York — possess strong, comprehensive legislation that explicitly prohibits the slaughter, possession, and sale of dog and cat meat for human consumption. New Jersey and Georgia have laws that simply ban the sale of dog or cat meat, while Virginia bans the unnecessary killing of an animal for anything other than “farming activities.”

Last fall, Pennsylvania tried and failed to pass legislation that would have banned the raising, slaughtering, or selling of dogs and cats for human consumption, but thanks to a statute included in the bill that prohibited pigeon shooting, the NRA stopped it in its tracks.

While there are no federal laws protecting dogs and cats from slaughter, it is illegal to commercially sell dog and cat meat due to the fact it is not regulated or inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or any state regulating bodies.

So why aren’t more U.S. states putting laws on the books to protect companion animals from becoming someone’s dinner?

“It’s just one of those issues that people don’t think is happening until there’s a case, and then of course people are shocked and alarmed to find out that it is indeed occurring in their community,” says Gibson. “I could see how legislators, with all of their other priorities — and the fact that animal issues always fall to the bottom — would not want to deal with this or talk about it unless there’s a case that prompts them to.”

But in a state where dogs are being stolen from people’s yards and sold to dog traders with customers waiting in the wings to purchase their “products,” it is hard to believe that Hawaii lawmakers wouldn’t see the need to help protect their constituents’ pets. When asked why he did not schedule SB773 for a committee hearing and if he would hear the bill next year, Maui Senator Gil Keith-Agaran did not respond, even after repeated requests for comment.

Gil Keith-Agaran.

Gil Keith-Agaran

“For me, this sadly isn’t too surprising,” says Gibson. “This is the reality of Hawaii politics, a plantation-era mentality that clings to activities perceived as ‘cultural,’ regardless of whether they’re right or wrong in the 21st century. No one has stood up and spoken in support of dog slaughter, but legislators are avoiding this issue because they don’t want to be seen as discriminating against any particular ethnicity. So I believe it’s an avoidance of controversy or of anything that could be perceived as controversial. But in refusing to pass the bill, they’re simply defending an indefensible practice.”

Undeterred, despite myriad disappointments, the Hawaii HSUS plans to reintroduce the bill again next year, says Gibson.

So what can you do to help get behind the animal-loving citizens of Hawaii and finally get this much-needed bill passed into law? Contact Hawaii Governor David Ige and urge him to support anti-dog and cat slaughter legislation as well as stronger animal protection laws in his state. You can also follow this important issue by visiting the Hawaii HSUS Facebook page.

For a look inside the underground world of Hawaii’s dog meat trade, check out this undercover video made by Carroll Cox, president of EnviroWatch and an anti-dog meat activist who posed as a meat buyer and rescued this dog from certain death.

Read more about the dog meat trade on Dogster:

About the author: Lisa Plummer Savas is a freelance writer, journalist, devoted dog mom, and animal activist. In an effort to help make the world a more compassionate place for non-human species, she is especially focused on using her writing to spread awareness about animal welfare and cruelty issues. She lives in Atlanta with two spoiled German Shepherds, one very entitled Pug, and a very patient, understanding husband. Read more of her work by visiting her blog and website.