(BIVN) – Six months ago, 71-year-old Ocean View resident Robert Northrop was killed outside his home, after he was attacked by four large dogs belonging to his neighbor. In the months that followed, Northrup’s surviving family said that the people who own the dogs were never held accountable for what happened.
“I keep following up and following up and following up,” said Northrop’s daughter, Shannon Matson, during a community meeting with Mayor Mitch Roth and other County administrators last year. “For our family, it’s exhausting. And it just feels like my father’s life didn’t matter.”
Matson and her sister, Anna, said they would work to ensure no other family would have to experience such a preventable tragedy in the future. On Tuesday, a Hawaiʻi County Council resolution was introduced, dealing with dangerous dogs.
Resolution 430-24 “requests the State Legislature to align State law with County law to provide clarity for County enforcement efforts, with an emphasis on requirements and penalties for dog owners that allow their dogs to injure or kill other animals or people.”
At the committee hearing, Northrop’s family spoke in support of the measure.
“Prosecutors say the law doesn’t go through to a State level, and only on a County level,” said daughter Anna Schamber, who testified from Kona. “It’s a law that already exists, but that doesn’t make any sense to me.”
“There’s nothing stopping these people from owning more dogs, or letting their dogs out to kill more people,” Schamber said. “My dad was just walking to his friend’s house. The same neighbor that my dad was going to visit, he was also bitten by those people’s dogs. Police should have enforced the law back then, and taken those dogs away, and euthanized them back then. They didn’t, because it’s hard to enforce a law that doesn’t go all the way through to the state, I guess. I’m not sure, it doesn’t make sense to me. None of this makes sense to me.”
“When I heard what happened I was obviously thinking about Shannon, as far as losing her dad, and Anna,” said John Mattson. “But also feeling like (Shannon) was going to take on that burden to have to feel like she needed to spearhead change to make sure it wouldn’t happen again to someone. And that’s been a lot for the last six months.”
“I wish didn’t have to introduce this resolution,” said Hilo councilwoman Jenn Kagiwada. “As you heard, many people are hurting because the State and the County are not aligned with how we deal with people that have dangerous dogs. Currently, the State has a bill that has been proposed to try to get our County and State aligned, and this resolution … shows our support for doing that.”
“I want to express my gratitude for councilmember Kierkiewicz,” Kagiwada noted, whose original bill “made it possible to prosecute people with dangerous dogs, that maimed or killed people, as a felony. Unfortunately, the State has not followed
Puna councilmember Ashley Kierkiewicz said they had four lawyers combing through the previous bill she introduced, “to make sure we could implement. So it was heartbreaking – and little bit shame, little bit embarrassing – that when an attack occurred, that we couldn’t implement this ordinance because that preemption wasn’t allowed by the State. Feeling really devastated by that. But now, the State has an opportunity to rectify this, to give the counties that authority.”
“I don’t think a class C felony goes far enough,” added Kierkiewicz. “$10,000 is not enough. I really do think that they need to consider a class B felony. And I know the issue here is dangerous dogs, but there are other potential situations where we do want to make sure there are checks and balances, so that people are motivated to ensure that our community in general is safe.”
The council committee voted to forward the resolution to the full council with a positive recommendation.