Chained terrierOne would think a progressive, liberal state such as Hawaii would be a leader in animal welfare issues. Alas, this is not the case. As Stephanie Feldstein pointed out in a recent post, the Aloha State now has the dubious distinction of being one of the five best states to be an animal abuser, according to a report by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF). As a longtime Hawaii resident, I am not surprised.

The ALDF concluded that Hawaii can be a harsh place for animals by examining the state’s lax laws regarding animal cruelty. I reached a similar conclusion based on over 25 years of observation.

Take, for instance, the attitudes toward cockfighting. While there are weak laws against the practice, it is still a strong part of the culture. It’s not uncommon to see T-shirts and bumper stickers celebrating cockfighting. One state representative, Rida Cabanilla, went as far as to introduce resolutions (HR 153 and HCR 180) in the legislature asking the United Nations to “officially commemorate cockfighting as a global sport.”

Pig hunting is another activity often celebrated in local t-shirts and bumper stickers. The wild pigs are run down by packs of hunting dogs, who are often starved to increase aggressiveness. Sometimes the dogs are fed gunpowder to make them even more vicious. The dogs corner and attack the pig, and the oh-so-brave hunter descends to finish off the cowering, wounded animal — sometimes with a gun, but frequently with a knife. In some cases, it doesn’t even matter if the pig is a wild pig or not. In one six month period, no fewer than three pet pigs living on private property were killed by hunters. One victim was a blind, baby pig living at the Hawaii Animal Sanctuary, a no-kill shelter.

Then there are the sad, lonely dogs left chained in driveways all day long. And the unwanted cats abandoned at various sites throughout the islands. (Some of these cats are killed by pig hunters because they eat the food the hunters put out to bait pigs.) And the endangered sea turtles slain and butchered for the Asian exotic meat market. And the freak incidents such as a woman who beat a peacock to death with a golf club for making too much noise.

I could go on. The situation is a sad one, but there is hope. There are plenty of organizations in Hawaii dedicated to changing things, including the recently formed Oahu SPCA. The state finally made animal cruelty a felony in 2007. And there is some comfort in knowing that Senator Daniel Akaka has been a tireless friend of animals in the U.S. Senate.

Perhaps in the future Hawaii can learn to extend to spirit of aloha to all living creatures.

Photo credit: Dogs Deserve Better.