All in: Hawaii Rainbow Rangers moves into full services for animal control contract

  • Hawaii Rainbow Rangers had 15 animal control officers receive their badges on Friday, May 7 in Hilo. (Courtesy photo/West Hawaii Today)

The changeover to a new animal control provider was always going to be a stark transition.

Nine months after being awarded the contract, Hawaii Rainbow Rangers has finally transitioned into conducting full animal control services in Hawaii County. As of May 7, HRR has a full staff of 15 badged animal control officers and three shelters on the Big Island, including a newly opened Waimea location.

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The transition into full services has not been without bumps in the road. Evidence of this includes a stretched timeline — originally, interim services were to last 90 days — and funding concerns broached early by leaders. HRR will now receive just under $164,000 per month from the county for full services, compared to $94,000 monthly for interim services.

It has been more than seven months since HRR last addressed the Hawaii County Council on Oct. 6, 2020. In that meeting, four primary goals were shared by HRR’s leaders Mary Rose Krijgsman, Sylvia Dolena and Nick Lippincott: maintain a 90% live release rate; reach a national standard for data and tracking analytics; decreasing calls for service and response time; and decreasing the population of homeless pets.

Thus far, HRR has had success reaching the first two points. Since October, monthly totals outlining animal intake, outcomes, current population and cases have been released. In six of the past seven months, the live release rate of animals received by HRR tops 90%.

The status of the final two goals, however, remains uncertain.

A drastic drop in animals received by the animal control provider — average monthly intakes are around 30% of totals reported in the last two years — has raised concerns. A persistent source of worry was the shuttering of night-drop kennels leading to such a sharp reduction.

“The night drops are essential for the Good Samaritan,” said Kohala Animal Relocation and Education Service (KARES) president Debbie Cravatta. “We have people on the Hamakua Coast every day who see animals running on the highway. People want to help; they want to get the dog off the road, but then they can’t bring it anywhere.”

Lippincott, HRR’s director of operations, pointed to two primary reasons as to why the number of animals taken in is lower than in past years.

“One is not being at full staff, not being at full services; there are programs and capabilities that were restricted,” he said. “That’s not as big a part of it as the collaborative. Those animals come in, but now we have tools in place that help to provide diversion.”

Diversion, he clarified, isn’t simply turning animals away. HRR directs to its various coalition organizations those animals not required by law to be taken in by animal control.

“We’re the only open admission shelter on the island; nobody else is allowed to take in strays,” Lippincott said. “We’ve collaborated with Hawaii Island Humane Society (HIHS), with Aloha Ilio, with these other groups. There’s also XYZ options that may provide a better place out of the gate to get them into a home faster and keep space available for those more in-need animals that have nowhere else to go.”

Collaborating shelters have also become transfer resources once animals have passed the county-mandated hold period. HIHS, for example, takes in transfers from HRR on a weekly basis; as of Saturday, they had transferred 228 dogs and cats from HRR since October. Having two large-capacity sheltering organizations is unprecedented for the Big Island, according to HIHS’ chief operating officer Lauren Nickerson.

“We have HIHS that’s a private, limited-admission shelter, and then you have HRR that’s the county, municipal animal control shelter,” she said. “We’ve actually effectively built a brand new resource and a community that didn’t exist.”

Still, concerns over the low intake totals persist.

Communication issues with the public have been another significant point of concern in the early months of HRR’s contract. Complaints often cited a lack of ability to get in contact with HRR’s dispatch. Lippincott acknowledged HRR is aware of these complaints, and has implemented a new system in for their call-center communications within the last two weeks to address them. The previous system proved to be ill-fitted for HRR’s smaller dispatch, according to Lippincott.

“We moved over to Microsoft Teams as our main provider for call-center communications,” he said. “We’ve already seen a drastic improvement.”

As an organization, HRR’s structure has shifted since the contract’s beginning. Since addressing the county council, Krijgsman and Dolena have, by and large, returned to their own organizations — Rainbow Friends Animal Sanctuary and Aloha Animal Advocates, respectively — leaving Lippincott and deputy director of operations Gina Burrows in charge of day-to-day operations. Krijgsman still remains on the leadership team designed as oversight for HRR.

Two original partner organizations — KARES and Aloha Animal Advocates — no longer partner with HRR. Though Aloha Animal Advocates still maintains a transfer program with HRR, KARES does not. KARES made a public split from HRR with a social media post in March, citing concerns over communication and transparency within the organization.

“One of the biggest things was them not listening to the needs of the other animal rescue groups (or) taking our input to heart,” Cravatta said. “We should be working together with them, not under them.”

“Internally, there might have been factors like that that have come into play,” Lippincott said in response. “They ultimately decided that their mission and goals could be achieved without direct relation to HRR. We support them 100% in their continued lifesaving endeavors.”

Lippincott insists the initial partnerships with these organizations were crucial to setting up HRR, and their continuing work remains beneficial toward achieving shared goals on the island.

“There’s strife and there’s sometimes some challenges with other groups; however it can’t be understated what that has shown to be possible for the animals,” he added. “We can’t do that without groups around the island helping us.”

While moving into full services, some of HRR’s priorities have been put on hold. Progress toward a satellite shelter in Ocean View remains delayed, and the county recently elected not to run a pilot program to stabilize the population of cat colonies at Kealakehe and Keaau Transfer Stations. The Hawaii Police Department clarified this decision only affects operations as part HRR’s contract; individuals or organizations will not be prohibited from providing food and water for cats at those locations.

“If other private entities are going to be running that, as long as it doesn’t conflict with whatever operations (at the transfer station),” said HPD assistant chief Samuel Jelsma. “Our only concern at the present is with Hawaii Rainbow Rangers because they’re working directly under the police department contract.”

Moving forward, decreasing the population of homeless pets remains a primary focus. Spay/neuter totals have been encouraging: in interim services, HRR and their partner clinics performed more than 3,200 sterilizations since October.

Best Friends Animal Society, a nonprofit no-kill animal sanctuary based in Utah, originally funded Lippincott for 12 months on the Big Island. This timeline appears to be extended, as the society looks to maintain a long-term relationship with HRR.

“I’m not going to be leaving in September, and my team is not going to be leaving come September,” Lippincott said. “Our team will stay and continue to work very directly with HRR. It may change over time, but until we can guarantee that we have those key things in place and we have good people to step into, oversee and take the helm, we’re going to continue.”

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Hawaii Rainbow Rangers can be reached at (808) 666-9589 regarding complaints and to request services for animals.

For information on adoptions or programs and services, visit www.hipets.org.

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