Burns remained on the job to her final days
HONOLULU, Hawaii––Pamela Burns, 65, Hawaiian Humane Society chief executive since 1990, on September 18, 2017 “died peacefully at her home after taking a leave of absence approximately a week ago for health reasons,” the humane society announced.
Burns, who was among the longest tenured humane society directors in either the U.S. or worldwide, “began her work with the Hawaiian Humane Society in January 1990,” the announcement recounted.
“During her tenure, she transformed the Moiliili [humane society] campus. Within a few short years, Pam renovated and expanded the shelter, launched mandatory spay/neuter of all adopted cats and dogs, spearheaded a statewide training program for humane officers, established the [Hawaii] cat identification law and launched a new [humane education] curriculum in elementary schools. She was essential in passing and amending various animal-related laws.
“Pam also held leadership positions with multiple national and local organizations including the Society of Animal Welfare Administrators,” for which she was a past president and longtime board member; “the National Council on Pet Population,” elected founding president in 1993; “Petco’s Independent Animal Care Advisory Council, and the Hawaii Association of Animal Welfare Agencies,” serving as incumbent president.
“Prior to her passing,” the Hawaiian Humane Society death announcement finished, “Pam assembled a leadership team to run the organization in her absence,” including board member Pamela Jones, director of operations Lisa Fowler, and director of community relations Allison Gammel.
“Family of sugar industry leaders”
There was much more to Burns’ often controversial career than just the officially recognized high points.
“Burns was a member of a prominent family of sugar industry leaders,” wrote Kathryn Mykleseth of Hawaii News. “She was the daughter of Ann Walker Burns, whose ancestors were active in Hawaii’s monarchy, and C.E.S. ‘Frank’ Burns Jr., who was former manager of the Puna Sugar Company and Oahu Sugar Company, and later senior vice president for Amfac Inc.”
Coming to the Hawaiian Humane Society after holding an executive position at the Queen’s Medical Center, the largest and oldest nonprofit hospital in Hawaii, founded in 1859, Burns joined a comparably established institution.
“Society’s most vulnerable”
The Hawaiian Humane Society was incorporated in 1883 with an initial mission of caring for orphans and abused children, unwed mothers, the mentally ill, “and others considered to be society’s most vulnerable,” Burns often remembered in her prefatory remarks in letters to media and political representatives.
“At that time, children were adopted from the Hawaiian Humane Society,” Burns reminded.
Helen Wilder, daughter of American shipping magnate Samuel Gardner Wilder, and the first female police officer in Hawaii, “was given the authority to enforce animal cruelty laws in 1897,” Burns sometimes added. “She and her friends raised funds to hire Chang Apana to investigate animal crimes as their first humane investigator.”
The Hawaiian Humane Society turned over human service roles to government agencies in 1935, thereafter focusing on animal work.
Cultivated by-the-book image
For at least the first decade of Burns’ time at the Hawaiian Humane Society she maintained an image as a politically well-connected, efficient by-the-book administrator who did little or nothing which might potentially jeopardize animal control housing contracts.
Early in Burns’ tenure the animal control contracts brought the Hawaiian Humane Society less than $500,000 a year, which was then more than half the society’s annual income. The value of the animal control contracts gradually rose to be worth more than $3.1 million a year.
By the end of Burns’ tenure, however, the animal control housing contracts contributed only about a fifth of the Hawaiian Humane Society annual budget, and the society under Burns demonstrated increasing independence in contradicting the views of the Hawaiian political establishment, including seeking changes in legislation.
During Burns’ first years as chief executive the Hawaiian Humane Society came under vehement activist criticism for allegedly sidestepping conflict with legal animal use industries, cockfighters with connections in high places, and especially––and perhaps most controversially––with the longtime Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources policy of trying to purge the islands of feral cats, mongooses, and other non-native wildlife. The Department of Land & Natural Resources, among other agencies, contracted with the Hawaiian Humane Society to kill feral animals they captured.
But Burns in the background initiated a feral cat neuter/return program in 1993, one of the first in the U.S. that operated with the support of an established humane society. The Hawaiian Humane Society by 2001 sterilized an average of 23 feral cats a day for rescuers who maintained supervision of their colonies under a set of conditions meant to preclude conflict with wildlife, business owners, and the public.
Fought DLNR policy
In one of Burns’ last President’s Letters to the Hawaiian Humane Society member, Burns decried a bill pushed by the Department of Land & Natural Resources “to ban the feeding of cats, which DLNR defines as ‘predators.’ The proposal, which was drafted in the name of conservation, would have condemned free-roaming cats to death by starvation and criminalized those who feed them,” Burns recounted.
“Thankfully, a large number of advocates, including cat colony caregivers and animal welfare organizations, testified against the bill and it failed to move forward.
“Certainly, there are more humane and compassionate solutions,” Burns wrote, including “enforcing existing laws, teaching owners to keep their cats indoors, increasing education and reducing cat colonies by employing the strategy of trap, neuter, return and manage. These alternatives have proven to work elsewhere. For any method to be successful, cooperation between landowners, conservationists and responsible cat colony caregivers is essential.
“Goal is creating a more humane existence for all”
“During my time as CEO of the Hawaiian Humane Society,” Burns continued, “I have seen many different animals targeted in the name of conservation, including cats, pigs, sheep and mongooses. If we are going to pick winners and losers among species, we must always be mindful of the ethical implications of those choices and of the methods we select to carry them out. Our actions should always be guided by the goal of creating a more humane existence for all who share the planet.”
(See also Why is Hawaii “moving at a hurried pace” to kill cats at boat harbors?)
Taiwan turning point
A turning point in Burns’ career may have been a conceptually bungled January 1998 mission to Taiwan, initiated by then-Humane Society of the U.S. vice president for companion animals Martha Armstrong. Then-Hawaiian Humane Society veterinarian Rebecca Rhoades joined the mission.
Rhoades later headed the Kauai Humane Society, and in 2002 wrote the Humane Society of the U.S. Euthanasia Training Manual.
Taiwanese animal shelters were at the time internationally notorious for hoarding impounded animals under horrendous conditions. Instead of euthanizing animals, after a holding period to allow lost pets to be reclaimed and adoptable animals to find new homes, Taiwanese shelter personnel often simply withheld food until the animals died without direct human intervention, a practice which led to frequent cannibalism.
(See Taiwan shelter director suicide illustrates global crisis and Taiwan adopts plan to become no-kill nation by 2017.)
Armstrong planned the expedition around a series of two-day workshops for Taiwanese animal control and shelter personnel, including veterinarians, about how to capture and kill dogs more gently and efficiently, ideally by using sodium pentobarbital.
Possession of sodium pentobarbital, however, was then illegal in Taiwan even for veterinary use. The workshops reportedly paid little or no attention to promoting spay/neuter, let alone to teaching efficient high-volume spay/neuter technique.
Armstrong afterward lamented that “Euthanasia is a concept that is inconceivable to most Taiwanese,” because some animal control workers “believe in reincarnation, or [believe] that suffering in life will guarantee a wonderful place in eternity, so they are reluctant to interfere in an animal’s life.”
But promoting U.S.-style catch-and-kill street dog population control was a non-starter in heavily Buddhist Taiwan, especially since much of the U.S. had already moved away from the traditional catch-and-kill animal control model. Promoting spay/neuter, on the other hand, proved highly successful, and was eventually the beginning of successful reform of the entire Taiwanese animal control system.
Escalated s/n programs
Catch-and-kill was––and is––still practiced throughout Hawaii, but even then was increasingly controversial.
Burns after the Taiwan debacle gradually escalated programs to provide low-cost and free spay/neuter services. As recently as 2015 the Hawaiian Humane Society reportedly still killed upward of 10,000 animals per year, including dogs, cats, and wildlife, but that was down from more than 15,000 animals a year as of 2000.
In 2016 the Hawaiian Humane Society euthanasia toll dropped below 10,000 for the first time in Burns’ tenure, to 9,452.
New s/n clinic for feral cats planned
Burns in March 2017 announced that the Hawaiian Humane Society would “start building Hawaii’s first high-volume spay-and-neuter clinic focused on free-roaming cats to reduce their numbers on Oahu,” the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.
“The new $700,000 clinic at its Moiliili shelter would follow the Humane Society’s $11 million renovations there last year,” the Honolulu Star-Advertiser added, “which included new dog and cat houses, roads, parking, utilities and a clinic opened in October 2016 that treats animals for all kinds of conditions and spays and neuters them before adoption.”
The announcement, however, did not deter a coalition of leaders of other local animal rescue and advocacy organizations from assailing the Hawaiian Humane Society for not doing more, faster.
Hilo council member Sue Lee Loy “is prepared to alter the county code so the animal control contract can be split up,” reported Bret Yager of Honolulu Civil Beat in June 2017, “and for spay-neuter dollars to be funneled to nonprofits which many say are doing a better, faster and cheaper job of sterilizing animals.
“The county funnels about $200,000 annually through the Hawaiian Humane Society for spaying and neutering,” wrote Yager. “But critics say the system of vouchers is cumbersome, underused and confusing, while small nonprofits by comparison are holding mass sterilization clinics and getting the word out effectively.”
“The dog on the burning deck”
A second likely turning point for Burns was the 2002 rescue of Hokget, “The dog on the burning deck.”
The story began with a March 13, 2002 engine room fire aboard the freighter Insiko 1907 that killed crew member Gi Hui Nian and left the hulk adrift, without power and without communications, for 18 days. Alerted by a flare and a signal fire that the desperate crew lit on desk, the Norwegian Cruise Line vessel Norwegian Star intercepted the Insiko 1907 on April 2, 2002 taking off the 11 human survivors, including Insiko 1907 captain Chung Chinpo, but left his dog behind.
The captain of the Norwegian Star informed the passengers over the intercom that a dog had been left aboard because of the 120-day Hawaiian quarantine requirement, cruise passengers Judy and Mason Matheny told Associated Press later.
Internet activists and callers to talk programs demanded to know why the dog had not been rescued.
Spent $9,000 a day in futile search
As public interest built, Burns secured a pledge of financial help from the Humane Society of the U.S. and chartered a sea-going tug called the American Quest for a five-day search-and-rescue mission, costing more than $9,000 per day. American Marine Salvage Inc., owner of the American Quest, donated another $20,000 worth of searching time.
But the Insiko 1907, believed to have been drifting 230 miles south of Hawaii, could not be found. Concluding that the ship and Hokget must have sunk, the American Quest returned to port. Cynics jeered the effort as a publicity stunt.
Flight crew threw Hokget their lunches
On April 9, 2002 however, an American fishing vessel spotted the Insiko 1907 by radar, now 400 miles southwest of Oahu. Prevailing currents seemed likely to smash the wreck, still carrying 60,000 gallons of fuel oil, into the coral reefs of Johnston Atoll, critical habitat for several endangered species.
Eleven days of stormy weather passed and two aerial searches failed before a U.S. Coast Guard C-130 relocated the Insiko 1907 on April 20, 2002. The air crew saw Hokget. Making the lowest pass they could, they threw her their lunches.
This time the Coast Guard hired the American Quest, to save Johnston Atoll. Saving the dog was an unofficial part of the mission. In the interim, before the American Quest finally caught up with the Insiko 1907 on April 26, 2002, two fishing vessels made unsuccessful attempts to rescue the dog which reportedly cost their owners as much as $100,000 in lost fishing time.
Found hiding among old tires
Eventually American Quest diving salvage supervisor Brian Murray, 37, found the dog hiding among old tires piled in the front section of the tanker.
Altogether the rescue cost the Hawaiian Humane Society, Humane Society of the U.S., private donors, and the U.S. Coast Guard as much as $185,000.
But donor response was so strong, after almost a month of nightly television reports on the ongoing drama, that the Hawaii Humane Society and HSUS more than recovered their investment from sympathetic donors who followed her saga nightly on television.
The Hawaiian Humane Society had reportedly received $45,000 by the time the little dog reached port, including $5,000 from a donor named Regina Kawananakoa, who also spent $15,000 on unsuccessful searches for the Insiko 1907 aboard a private jet.
Increased fundraising & independence
The “dog on the burning deck” episode showed Burns how to markedly escalate fundraising, reaching beyond the established Hawaiian Humane Society donor base to find support for campaigns which otherwise could not have been undertaken.
Campaigns that became particularly heated involved cockfighting and more than a dozen years of efforts to win passage of a law against eating dogs and cats.
Cockfighting paraphernalia conviction
Despite the allegations that Burns avoided confrontations with cockfighters earlier in her career, when the Hawaiian Humane Society was financially less independent, Burns exulted in August 2008 when Joseph Marty Toralba, of Colfax, Louisiana, was sentenced to serve 60 days in prison and pay fines and fees of $1,100 , as apparently the first person convicted under the federal Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act of 2007.
Toralba had been arrested at the Honolulu airport in February 2008, “as he was returning from an international cockfighting derby in the Philippines,” reported Honolulu Advertiser staff writer Peter Boylan.
The 2007 federal law, Boylan explained, “amended the Animal Welfare Act to prohibit knowingly selling, buying, transporting or delivering, in interstate or foreign commerce, a knife, a gaff, or any other sharp instrument for attachment to the leg of a bird for use in an animal fighting venture.”
Toralba was reportedly found in possession of more than 200 gaffs.
Dog & cat meat
Burns began years of unsuccessful efforts to win passage of a law specificially prohibiting selling dogs and cats for human consumption in 2002, after Carroll Cox of EnviroWatch established through undercover investigation that a small covert traffic in dog and cat meat existed, at least at that time, among some of Hawaii’s ethnic minorities.
No one surfaced to defend the practice, but lawmakers repeatedly let proposed legislation against the traffic die in committee.
Objected state representative Alex Sonson, of Pearl City-Waipahu, when the first bill seeking to criminalize eating dogs and cats was introduced in 2005, “It promotes the perpetuation of a stereotype that Filipinos and Koreans eat dogs.”
Others contended that existing anti-cruelty legislation and legislation against selling uninspected meat should be sufficient to stop whatever commerce in dog and cat meat exists, if the alleged perpetrators are caught with the evidence.
Cases against Animal Haven failed
Meanwhile, Burns was involved in a long string of litigation involving alleged animal neglect.
Norman and Bonnie Pang, of Nanakuli, where Bonnie Pang ran a private no-kill shelter called Animal Haven, “had a running dispute with the Hawaiian Humane Society that spanned more than two decades,” summarized Honolulu Advertiser staff writer Suzanne Roig in September 2009.
“In 1995, the Humane Society took Bonnie Pang to court on charges of cruelty to animals, although a judge dismissed the case.”
Bonnie Pang died in July 2009. “After her death,” Roig wrote, “Norman Pang signed a surrender statement giving the O’ahu Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ownership of the animals in the sanctuary, more than 400 dogs, cats, and birds in all.
“The O’ahu SPCA requested help from the Humane Society of the United States. It took five days for welfare agencies to orchestrate what’s been described as O’ahu’s largest animal rescue operation,” Roig continued. “Norman Pang had not been cited, arrested or charged for alleged cruelty to animals, but the Hawaiian Humane Society sought prosecution.”
The Honolulu state prosecutor, however, chose not to pursue the case.
Norman Pang meanwhile “filed a lawsuit against several local and national animal welfare organizations, including the Hawaiian Humane Society,” Roig finished.
“The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, claims the organizations and their representatives defamed him and that he was deprived of his rights. He also is suing to force the animal organizations to remove all photographs and video of Animal Haven from their Internet sites.”
That case was reportedly dropped in late 2010.
Alleged “puppy mill” case also failed
Between the Pang cases, the Hawaiian Humane Society in November 2007 lost a case brought against alleged dog breeder Lucy Kagan.
“She was accused of running a ‘puppy mill’ after 25 dogs, including newborn puppies, were found in kennels at her ex-husband’s Hawaii Kai condo on May 7, 2003, by firefighters responding to a fire that broke out in the kitchen,” wrote Honolulu Star Bulletin reporter Debra Barayuga.
“Kagan defended herself after a state judge placed her on five years’ probation in a tax evasion case that arose after she failed to report income from the sales of dogs in 2001 and 2002,” Barayuga continued. “She said the dogs belonged to her former business partner Norman Texeira, who submitted a check to the state Tax Department for the unpaid taxes totaling $1,362.”
Finally won one, at high cost
The Hawaiian Humane Society finally won a big “puppy mill” case, more or less, in December 2011, against a company called Bradley International Inc.
The conviction, against the corporation rather than any individuals, came ten months after a barking dog complaint from a neighbor led to the discovery of 153 dogs in allegedly filthy conditions at a kennel in Waimanalo.
“After the dogs were seized, three dogs died and 79 puppies were born. The Humane Society spent more than $400,000 in staff and other costs to care for all of the dogs, who were placed in new homes,” the Honolulu Star Advertiser reported.
Owners avoided penalties, returned to business
Instead of fighting the charges directly, the company dissolved, pleaded “no contest,” and argued that no assets could be seized to make restitution to the Hawaiian Humane Society because, defense attorney Jason Burks contended, “In a criminal case against a corporation, the sentences are limited to probation, fines and restitution, and then the court can prohibit the corporation from owning animals. At this point there is no corporation. There are no assets. The dogs were the last remaining assets of the corporation.”
Bradley International was eventually fined, but some of the people involved went back into the business of breeding and selling dogs on another of the Hawaian islands. One of those people, Sheryl Luke-Kalani, 52, who owned the facility that the Hawaiian Humane Society raided in 2011, in April 2017 pleaded guilty to six counts of tax evasion in an unrelated case.
Last big case
Burns’ last big neglect case was the October 2016 closure of the former Friends for Life “no kill” shelter in Makaha, operated by David “Lanny” Moore and his mother June Moore.
The Hawaiian Humane Society eventually took custody of 331 dogs from the shelter, which had first been investigated in 2015. The settlement agreement stipulated that all of the dogs would be rehomed.