HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Bringing Fido and Felix to Hawaii


By Kelly Moran

Bringing Fido and Felix to Hawaii

“What about my dog and cat?” a friend asked. “Can they move to Hawaii with me, too?”

These Islands are unique in many ways, but one is that there has never has been a case of rabies here. Since Territorial days, in 1912, the authorities have actively discouraged people from bringing carnivorous mammals here, on the remote chance that they might be infected. And until 2003, this was enforced by a four-month quarantine for all arriving pets (except guide-dogs for the blind). If an animal showed no signs of rabies after 120 days in a Honolulu facility (housed and fed there at the owners’ expense, of course), then it could be released. Owners could visit their pets every day, but that was inconvenient unless they lived nearby, or at least on Oahu.

But most people are unwilling to leave Fido or Felix behind, even with a trusted friend or neighbor. So, what does bringing them here involve? Read the State’s rules-and-regs, and the answers to frequently-asked-questions for all the details. But the basic requirements are that a pet must have had at least two previous rabies vaccinations. A blood sample must be submitted for evaluation, to ensure that it’s free of rabies. And the pet must have an identifying “microchip” to link it with its blood sample.

This means you can forget about bringing a new puppy or kitten. After even the minimum number of shots and checkups that they need to qualify for admission, a dog or cat will be almost a full year old.

There are now quarantine stations on Kauai and the Big Island, and a “five-days-or-less” quarantine option, based on veterinary certification. But still, arriving pets may first have to spend about two days in the Honolulu facility – it’s the only port of entry – to ensure that they meet all the medical requirements.

What about bringing in other animals? Well, wolves and dingos are prohibited, but mainly what Hawaii absolutely does not want here are snakes. Recently, a few brown tree-snakes have hitchhiked here on military transports from Guam, but – fortunately – they have been captured before they could escape and go wild. While they might (might) put a dent in the coqui frog population, they would more likely wipe out the last ground-nesting native birds, and pose a threat to local people, who have never before needed to watch out for snakes in the wild. This proscription is thought to have been instigated by missionaries in the 19th century, who didn’t want the biblical tempter hanging around. But even back then, it was understood that snakes would drastically upset what we, nowadays, call the “fragile ecosystem” of Hawaii.

So, don’t complain about the lengthy quarantine period. It keeps us all safe. And it has also had the (fully intended) consequence of encouraging local adoption. The Islands are teeming with feral cats and dogs who have run away, or who have been deliberately abandoned. Shelters operated by the local Humane Societies, and the various private animal shelters, all offer free or very low-cost spay/neuter services; they do not allow any animal to be adopted without having first been sterilized. And wherever you go, you’ll see bulletin-boards and classified-ad pages offering free cats and dogs. But there are still more potential pets here than there are potential owners.

Anyone who is contemplating a move to Hawaii ought to give serious thought to acquiring their pets here.