The fact is in plain sight: thousands of cats are homeless. A large majority of these are feral, non-domesticated animals left to hunt and capture prey in the wild. The State of Hawai'i Department of Health estimates that there are more than 500,000 cats on the island of Maui.
"Feral cats have become a significant problem in our community," said Mayor Alan Arakawa. "They represent a unique challenge, and it is imperative that well-researched control methods are employed in a strategic and humane manner. It is my hope that, along with the Maui Humane Society's new CEO, we can continue the goal of developing safe and effective solutions."
The Feline Foundation of Maui stated that, "Every day is a struggle for these innocent creatures as they battle starvation, injury and illness, in addition to attacks from other animals and cruelty from humans."
Kīhei resident Lisa Buchanan pays out-of-pocket for food, neutering and other expenses.
A nonprofit organization, The Feline Foundation of Maui is made up of compassionate volunteers whose mission is to reduce Maui's stray and feral cat population humanely using a trap-neuter-return (TNR) strategy. They support TNR as an effective alternative to euthanasia.
Other notable Maui organizations and nonprofits committed to helping solve the feral cat dilemma include 9th Life Hawai'i, Feral Cats Maui Inc., the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Maui (SPCA) and the Maui Humane Society.
However, no group or organization can single-handedly solve a problem of this magnitude. As it happens, there are also many individuals in the community who volunteer their time and money to help humanely reduce Maui's cat population.
One such person is Kihei resident Lisa Buchanan, who became involved in helping the island's feral cats in 2007 and pays out-of-pocket for food, neutering and other expenses.
"I first became a colony caretaker when I noticed a mom cat and her four kittens living in the shed in my North Kihei backyard," said Buchanan.
Calling a friend for advice, Buchanan was told to get the mom cat fixed and to fix the kittens as soon as they were old enough. It was also suggested to her that she become a colony caretaker and register with the Feline Foundation of Maui.
"That's how it all began," said Buchanan, who has funded the spaying and neutering of over 100 cats.
"I learned that by spaying and neutering these community cats, I was reducing the pain and suffering of unwanted animals and saving them from future abuse," she said.
Reducing the cat population on her block and in the community has been an inspiring, educational and rewarding journey for Buchanan, whose foremost suggestion is, "Don't abandon your cat."
"If you can no longer care for your pet, seek a loving home for it with responsible friends or neighbors, or take it to the Maui Humane Society for adoption," Buchanan said. "Sterilize (spay/neuter) your cat. This is essential for both males and females and should be done no later than six months old."
"It would also be wonderful if more caring individuals could volunteer to become a cat colony caretaker or assist another caretaker in the TNR program," she said.
TNR is a method of humanely trapping unaltered feral cats, spaying or neutering them and returning them to the location where they were collected. It is promoted by many of the Maui nonprofits and organizations as a humane "no-kill" philosophy.
"The end result is a smaller population of healthy cats that are not reproducing," said Buchanan, adding that once a cat is returned, the caretaker continues to provide food and water in an appropriate, discreet area.
"This humane solution--a TNR program--eliminates annoying behaviors associated with mating, fighting and yowling, and fosters compassion and responsibility in the community," she added.
"The feline overpopulation is a worldwide problem," said Dr. Diane Shepherd from Shepherd Veterinary Clinic in Kihei. Dr. Shepherd shared her opinion that "in the future, only a chemical form of birth control--something that is easy, inexpensive and readily available--will manage cat numbers."
Dr. Shepherd explained that due to their wonderful fertility, cat populations will never be controlled by just spay/neuter programs.
"The procedure is too labor-intensive and expensive," she said. "Unless a feral population of any species is lowered to 10 percent of the original, numbers will just rebound."
"Many people are simply unaware that a 5-month-old kitten can be a mother and have three litters a year in our clement climate," Dr. Shepherd said.
Currently, there are a handful of non-surgical treatments emerging for control of free-roaming feline populations--a longtime dream of many working in the animal welfare field.
"Feral cats have no advocate except for the caretaker who steps forward with aid," said Buchanan. "Please contact one of the agencies on Maui. Donate money or volunteer your time. Be a guardian and steward for animals who endlessly love us without judgment."