One Hawaii woman’s quest to save lots of the feral cats of Lanai on the Lanai Cat Sanctuary.


Driving up a rural gravel road on Lanai, one in all the least-touristed of the Hawaiian Islands, an indication reading “Lanai Cat Sanctuary” directs us toward our destination. Upon arrival, we’re greeted with a “Welcome to Purradise” sign and a small bag of dry cat food for our furry friends. 

Here, on the Lanai Cat Sanctuary, a no-kill sanctuary for feline friends, 665 cats receive medical care, food, love and a greater life than they previously had. The sanctuary has a capability of about 1,000, but aspects like age, health and disposition affect this number.

As we enter the outdoor cat sanctuary, cats of each color and size roam and lounge across lawn chairs and in cat houses. Other cats scatter about to gather head scratches and pets from visitors absorbing the cuteness. Overhead, cats dangle from trees like panthers, sleeping away the afternoon. 

A staff member tells me that I’m welcome to freely visit any of the spaces. There are two general visiting areas — the kitten area and the elderly cat area — and I make my way around, kibble bag in hand to see how lots of these kitties I can love before we must depart. 

The Lanai Cat Sanctuary began in 2004, after founder Kathy Carroll stumbled upon a kitten on her doorstep. She had just moved to Lanai — which is 98% owned by Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison —  from the continental U.S.and learned how there was no veterinarian on the island. Nor was there an animal control or humane society. 

The kitten needed medical care, and for her to get it, she took the ferry to Maui, rented a automotive and drove to a vet. 

Considered one of a whole lot of cats on the Lanai Cat Sanctuary, a no-kill sanctuary for feline friends.

The Great Went

The trouble to seek out look after the kitten led her to start trapping, spaying, neutering and returning cats on Lanai to assist manage the out-of-control population, mainly on account of the massive variety of feral cats on the island.

A couple of years later, conservationists discovered a big ground-nesting bird colony up within the mountains of Lanai — a food paradise for the feral cats roaming the realm, and an enormous problem for these endangered birds’ survival.

Conservationists intended to trap and eradicate the cats. To avoid wasting them, Carroll asked if she could have 30 days to remove as most of the cats as she could. She borrowed a horse corral from the nearby 4 Seasons resort, netted it, and relocated all of the cats there, about 25 total. 

“She thought her job was done, but quickly learned that this was only the start,” Keoni Vaughn, executive director of the Sanctuary, told SFGATE.

More cats began showing up on the bird colony, leading conservationists to ask Carroll to remove them. Inside a yr, she was as much as 100 cats on the horse corral, and in 2009, Lanai Cat Sanctuary moved to its current location on almost 4 acres of land.

Visitors are able to feed the cats at the Lanai Cat Sanctuary.

Visitors are in a position to feed the cats on the Lanai Cat Sanctuary.

The Great Went

Since then, 1000’s of cats have been relocated to the sanctuary, where they’re given care and can be found for adoption. The organization’s actions have preserved 1000’s of litters of kittens, as a female cat that is 6 months of age or older can have two to a few litters per yr, with three to 4 kittens on average per litter. 

But on Lanai, Vaughn says the issue hasn’t a lot been unsterilized pet cats, but feral cats. 

Early on, the Sanctuary handled the stray and pet cats that weren’t sterilized in Lanai City, but feral cats in distant areas were becoming a difficulty. 

“With a human population of about 3,000 on Lanai, pet cats aren’t the issue,” Vaughn said. “We bring into the Sanctuary about 200 cats a yr, and 95% of them are truly feral, living in distant areas, having never seen a human.”

These feral cats are a significant threat to Lanai’s native bird population: the endangered Hawaiian petrel, which nests up within the mountains in ground burrows; the wedge-tailed shearwater, which nests in burrows as well and the Hawaiian coot and Hawaiian stilt, which each construct nests in floating vegetation in wetland areas. 

All of those native species are vulnerable to being killed by feral cats, so sterilizing them and releasing them back into the wild isn’t enough. The Sanctuary continues to work with conservationists to remove the cats away from nesting areas and supply them with a secure, everlasting home on the Sanctuary. This manner, each the birds and the cats can proceed to co-exist. 

The cats have plenty of places to lounge and hang out.

The cats have loads of places to lounge and hang around.

The Great Went

“The native birds were here first, and humans introduced the cats to the realm,” Vaughn said. “So, if there’s a chance to save lots of each, we’re going to attempt to do this.”

Sanctuaries just like the Lanai Cat Sanctuary can fill a singular and useful role in a comprehensive management plan for domestic cats, in response to Grant Sizemore, Director of Invasive Species Programs for the American Bird Conservancy, which endorses the sanctuary. Cats are cared for in a secure and secure location to live out the remainder of their days, and it also protects birds and other wildlife, too. 

Nevertheless, Sizemore also notes that every one cat owners should embrace responsible ownership, which incorporates sterilization, vaccination, identification and vet care. “Don’t allow them to roam, as in the event that they’re not sterilized, they’ll contribute to the population,” he said. “And even in the event that they are sterilized, a roaming cat contributes to harming native birds and wildlife.” 

Sizemore says that quite a few cat removal strategies — including reporting cats to animal control, reaching out to animal shelters, contacting rescues and sanctuaries to even returning cats to their owners — are all exhausted before euthanasia is an option. “It looks lots like what we do with dogs,” he said.
“We don’t let feral dogs run wild, so we shouldn’t with cats either.” 

One of hundreds of cats at the Lanai Cat Sanctuary, a no-kill sanctuary for feline friends.

Considered one of a whole lot of cats on the Lanai Cat Sanctuary, a no-kill sanctuary for feline friends.

The Great Went

Today, Lanai still doesn’t have a veterinarian living on the island. The sanctuary flies in a veterinarian and technicians from Honolulu almost weekly, and so they help the sanctuary staff perform all medical work from a state-of-the-art mobile veterinary clinic, complete with anesthesia machines and an X-ray machine. 

“It’s a full surgery clinic on wheels,” Vaughn said. 

And since the local people doesn’t have an on-island vet, the sanctuary loans out its mobile clinic to the vet, who goes out twice a month into Lanai City and offers vet look after owned pets. 

In exchange for the sanctuary loaning out its mobile vet unit, the veterinarian constantly spays and neuters all small animals at no cost to maintain populations under control.

If all in favour of adadopting from the Lanai Cat Sanctuary, there are two methods. Should you fall in love with a cat while visiting, but can’t take the cat home, you’ll be able to adopt in place, which costs $360 a yr and includes monthly photos of your furry friend, plus updates on how they’re doing. 

Cats at the Lanai Cat Sanctuary can climb and nap wherever they please. Tall fences around the property and some netting keeps them from escaping.

Cats on the Lanai Cat Sanctuary can climb and nap wherever they please. Tall fences across the property and a few netting keeps them from escaping.

The Great Went

To adopt a cat and take it off-island, adopters might want to pay for flights and accommodations to get the cat to its recent home. The sanctuary also helps coordinate travel. 

Last yr, 100 cats were adopted into recent homes. “Ninety-five percent of our cats are adopted off island and to visitors from the mainland,” Vaughn said.

The Sanctuary also takes donations and has an Amazon Wish List.

Visitors may also volunteer with the Sanctuary as a part of the Malama Hawaii Program, which provides special discounts and even free nights at participating hotels. Volunteers on the Sanctuary receive free, limited-edition gear and their tasks can include landscaping, painting, brushing cats and even socializing with the cats.

Editor’s note: SFGATE recognizes the importance of diacritical marks within the Hawaiian language. We’re unable to make use of them on account of the constraints of our publishing platform.