By Dr. Becker
If you're planning a Hawaiian vacation and the island of Lanai is on your list of stops, I have a great suggestion for something to do while you're there. The Lanai Animal Rescue Center, or "Kitty Paradise" as it is also called, is located just outside Lanai City. Believe it or not, it's a top-rated attraction and definitely worth a visit.
How the Lanai Animal Rescue Center Came to Be
Kitty Paradise is an open-air sanctuary that is home to 350 to 400 cats. It was founded in 2008 when a woman named Kathy Carroll decided to do something about the island's exploding feral cat population. Her interest in the plight of homeless cats on Lanai began 10 years ago when someone left a tiny, desperately ill kitten in her care. The kitten was starving, injured, and infested with fleas -- and the local veterinarian wouldn't be back for a week. So Carroll bundled up the kitty, grabbed a ferry to Maui, rented a car, found a vet, and the kitten was saved.
At the time, Lanai had the services of one vet for a few hours a week. There were no local programs for spaying and neutering stray cats. When Carroll returned to the Maui vet to have her kitten neutered, he suggested she contact a local group that could help her start a trap-neuter-release (TNR) program on Lanai.
Carroll got her TNR program off the ground, but then a wildlife biologist located an endangered native bird on the island. Since it was no longer a good idea to release neutered feral cats back into the wild with endangered prey in their midst, Carroll quickly converted an old horse-training corral into a temporary shelter for about two dozen cats living in a colony near the endangered birds' nest.
Carroll realized she would need a more permanent solution for the cats, one that could take advantage of the tropical locale. She began thinking about big cat preserves, and got the idea to find a piece of property that would allow Lanai's feral cats to continue to live outdoors.
Outdoor Sanctuary Is Truly a Kitty Paradise
Using $10,000-worth of fence posts, PVC pipe, deer netting, and other supplies, a team of volunteers built a 10,000 square-foot outdoor sanctuary complete with feeding areas, structures to climb on, hiding and sleeping spots, and other feline-friendly trappings.
The sanctuary has since been expanded to 15,000 square feet, and its unique design coupled with a successful method for introducing new cats to the colony, creates a low-stress living environment for the kitties. This has resulted in almost no fighting or aggressive behavior among the cats, and a very low incidence of respiratory illness, a problem often seen in cats living in crowded shelter conditions.
Another benefit of the outdoor sanctuary on Lanai is free kitty litter. There is an abundance of red dirt and pine trees on the island, and Carroll has come up with a recipe for crushed pine needles and red dirt that results in a very efficient litter.
A veterinarian stops by Kitty Paradise once a month, examines every cat, and arranges for all necessary preventives and treatments – everything from microchipping to testing for FeLV and FIV (feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus). The environment is also treated to prevent flea infestations.
900 Yearly Visits Help with Kitty Socialization Chores
These days, the Lanai Animal Rescue Center has a staff of cat care technicians, administrators and an executive director, plus a small army of volunteers including locals and tourists. Carroll considers socializing the cats to be "Job 1," and over 900 people visit the sanctuary each year to help out. Once in awhile, a match is made between an out-of-town visitor and a Kitty Paradise resident.
One of the lucky adoptive parents, Anne-Marie Maguire of Boston, describes her visit to the sanctuary:
"It's such an extraordinary place; you can't imagine until you've been there. You walk in and you're greeted by 50 cats just waiting to be loved, and they follow you around like the Pied Piper. It's like the Four Seasons for cats: plenty of room to play... they're all in excellent health, very relaxed. And it didn't smell!"
Carroll's Lanai sanctuary isn't able to place as many cats as other rescues, in part because the island doesn't have that many resident cat owners, but also because all of the kitties are feral, and while many learn to enjoy human handling, others never do. But she's happy to be making a difference in other ways, as outside rescue groups see what she and her team have accomplished, and make plans to incorporate her ideas.
Carroll says her favorite quote is by Lily Tomlin: "I said, 'Somebody should do something about that.'" Carroll realized she is that somebody. "Doing something is always better than doing nothing, cat by cat and kitten by kitten," she says.