When Honolulu resident Donna finishes her 9 to 5 office job, she goes to what she calls her second job - feeding and caring for Oahu's stray cats. She is one of what the Hawaiian Humane Society (HHS) estimates are hundreds of cat caregivers who have made it their life's work to take care of the feral cat population on this island.
"It's like a full-time job," described Donna, a soft-hearted animal lover who got started on this path in 2002 by feeding the stray cat at work in downtown Honolulu. It evolved slowly into what is today an extremely time-consuming, expensive practice.
One street cat became two, which became 30. She feeds and maintains a colony of cats every evening after work, and on weekends, she treats them with breakfast as well. Her reputation as a cat lover spread, and soon, friends of friends were taking their homeless cats to her, or telling her about a stray kitten they had seen that needed help. Donna has a hard time saying no.
"I love all animals, and I do this because the cats need our help. People can help themselves, but cats need us," she explains, defending herself against what she calls the "haters" - people who don't want her to support a feral cat colony because they believe it encourages unsanitary public conditions, threatens native bird populations, or simply because they don't like cats.
It's not clear how many feral cats live on Oahu, but HHS's website says in the last five years, it has helped more than 12,000 feral cats at a cost of over $250,000 for needed sterilizations. One un-spayed female and her offspring can produce 420,000 kittens in just seven years, so HHS officials encourages people to spay and neuter.
"Every other month we hold a Feline Fix event strictly for feral cats. The Hawaiian Humane Society will offer $10 cat sterilization for feral cats for ONE DAY only. Our next Feline Fix is scheduled for May 6. We’ll begin taking appointments closer to the event date," says HHS spokesperson Tasha Tanimoto. "Twenty percent of the population is feeding cats they don’t consider their own. We hope that every cat will have a lap, and if you feed it you own it."
Chloe & Brandi, the original pets
As one might expect, Donna has pet cats of her own. She and her husband adopted two cats about five years ago, but have also opened their home to foster unwanted kittens. Donna works with the Humane Society's Trap-Neuter-Return-Manage (TNRM) program, which Tanimoto describes as "a humane and effective strategy to reduce the number of feral cats in our community and improve their quality of life." Donna also works with a second organization, HICatfriends, to spay and neuter cats that are old enough to handle the surgery.
"We have about 10-12 cats indoors, and another eight-10 strays outside who have figured out we're the cat house," estimates Donna. She socializes and rehabilitates them, takes them to the vet, and sterilizes mature cats before posting an adoption-ready feline on Craigslist. She estimates her monthly cat expenses at $1,000 or more.
Every waking moment is filled with cat care. Her days start at 5 a.m. because the cats wake her up to be fed. After spending about an hour in the morning taking care of them, she returns home to a very similar routine of cleaning litter boxes, sweeping up cat hair, picking up whatever mess they've made, medicating some, and grooming others. Sometimes she goes on a distress call to rescue another homeless cat.
Her self-described "quietly suffering" husband has taken on the role of Director of Recreation. "I play with them. They love me. It's ironic because she's the driver of this, but they all like me more since I'm the fun one. They associate me with playtime and they associate her with deworming and flea dips," he laughs - though quick to add that he would love for her to scale back her domestic collection.
I paid a visit to their home to see what life with a dozen indoor cats might be like. Aside from two large carpeted cat condos in the living room, it was surprisingly empty - and clean. "They're hiding," Donna said, "because you're new."
- What it felt like with cats peering out from dark corners and under beds.
We went looking for them. Every time I peered under a bed and opened a closet door, I was greeted back with many pairs of wide eyes. Sometimes one would dart away.
"They bring us so much joy," smiles Donna. "They're so much fun to play with and they give such unconditional love. That's why I keep trying to place animals with loving families - to share that joy with others."
If you would like to adopt a cat from Donna, contact her at (808) 371-4915.
RELATED CAT NEWS
West Oahu residents who want to get their feral cats fixed are invited to make an appointment for a May 6 spay/neuter "Feline Fix" event taking place at Nanakuli High School. "We emphasize that this is for feral cats only," says HHS representative Tanimoto. The first 100 feral cats signed up will receive a $10 spay or neuter surgery. Cats must be more than eight weeks old, weigh more than two pounds and be delivered in a cat carrier or humane trap. Humane traps are available for sale and on loan at the Humane Society (call 356-2285 for more information). SAME DAY drop-off and pick-up will be at Nanakuli High School.
This July, HHS will be offering Microchip Madness. Annually, veterinarians from Waianae to Hawaii Kai offer low cost microchipping of pets for an affordable, flat rate thanks to a partnership with Hawaiian Humane Society. A microchip typically costs $25. Participating veterinarians waive the cost of the doctor’s visit so that dogs and cats can receive the microchip implant at a substantial discount. The promotion aims to reduce the number of lost pets in the community. Please go to the HHS website for dates, final pricing, a list of participating vets, and how to make an appointment.