What is a feral cat and why are there so many of them on Maui? Feral cats are the wild offspring of domestic cats and are primarily the result of pet owners’ abandonment of their animals. Many of these unwanted cats have not been spayed or neutered, which allows them to breed for years uncontrolled. If a male and female cat and all their resulting offspring remain unsterilized, they can produce 420,000 offspring over a seven-year period. With these figures in mind, it is easy to see why spaying/neutering is so important and why feral cats have impacted almost every area of our island home.
The Maui Humane Society (MHS) and the Feline Foundation of Maui work together to provide a program called Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), a humane and effective long-term strategy for reducing the feral cat population. Studies from communities around the world have shown that TNR is the single most successful and cost-effective method for stabilizing a feral cat population. Cats are humanely trapped by volunteers, then sterilized and returned to their original location. A caretaker continues to provide food and water, which encourages the cats to form a “colony” around the food source. This way, any new feral cats and kittens can be identified, trapped and sterilized as well. The end result is a smaller population of healthy cats that are not reproducing. MHS and the Feline Foundation of Maui provide spay/neuter surgeries and other support for feral cat colonies and their human caretakers who are participating in the TNR program.
Spaying and neutering homeless cats stabilizes the feral population, eliminates annoying behaviors associated with mating like howling and fighting, and is humane to the animals, allowing them to live out their lives. TNR is more humane, more effective and less costly than trying to control feral cats through extermination. Killing feral cats, taking them to MHS to be euthanized, or trapping and releasing the cats in another area do not address the root of the problem. Other cats inevitably move into the vacated territory, continuing to breed and produce more offspring.
If a male and female cat and all their resulting offspring remain unsterilized, they can produce 420,000 offspring over a seven-year period.
“Feral cats are everywhere on Maui,” said MHS CEO Jocelyn Bouchard. “We all need to realize the choice is no longer whether or not to have cats in your neighborhood; the choice is whether the cats residing around your business or home are managed or unmanaged. We would like all feral cats to be part of a managed colony in order to fully stabilize the island’s cat population.” According to Bouchard, there are hundreds of feral cat colonies located across the island, and population sizes vary according to the size of the area they inhabit.
“Neighborhoods and businesses need to work together,” she said. “If we all work together, we can develop a solution.”
Colony management is the answer, said 9th Life Hawai‘i Executive Director Phyllis Tavares. “I think people should be encouraged and helped to manage feral cat colonies,” she said. “These animals have a right to live… sterilizing them in huge numbers will be effective in ultimately reducing the population.”
While organizations such as 9th Life Hawai‘i, MHS and Feline Foundation work tirelessly to assist feral cats and humans alike, the cycle of abandonment and repopulation will continue unless residents assume personal responsibility. “As fast as we are spaying and neutering, if 20 people allow their cat to have a litter, well, all that work is undone,” said Bouchard. “It doesn’t take long for these cats to add up.” But there are many who have already taken matters into their own hands. “There are dedicated colony caretakers all over the world… they should be helped and thanked,” said Tavares.
MHS and Feline Foundation of Maui ask community members to help address the cat population in the following ways:
If you can no longer keep your pet cat for any reason, try to find another loving home for it or put it up for adoption. Do not abandon it to live on its own. You can trap any un-owned cats in your neighborhood and bring them to MHS or 9th Life Hawai‘i to be spayed or neutered. Humane traps are available to the public, as well as discounted spay/neuter programs. You can also volunteer to manage a feral cat colony in your neighborhood or place of business. Contact the Feline Foundation of Maui for more information at 891-1181 or visit www.mauicats.com.
Additionally, each of these organizations encourages you to take the time to spay and neuter your own pets. At 9th Life Hawai‘i, Tavares said, “We have been providing free or extremely low-cost spay/neuter clinics for people caring for cats on Maui. We do not care if the cats are feral, a pet or just a friendly cat that showed up at your doorstep. We will sterilize them all.”
For more information about spay/neuter services, or to learn more about adopting a feline companion, contact MHS at www.mauihumane.org or 877-3680 and 9th Life Hawai‘i at 572-3499 or www.9thlifehawaii.org.