Animal Balance Blog

Welcome to Our Blog!

This blog tells the story of our role on the planet as Animal Balance. It is our wish that through the work that we do, the experiences we have and the stories we share, we can connect with others, open up minds and, essentially, shake things up in order to move our collective direction forward. Our goals is to increase global love and compassion for all species, everywhere.

Thank you for taking the time to read it.

The Animal Balance Team

 

Saving Cats on Maui

Prior to 2015, the outlook for feral cats living on Maui was bleak. Although environmental conditions are ideal for supporting a prolific feline population, cats were considered a nuisance, and the cat population was managed using a singular technique, euthanasia.

“I have worked for Maui Humane Society for almost 25 years,“ says Kelly Maguire, a Maui native and the leader in a movement to help bring humane, community based sterilization solutions to the island’s feral cat colonies. “We have always had feral cat issues. There are no winters, no predators, it’s a great situation for cats to multiply. We’ve just always had feral cats everywhere, in parks and neighborhoods. The understanding was that the only way to control the situation was by euthanasia.”

Maguire describes the conflict that she felt, as an animal lover, when cats were brought to MHS in traps for the sole purpose of being killed.

“I’m a vet tech, I want to help animals.  I was taking animals back for euthanasia. I love animals. It’s so not fair. They’re doing great out there, they’re healthy, they’re living good lives. It was a horrible situation. We all wanted better and we knew there had to be a better way.”

Maguire started doing what she could, working with small grants and donations given to the MHS to subsidize their spay/neuter program, coordinating efforts with colony caretakers, and holding what she calls “mini clinics” to sterilize cats on the island. But she knew that ultimately this wasn’t enough. In order to make a true impact, Maguire knew that there would need to be a large-scale, targeted effort and MHS would need to find enough money to offer free surgery to those who brought animals in for sterilization.

The tides for the feral cats of Maui began to turn in 2014, when MHS CEO Jerleen Bryant met Animal Balance Director Emma Clifford at the HSUS Expo.

“Jerleen went to Expo and met Emma. They spoke about the situation. Emma explained what Animal Balance did and Jerleen invited Animal Balance to Maui.

Soon after that meeting, Clifford made a visit to Maui to meet with Maguire and the folks from MHS. As with all AB campaigns, it was crucial to Clifford to design a plan that would work for and with the local communities. She shared with Maguire the basic template for an AB MASH spay/neuter campaign, but also spent a great deal of time listening.

“When I met Emma, it was like two kindred spirits. We met, and after about an hour of talking I didn’t want to leave” recalls Maguire. “I told her that this MASH program was a dream of mine, but I couldn’t figure out how to put all the pieces together. Emma inspired me to believe It could all happen. She didn’t just come out and say ‘We’ve been here, we know what to do.’ She sat and asked who here knows the community? Who here has the biggest issue getting their cats fixed? She listened to what I had to say about how to approach different areas.”

With the help of Clifford, it seemed that Maguire’s dream was closer to becoming a reality, but there were still some hurdles to overcome. You can’t do successful TNR without traps, and traps are expensive and difficult to ship to Hawaii. But, Clifford had a plan.

Enter Becky Robinson, President of Alley Cat Allies and crusader for feral cats worldwide.

Robinson told Maguire to get in touch with Tru-Catch traps and arranged for Alley Cat Allies to  purchase 150 traps and 150 transfer cages for MHS. Meanwhile, Emma searched the island for a way to get the traps over from the mainland. The solution came by way of a local feed store owner who agreed to tuck as many traps as he could into each shipment of hay that was shipped over and, just like that, traps started arriving on the island. Ten traps, three traps, on and on, with each shipment that MHS employees picked up Maguire was closer to seeing her vision come to life.

It finally materialized in April of 2015 when, with the help of the team from Animal Balance, MHS held their first MASH sterilization campaign.

And the community responded.

Maguire tells the story of one cat owner who built his own makeshift “cat carrier” out of a large pot with a colander taped to the top, that hitchhiked from Haiku, a fair distance, to get his cat fixed.

“The community responded!” says Maguire, the excitement in her voice still infectious, even 2 years after that first campaign. “I was amazed and humbled by all of the volunteers that helped make this happen. On our first cat campaign we did 712 cats!”

But Clifford, Robinson and Maguire all knew that a one-time campaign would not be enough. The program needed to be sustainable to have a lasting impact and continue to save the lives of the island’s feral cats.

 

With the help of Clifford and Robinson, MHS was able to obtain a grant through Petsmart Charities to continue to build the program. MHS has thus far carried out 12 MASH campaigns and completed a build out of their surgery facility so that they can now do free, stationary surgeries five days a week.

MHS has sterilized 6,020 animals since Maguire led the MASH program in 2015. Live release rates have skyrocketed for animals being surrendered to MHS and Maguire has seen a remarkable difference in areas that were once known for having hundreds of feral cats.

“We were told that we wouldn’t see results for 3-5 years,” says Maguire. “Within one year we had a day when our cat room was completely empty in the front. We all cried. It’s so much different. It’s a dream come true.”

MHS is now working on creating a Return to Field program to continue to save the lives of feral cats that are brought into the shelter. Maguire sits on that planning team.

“It takes a village,” says Maguire, crediting the help that she received from Alley Cat Allies and Animal Balance. “It was the perfect storm, all these people coming together to help us. We were ready for it. The community was ready for it.”

Maguire isn’t stopping. In addition to her work helping create a Return to Field program with MHS, and always being on the lookout for cats to trap on Maui, she looks forward to helping out animal welfare groups on other islands that are facing similar circumstances that she was in 2014.

“I love all aspects of it, coordinating, trapping, MASHing, I want to be part of all of it,” says Maguire. “I want to tell people it is possible, you just have to move forward. People like AB and ACA are willing to step up. There are so many more people than you would ever know that are willing to help you.”

“It’s amazing to see. It fills your heart with happiness. When we all come together and work for a common goal respectfully and enthusiastically, wonderful things can happen. We are changing the face of the island and the animals that live here. Dream come true.”

Hilo Beach Clean Up

Volunteering for Animal Balance comes with many perks. We’re doing great things for animals, making the world a better place, making new friends everywhere we go…the list goes on and on. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the perk of working primarily on islands, which means spending lots of time in close proximity to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

There is no shortage of information out there on the health benefits of being at the beach (just be sure to wear your sunscreen!) and breathing in the salt air or taking a quick dip in the ocean waves. Salt water regenerates your skin, helps with muscle pain, strengthens your immune system, boosts your mood and reduces stress and anxiety. Breathing in salt air is great for your lungs and improves your ability to absorb oxygen. Just listening to the sound of the waves will calm your mind and help ground you when the day to day stuff gets to be a little too much.

During each campaign I try to carve out a little bit of time to find a beach to appreciate, and I haven’t been disappointed yet.

Just as beaches can play a part in keeping us healthy, we need to play a part in keeping the beaches healthy. Through a partnership with two great non-profits, The Surfrider Foundation and Hawaii Wildlife Fund, the Animal Balance team was invited to participate in a beach cleanup on our last day in Hilo. It was a great way to give back to the islands in a we haven’t before, and to gain an even greater appreciation for the beaches we are lucky enough to visit.

So, on Sunday morning, armed with gloves and trash bags, our amazingly hard-working volunteers were among a large group that showed up at Kings Landing Beach in Hilo, ready to attack the trash. The brushy areas surrounding the lava-rock shoreline have become dumping areas for some folks, and a short walk around revealed trash of all kinds. Over the course of about two hours the group of volunteers filled up a giant construction dumpster with all sorts of debris. They found tires, engine parts, discarded clothing, plastics, bottles, you name it. The group also worked to paint over graffiti and clean up the skate park area adjacent to the beach. Even after working five long days spaying and neutering cats, the AB team was energetic and approached the work happily…maybe it was the mood boosting effect of the ocean air!

It was a great event, and one that we were proud to be a part of. Taking care of the environment is a crucial part of maintaining the balance that we are seeking for all beings. It didn’t take a lot of time to make a small difference that day. As the motto for the event said so eloquently “Many hands make light work.” We were fortunate to be some of those “many hands” and it was our pleasure to work alongside members of the community to help take care of the beaches.

At the end of the cleanup, several members of our team hiked out onto the lava rocks to take in the view. There they saw two sea turtles sunning themselves on the beach, as if waiting to remind us all why we were there in the first place.

Mahalo Hawaii! Your beaches not only bring us health and happiness, but are a great lesson to us on the true nature of our mission to find balance.

Mo and the Mama Cat

“There’s a guy in the clinic, I’m not sure what he wants. Can you go talk to him?” One of our volunteers gestures to an elderly man hovering over a group of cats that were trapped the night before at the local marina.

I walk over to him as he’s pulling back the trap covers one by one. It’s clear he’s looking for something.

“Hi, can I help you find something?” I ask, thinking an owned cat might have found its way into one of our traps.

“I’m just checking on my cats,” he says, a flash of concern darts across his eyes. “These are my cats.” He sweeps his arm over the traps, all of the traps.

“These are your cats?”

“Yes, they were trapping them at the marina, they are my cats. I feed them. I’m looking for the Mama Cat.”

Then he sees her. A grey tabby with cloudy eyes. He leans down, talks to her through the trap and scratches her head.

“You’re going to bring them back, right?”

I explain the TNR process to him, that we are just going to sterilize them, and assure him that his cats will be released the next morning in the exact spot that they were trapped. He smiles and relaxes a little bit.

Mo is 76, born and raised in Hilo, and he has been feeding the cats at the marina every morning for the last few years. The next morning when I meet him there to wait for the cats to be released, he is ready and waiting, tossing kibble to a couple of cats that managed to evade capture, as well as three well-fed ducks. The back hatch of his small SUV is open, revealing the typical trunk odds and ends, as well as a large quantity of cat food.

In the brief time that I spend talking to Mo, it becomes obvious that he loves these cats. He is glad that we’ve fixed them, he says, because there are enough cats. But these are his cats and it’s clear that he loves them.

 

 

The truck with the cats from the clinic arrives and the traps are lined up. Mo opens the doors to let the cats out, talking to each of them as he does it, welcoming them home. One by one they sprint off to the edge of the parking lot. He is still looking for Mama Cat, his favorite. When he gets to her, she leaps out of the cage, runs a few yards and stops. Mo calls her and she turns around and comes back to him, winding herself between his feet. He picks her up and gives her a kiss on the top of her head.

I go back the next morning, under the premise that I need to get a few more pictures, but really I just want to see Mo with the cats again.

They follow him around as he drops heaping scoops of wet food into individual piles for each cat. Then he circles back around with kibble. Mama Cat is sitting in the backseat of his car.

This colony is one of several in Hilo that I had the pleasure of seeing during our campaign last week. The caretakers are dedicated and compassionate people who love the cats and want to keep them safe and healthy.

Mo isn’t the only one who has named the cats in his colony. One caretaker whom I chatted with for several minutes pointed out “Scrawny,” “Grey,” and “Big Grey” as he told me that he had been feeding and overseeing his colony for four years. “They’re like my pets,” he told me.

As I am writing this, there is a movement from the DLNR Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation to implement amendments to the Hawaii Administrative Rules that would lead to the killing of cats and prevent these caregivers from feeding the cat colonies.

Animal Balance and all of the groups that we have partnered with on the Hawaiian Islands are committed to creating humane solutions for these cats so that they can live in harmony and balance within the communities. Humane solutions are possible!

Please consider helping us protect these cats by supporting our work in Hawaii. With continued efforts we can create true change in the form of sustainable, humane, community based population management.

For people like Mo and the other colony caretakers in Hilo, these cats are part of their community. To organizations like Animal Balance and our island partners, these cats are animals that deserve to live their lives free from harm. Together we know that there are solutions that don’t involve killing the cats. If you agree, you can help us by spreading the word about the upcoming vote, making a financial donation to help support our efforts, and use your voice to encourage the adoption of humane population management solutions in your community, whether on Hawaii or anywhere else.