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.”

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