“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.