Hawaii Edition
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The Big Fix

What can be done about Hawaii's Feral Cat Population?

Oahu has a serious problem with feral cats. They are everywhere. The animals were initially brought to the Hawaiian Islands on some of the earliest exploration and colonization ships; it was their job to kill the mice and rats onboard. When the cats arrived in Hawaii, the native families adopted them and called them “popoki.” Before long, the cat population on the islands began to rapidly increase.  

As soon as the cats arrived on the islands, they began to decimate the local bird population. Now, there are more than 300,000 feral cats, and they are killing species to the point of extinction. In addition, they carry diseases, such as toxoplasmosis, which can infect and kill endangered birds and other wildlife and cause serious complications in humans with weakened immune systems. Many are sickly, skinny and flea ridden, but the females continue to reproduce nonetheless.

Hawaii’s year-round warm weather, lack of natural predators and abundance of prey allow feral cats to thrive in the wild. It doesn’t help that female cats can start giving birth to kittens when they are as young as 5 or 6 months old and can have up to two litters a year. These factors allow for the furry creatures to reproduce at an alarming rate.

It is common for people to feel sorry for feral cats, and it’s estimated that some 45,000 households are feeding them. Unfortunately, this is only contributing to the problem. In addition, because Oahu has such a transient population, many cats end up simply being abandoned on the side of the road. Many people don’t bring their pets, or strays, to the Humane Society because of the $25 drop-off fee or the fear of euthanasia. 

Sadly, the overpopulation issue has gotten so out of control that euthanasia is a common solution. Many people argue that there are simply too many cats; however, there is a humane alternative: sterilization. The best way to deal with the overpopulation issue is for everyone to just fix their cats, or one or two of their local strays (especially if they are feeding them). While this sounds like an easy answer, many people have had a difficult time actually accomplishing it.   

Money is the biggest reason pet owners don’t spay or neuter their cats. Sterilization can be costly and many people simply can’t afford the surgery. In addition, some of the more rural residents of the island don’t own a vehicle that can transport them all the way to a veterinarian. Fortunately, there are organizations dedicated to reducing the number of Hawaii’s feral and pet cats.  

Poi Dogs & Popoki (PDP) is one of these. It is a nonprofit that believes, “Sterilization is the single-most effective strategy to reducing pet overpopulation and ending euthanasia—a humane and compassionate solution.” In an effort to be a part of the solution, it runs the Big Fix, “a fully-equipped surgical unit that provides affordable spay and neuter services [and] travels to communities across Oahu.” The nonprofit realizes that “many of the most serious overpopulation and animal health crises arise in neighborhoods with limited access to veterinary care and pet wellness resources, [so it brings] subsidized spay/neuter services directly to communities that need the most help.”

Its website, PoiDogsAndPopoki.org, has a monthly calendar that lists where the mobile unit will be located and the date it will be there. People can make appointments by email, and the process and payment is simple. One flat rate includes surgery, pain medication and a microchip.   

PDP works with its clientele to make sure that people in every socioeconomic class can utilize its services. PDP will set up payment plans for pet owners with multiple cats and work out deals with caregivers and rescue groups. In addition, it offers an extremely reduced rate for feral cats and is very accommodating to people interested in its Trap-Neuter-Return program.

When the Big Fix arrives at a location, it opens its doors to a great number of people with cats in traps. These good Samaritans catch their local strays and pay out of their own pocket to have them fixed. They drop them off at the unit in the morning, pick them up in the afternoon and then return them to where they came from.

While there are many people on the island that think that the cat overpopulation problem is a lost cause, there are plenty of organizations working to rectify the situation. PDP is one group that is actively making a difference. With the help of pet owners and helpful citizens, it is working toward a solution one fix at a time. 

For more information, visit PoiDogsAndPopoki.org or email Alicia@PoiDogsAndPopoki.org.

Blake Lefkoe is a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings Hawaii and runs Aloha Editing from her home on the North Shore. Contact her at Aloha.Editing@yahoo.com.

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