Lanai Animal Rescue Center (L.A.R.C.)
Are there cats in Hawaii? Indeed there are - too many of them in fact. It's a problem that is more than a century old. When Mark Twain visited Honolulu in 1866, he was so taken aback by the number of cats there that he reported to the Sacramento Union newspaper: "I saw… tame cats, wild cats, singed cats, individual cats, groups of cats, platoons of cats, companies of cats, regiments of cats, armies of cats, multitudes of cats, millions of cats…"
The horde of cats seen by Mark Twain were the descendants of cats originally brought to Hawaii in the early 19th century by European explorers and colonists. They came on ships where their job was to keep the rats down. But the cats soon found homes in Hawaii and became household pets known to the locals as 'popoki'.
In Hawaii's warm climate, with no predators and abundant prey, some cats quickly went feral. In 1903, naturalist R.C.L. Perkins was the first to point a finger at feral cats as the culprits decimating local wildlife.
"On Lanai, in walking up a single ravine, I counted the remains of no less than twenty-two native birds killed by cats, and these must all have been destroyed within two days, as previously the whole gulch had been washed out by a heavy flood. Two cats were actually shot on this occasion as they were devouring their prey, and several others seen, but, owing to the fact that they are extremely shy and mostly nocturnal in habits, few people who have not lived much in the woods have any idea of their numbers."
As the devastation of local wildlife continued, people started to see cats as pests, not pets. A large number of feral cats were trapped and euthanized or killed on site. Fortunately for the Hawaiian cats, at the end of 20th century it was widely recognised that mass killing of cats basically doesn't work and other more humane methods are much more effective. (Extermination doesn't work because un-neutered cats are prolific breeders. Killing lots of cats simply creates an ecological niche where lots of kittens thrive.)
In 1993 the Hawaiian Cat Foundation introduced a TNR (trap/neuter/release) program. In 1995 a cat protection law was introduced for the Island of Oahu. The law stated that all outdoor/indoor cats older than 6 months must be sterilized and be easily identifiable either via microchip, ear-tag or collar. (Six months is when female cats reach sexual maturity and can start breeding.) Since the TNR program started, 5000 feral cats have been neutered and returned to their habitat. Although there is still a long way to go, the TNR work has already made a visible difference. On Lanai, source of the first alarming reports of the developing cat problem over 100 years ago, the street cat problem is rapidly coming under control.
This is largely due to the Lanai Animal Rescue Center. The Center is situated on the 3.4 acres of land below Lanai City. It was started in 2008 by two very devoted cat lovers, Kathy Carroll and Loretta Hellrung. The center became a non-profit community service organization in 2009. The fenced-in outdoor sanctuary has a ‘no kill and no cage’ policy. The street cats which are trapped and neutered are socialised and given a home in the centre until the cats find a permanent home through adoption. There are around 300-400 cats in the shelter at any one time. The cats are free to roam within the sanctuary. When the weather is bad or the cats want a quiet nap, outdoor shelters called ‘kitty condos’ are available. There also are lots of trees to climb and nooks and crannies to hide in.
The day to day running of the shelter is helped by volunteers, including some from the local elementary school. The children love to feed, groom and cadle the cats, which also helps to get street cats accustomed to human friendship. The shelter is open to visitors every Sunday and has become somewhat of a tourist attraction for visitors to Lanai Island. And most who visit the Center have nothing but good to say about it.
One review reads: "A must-see if you are a catophile like myself! Didn't know what to expect when I visited this place, but this place is amazing. If I were a stray cat...this is where I would want to reside!"
If you can’t get to the center, you can still get to see f the LARC cats on this video: