A Surprising Hawaiian Treasure: Lāna‘i Animal Rescue Center

Lanai Animal Rescue Center
Courtesy of L.A.R.C.
The Lāna‘i Animal Rescue Center is a unique open-air cat sanctuary on the Hawaiian island of Lāna‘i.

When planning your Hawaiian vacation, you might want to snorkel, see volcanoes, maybe attend a luau. Oh, and if you’re stopping on the island of Lāna‘i, you’re going to want to carve out time to pet some cats.

No, really — just check Trip Advisor. Lāna‘i Animal Rescue Center (L.A.R.C.), founded in 2008, is a top-rated attraction (currently No. 2) on the small island, and it’s no fluke.

The First “Lāna‘i Lion”

Located just outside Lāna‘i City, L.A.R.C. is an open-air cat sanctuary that’s home to some 340 cats. Lāna‘i has very few predatory species — not even the mongoose you’ll find on other Hawaiian islands — and there’s no full-time veterinarian. Several years ago, the island’s feral cat population had gotten out of control. That’s when Kathy Carroll stepped in.

Kathy Carroll with cats at LARC
Mike Carroll
Kathy Carroll poses with Seal, Goober and Pua at L.A.R.C.

She and her husband, Mike (who owns an art gallery, which is the current No. 1 attraction on the island; the two attractions swap positions now and again), moved to Lāna‘i from Chicago after celebrating their 20th anniversary at one of the Four Seasons resorts on the island. (Both resorts now support L.A.R.C. with a voluntourism campaign called the Kokua Project, which encourages guests to visit the sanctuary.) Ten years ago, a woman brought Carroll, who was an animal lover but not necessarily an activist, a kitten who would change her life.

“A friend brought him to me before leaving for a flight and said she wasn’t sure what would happen if she left him. He was a little baby kitten that was a bag of desperation. We’ve all seen it — anyone in animal rescue has seen it — he was very malnourished, had an injured leg, fleas. He was just a mess,” Carroll says. The local vet wouldn’t be back for a week, and Carroll knew she needed to take action.

“I took the ferry to Maui, got a rental car and found a veterinarian,” she says. “The kitten is fine now, but he was the catalyst — he opened my eyes to the plight of homeless cats and kittens here on Lāna‘i.”

When she brought the kitten back to the vet to be neutered a month later, she began to learn more about the issue. At that time, Lāna‘i had a beloved but part-time vet, Doc Palumbo, for three hours a week, and there were no local programs for spaying and neutering strays. The Maui-based vet suggested she get in touch with the Feline Foundation of Maui, which could lend her traps and teach her how to start a trap-neuter-return (TNR) program on Lāna‘i.

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