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Although the TNR program was a solid start, the stray cats ofLāna‘iran into another issue: A wildlife biologist discovered an endangered native bird on the island.
“We couldn’t in good conscience release these cats back into the wild knowing the birds were there, so we ended up creating very temporary shelter in an old horse-training corral,” Carroll says. In two days for just $200, they covered it with deer netting and added a door to house the 22 cats who had a colony near a nest of the birds. But she knew she needed a more permanent solution, and that’s when the idea of an outdoor sanctuary began to evolve.
Carroll didn’t go about creating a shelter lightly. She did plenty of reading, and although she initially envisioned a traditional brick-and-mortar type of shelter with air conditioning and flooring, she realized that their tropical location made it possible to think truly outside the box. “All of a sudden, we said, ‘Wait! These are feral cats who live outside!’ I started thinking about African big cat preserves and thought, What if we found a piece of property and let them live outdoors in a cage-free setting?”
With some fence posts, PVC pipes and deer netting, a team of L.A.R.C. volunteers built a 10,000-square-foot (which has since expanded to 15,000 square feet) outdoor sanctuary with feeding areas, climbing structures, areas for hiding and sleeping, and more for about $10,000. The unique design (as well as smart planning when introducing new cats) creates a low-stress environment for the cats, resulting in little to no fighting or aggressive behavior, and the incidence of respiratory illness (often attributed to stress and overcrowding in shelter situations) tends to be very low.
The location also provides one other important feature: ingredients for an amazing — and free — cat litter.Lāna‘ihas anabundance of red dirt and pine trees, and Carroll has found that pulverized pine needles mixed with that dirt create a remarkably effective cat litter.
A veterinarian visits the sanctuary once a month, and every cat is examined, dewormed, vaccinated, microchipped and tested for feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). The cats are also treated for fleas on intake, as well as monthly when possible, and the environment is treated to prevent flea infestations.
Carroll now heads a small paid staff of animal care technicians, administrators and an executive director, but she also relies on volunteers to keep the kitties purring. That includes locals who come out regularly, those who occasionally attend monthly volunteering parties (everyone pitches in with painting, mowing, raking, etc.) and, of course, tourists, who Carroll is quick to point out are an important part of her volunteer team.
“Job 1 is getting in there to socialize the cats,” she says, and more than 900 people visit the sanctuary each year to do just that. While most leave with only memories (or perhaps a sponsorship with the Adopt in Place program), occasionally a match is made and an adoption takes place, as was the case for Anne-Marie Maguire of Boston.
Maguire and her husband visitedLāna‘ifor the first time last year and, as cat lovers with two rescued Siamese brothers at home, knew they had to visit L.A.R.C.
“It’s such an extraordinary place; you can’t imagine until you’ve been there.You walk in and you’re greeted by 50 cats just waiting to be loved, and they follow you around like the Pied Piper,” she says. “It’s like the Four Seasons for cats: plenty of room to play ... they’re all in excellent health, very relaxed. And it didn’t smell!”
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