In 1861 Mark Twain wrote upon his arrival to Hawaii, “…I saw cats, individual cats, groups of cats, platoons of cats, companies of cats, regiments of cats, armies of cats, multitude of cats, millions of cats.” Hawaii’s cat overpopulation issue is not a new phenomenon nor is it just a local issue. Hawaii’s issues are exacerbated by a tropical climate with more daylight than most states, which encourages year-round breeding. A lack of predators also plays a role. However, communities nationwide face the same issue and there is no easy solution.
About 2,800 cats were adopted last year from the Hawaiian Humane Society. Over the last five years, adoptions numbers have increased ever so slightly. Yet about 8,000 Oahu’s Free-Roaming cats are removed by residents and businesses and unwanted.
A 2012 Ward Research study estimates that there are about 315,000 cats at large on Oahu. The survey also found that 17% of Oahu residents are feeding cats they don’t consider their own – an indicator that there is community compassion for these animals – a desire to prevent them from suffering. However, 70% of people who feed cats do not know if these cats are sterilized. When combined together – lack of sterilization and feeding these animals – this is the greatest contributor of population proliferation.
Colonies, are typically found in urban areas close to feeding sources. Sadly, large groups in highly visible areas can lead well-intentioned but misguided people to abandon more cats to these areas. Large concentrated populations can lead to a perception of devaluing the animals where they are perceived as pests and can become targets of cruelty. Such is the case of more than 100 cats who have taken up residence at places such as the Hawaii Kai Park and Ride and Kakaako.
Successfully reducing populations over time can happen when caregivers are diligent and follow the principles of TNRM – trap, neuter, return and manage. Feeding establishes a bond of trust so that they can be trapped for sterilization with kittens removed to allow for natural attrition of the population. These caregivers operate independently and utilize the low-cost sterilization and humane traps of nonprofit organizations such as the Humane Society.
One of the greatest challenges is that it is estimated that of the majority female cats in a colony must be sterilized to be effective. Collectively on Oahu it is estimated that about 6,000 community cat sterilizations are performed annually at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is insufficient for the population size and in light of the reproduction rate of cats. All of the existing programs on Oahu are being driven and funded by charity efforts. The lack of spay/neuter options is compounded by limited veterinary resources. There are only a few veterinarians who can perform high-volume sterilizations and few that have the resources to devote to unowned, community cat issues.
Communities that have been most successful have required several strategies and intense resources with plans that employ increased spay/neuter in targeted communities, dedicated cat colony management focused on sterilization, as well as collaborations and shared resources. Nationally, most community cats are not sterilized and estimates in some areas are as low as 2%.
Five Truths About Cats
1. Hawaii has a cat overpopulation problem.
2. Reducing the homeless cat population increases the perceived value of cats as companions.
3. Unsterilized, Free-Roaming cats are a major contributing factor to cat over population.
4. As many cats as possible should be sterilized and have owner identification.
5. Cats are safest indoors or in a secure outdoor enclosure.