I’ve loved cats my whole life. But I never dreamed how they would one day consume my life, in the best possible way.
One day in 2004, a friend brought a badly injured kitten into our gallery. Back then, Lana'i had no veterinarians on the island (still true to this day), no spay-neuter programs, and no animal shelters. I rushed with Toulouse to the ferry to a veterinarian on Maui. Dr. Shea Martin showed me how to care for the little one. Since moving to Lana'i I had noticed a large number of homeless cats on Lana'i. I poured my heart out to Dr. Martin about their plight, and she encouraged me to start a spay-neuter program. I gathered a small team of volunteers, and with the help of the Feline Foundation of Maui, we achieved a dream of creating Lana'is first spay/neuter program for homeless cats. We humanely trapped the cats, and in the early days, we mucked out horse stalls to serve as a "surgical suite" and “recovery room” for the veterinary team from Maui. It wasn’t glamorous, but we achieved our mission of helping Lanai's homeless cats. My philosophy has always been that doing something is better than doing nothing.
In 2006, a large colony of Hawaiian Petrels, endangered seabirds, was discovered on Lana'i. I met with the bird specialist who oversaw the colony to explain our spay-neuter program and our dream of creating a shelter for homeless cats. He urged us to move quickly because feral cats are a danger to native birds. We love birds and cats, so our volunteers (led by Alberta de Jetley) created a temporary shelter in a horse corral for $200 in two days! We established a nonprofit organization in 2008, and opened our permanent sanctuary on 3.5 acres of land in 2009.
After 12 years of founding the sanctuary and overseeing its evolution, I made the tough call to hang up the catnip and return to the gallery to help a cool cat I've known for 40 years: my husband Mike. Mike always supported my work to improve the lives of Lana’i's stray cats and native birds. While I've retired from the day-to-day activities, helping cats will always be a part of me. I serve on the sanctuary’s Board of Directors, help raise funds, and volunteer. At our gallery, we feature "Kitty Korner," a trove of goodies (including t-shirts designed by Mike) sold in support of the sanctuary. We also donate a portion of proceeds from the sale of cat fine-art prints, cat jigsaw puzzles, cat notecards, and cat peshtemals to the sanctuary.
Executive Director Keoni Vaughn, manager Joe Adarna, and their kitty care team are taking the sanctuary to ever-new heights. At a recent "pet n' purr" session hanging out with sanctuary cats, I was overwhelmed with gratitude to all the people who helped ensure these cats are no longer homeless, starving, or endangering native wildlife. The cats are happy and healthy, and most of them love visitors. My heart is full to see how the sanctuary has flourished, and I am amazed that our efforts now serve as a highly-respected shelter model others are emulating.
So many volunteers, staff, donors, and visitors have made our dream come true for a cage-free park, where homeless cats play and snooze in health and harmony. The sanctuary would not exist without them. I hope you’ll consider helping Lanai's “little lions” by donating to Lanai Cat Sanctuary.