LIHUE — It’s almost kitten season on Kauai again and organizations are putting the call out to foster families to help with housing.
Kauai Humane Society and Kauai Animal Welfare Society are both reporting an uptick in kittens, with KHS reporting approximately 96 cats at their Puhi shelter and 31 kittens living with fosters currently.
Of the 96 cats and kittens at the shelter, nine or owner surrenders and the rest came to the shelter as strays — with “stray” meaning the person dropping off the animal saying they weren’t the legal owner — according to Mirah Horowitz, KHS executive director.
“We are currently on the cusp of kitten season, but not quite fully there,” Horowitz said. “ We are just starting to see an increase in unweaned kittens coming into the shelter. We are also seeing a rise in the number of cats in heat coming in for spay(and/or) neuter surgery. These are two indications that kitten season is coming soon.”
Kitten season arrives with the warmer weather on the Mainland every year, with female cats going into heat and giving birth to a litter about 60 days after becoming pregnant. Litters can range from two to eight kittens and that adds up fast for the facilities trying to find homes for the animals.
On Kauai, warm weather year-round makes for litters year-round as well, but there’s still an increase in reports of found litters as spring approaches.
KAWS has been hearing more about found kittens lately, according to reports, but the organization doesn’t have a facility set up for cats. They solely rely on fosters and the number of cats they are helping care for is dictated by the number of fosters they have on hand.
The organization has been able to facilitate adoptions for five kittens in 2019, and executive director Dinah Chao said KAWS’s role in that is to connect the cat with the community through social media posts and networking within their supporters.
“I can say that recently we have been contacted by quite a few community members who have found kittens,” Chao said Friday.
Both pets and problems
Cats are both beloved pets and staples on Hawaii’s invasive species list.
Studies show their companionship improves mental health in humans, they eat plenty of bugs and cats keep the rodent population down, which results in minimizing the spread of some diseases — like rat-lungworm disease.
But they present a major threat to endangered birds on Kauai, birds like the Newell’s shearwaters and Hawaiian Common Gallinules.
They’re also carriers of the parasite toxoplasmosis, which researchers say is linked to deaths of Hawaiian monk seals.
Reducing the numbers
While fosters are needed now to swoop in and help care for felines in all stages — from nursing mammas and their babies to adult cats — many say keeping the cats contained comes down to one thing: sterilization.
Basil Scott, formerly of Kauai Community Cat Project, points out population growth or decline is based on birthrate, which is very high in cats. The populations are constantly replenishing because of that high birthrate.
“Because of this fact of nature, any program that wants to permanently reduce cat populations should include a strong sterilization component to reduce birth rate as much as possible,” Scott says.
Horowitz also points out: “the only solution to the challenge of cat — and dog — overpopulation is to stop the pipeline of animals that occurs with continual unwanted litters. The only way to stop unwanted litters is through spay and neuter.”
For years KCCP has been involved in trap-neuter-release (TNR) programs, which aim to sterilize feral cats and reduce the population over time. In the past ten years, KCCP reports TNR programs have reduced Kauai’s feral cat populations by an estimated 18 percent.
“Some would say it’s not enough, that the population is still out of control, ” Scott said. “In my view, this suggests a more robust sterilization program rather than a more robust removal (or) killing program.”
And there is a new entity on island doing just that – it’s the Spay Pod from Animal Balance, a converted container unit painted purple and currently located at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Kapaa.
Elsa Kholbus, program director for Animal Balance, said since the Pod landed on Kauai in December, 555 cats have been sterilized.
“This number will have an immediate impact on the cat population, with that many fewer cats breeding this spring,” Kholbus said. “We anticipate the impact of the Pod will be seen and felt quickly within the community.”
The Spay Pod is currently offering spay/neuter surgeries weekly on one or two days each week. Cost is a $50 donation for cats. All cats are sterilized, moicrochipped and given dewormer. Vaccinations are available for a fee and feral cats get their ear clipped — Kauai’s sign that the cat’s already been sterilized. The schedule at the Spay Pod varies depending on volunteers and it’s best to call ahead. Info: 650-2720.
Kauai Humane Society offers sterilization for the public’s owned animals on Tuesdays and Thursdays and surgeries are by appointment only. Cats and dogs must be a minimum of two pounds and eight weeks old to qualify, and must be in good health.
Costs at KHS are $60 for a cat spay, $40 for a cat neuter and $20 for a microchip. Surgeries are by appointment only; drop-off time is 8 to 9 a.m. and pick up time is between 4 and 5 p.m., and a county license for the animal is required to secure an appointment at KHS. To schedule, call 632-0610.
Surgeries for feral cats are offered at KHS on the same Tuesdays and Thursdays, with drop-off and pick-up times being the same as well. Cost for a feral cat spay or neuter is $30 per cat, which includes a mandatory ear tip. A microchip will be implanted for an additional $20.
To schedule surgeries for either owned or feral cats at KHS, call 632-0610.
Several veterinary offices on Kauai also offer spay and neuter services at varying costs.
••• Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or at firstname.lastname@example.org