Animal shelter has been staff tending to several dozen wounded animals since the fires ravaged Lahaina, but it is hoping for a surge

Published Thu 17 Aug 2023

More than a week after wildfire destroyed Lahaina, burning thousands of homes and killing at least 110 people, Maui Humane Society is still waiting for the wave of animals.

The animal shelter has been bustling in the days since the disaster began, with volunteers sorting through thousands of donations, staff tending to several dozen wounded animals and limited vet crews on the ground searching for more. But with as many as 3,000 animals missing, Maui Humane Society is hoping for a surge.

“In many ways, we’re hoping to be inundated,” said Katie Shannon, the director of marketing at Maui Humane Society. “It’s what we hope for, that we are able to receive these animals, rescue these animals, and be able to attend to them.

“Because we have an estimated 3,000 pets that are lost or missing. And we are committed to helping every animal,” she said.

In the week since the fires ravaged Lahaina, the animal shelter has received 52 animals, from cats to dogs to Maui’s famous feral chickens, some who were badly burned.

“We have received cats that have severe burns on their faces, coats, paws, that, as owned animals, they would be very difficult to recognize.”

Video shared by the humane society showed a kitten with burns to his face and paws, yet desperate for pets and affection. They have named the cat, who did not have a microchip, Ho’omau, meaning to persevere.

The animals have gone through extreme trauma, she said, but the humane society is hopeful that because they arrived early, they will survive. Staff hope to see and treat even more and eventually reunite them with their owners, a process that will take time.

The humane society has received reports of cats with collars on congregating and dogs running through Lahaina, but access is limited.

The road to Lahaina is one way in, one way out, and though the humane society is working with emergency animal response groups, limited medical personnel have been allowed in the burn area as the search for human remains is still under way. The lack of power and cell services in Lahaina has further complicated efforts.

“There are still fires that are currently burning,” Shannon said. “We’re in the midst of of this tragedy. And I think that’s something that is really important for people to know, because it really affects the way that we’re able to respond.”

Disaster response

When the fires broke out last week, people immediately showed up to the Maui Humane Society and offered to help. In the days since, they have formed a vast “all hands on deck” operation comprising hundreds of volunteers to aid in the response.

At the Maui Humane Society on Monday, the parking lots were full, and dozens of volunteers had formed an assembly line outside over pallets of dog and cat food. They were moving the food, litter and carriers into emergency kits to distribute at shelters.

“Most of these people out here are not our usual volunteers. These are people that have just showed up and said, I have hands what can I do? We said, here’s a shirt, we’ll get you a job,” said Gayle Marsh, who has been volunteering for 10 years. “It’s extremely heartwarming. It reminds me why we live in Maui.”

The response from the community has provided badly needed hope at the Humane Society, along with some of the few reunions that have taken place in recent days. Eight animals had been reunited with their owners as of Monday, Shannon said.

Among them was Roman, who was with a dogsitter when the fires broke out. His dogsitter jumped into the water with the dog to escape the flames, but, scared, Roman ran away. He was eventually transported to the humane society where he was able to receive treatment for his very burnt paws, the blisters on his back, and was reunited with his owners.

“It’s a glimmer of hope, through all of this,” Shannon said.

The humane society awaits more animals, and plans to care for them for as long as they need to and bring them home to their owners. “We are committed to all life-saving efforts for all animals, as well as reuniting animals and their people, their owners,” Shannon said.

Maui Humane Society has been flooded with donations in recent days, Shannon said, but the best way people can help is through monetary donations that will support the ongoing medical care and supplies that people and pets are going to need to recover.

“Please don’t forget about us in two days or two months or even two years because this is just the first step in what’s going to be a very long journey,” said Marsh.

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