Maui Humane Society is currently working with internationally recognized experts in shelter medicine, infectious disease, and community cats in an effort to accelerate the rate at which cats are able to be rescued from the Lahaina burn zone. Maui Humane Society is currently caring for more than 250 “fire cats” at the Pu’unene shelter and in a recently procured off-campus facility. The organization estimates that there are between 300 to 400 cats who survived the wildfire, still remaining in the toxic environment. Trapping teams experienced in disaster response continue to trap and rescue cats daily and many are being reunited with their owners.
The team of shelter medicine and community cat experts includes Dr. Julie Levy (University of Florida), Dr. Kate Hurley and Dr. Denae Wagner (University of California, Davis), Kristen Hassen (Outcomes Consulting), and Bryan Kortis and Susan Richmond (Neighborhood Cats). The UC Davis team is currently on-island assisting MHS with the design and building of humane long-term housing for cats as well as pathway planning to optimize the flow of cats into and out of the shelter so that cats can be removed from the burn zone in higher numbers.
“In reviewing our current processes, our strategic advisors have determined that not only can we increase the number of cats being trapped each day, we can also improve upon their housing in ways that will benefit their physical and mental wellbeing. It’s a win-win situation,” stated Lisa Labrecque, Maui Humane Society CEO.
The shelter was facing the challenge of limited space in an already overcrowded facility to manage larger trapping efforts. The proposed solutions not only increase capacity, but offer improved housing to reduce the risk of infectious disease by decreasing stress. Rather than expand current indoor housing to accommodate the incoming cats, “cat pods” will be temporarily constructed at Maui Humane Society in an existing grass yard. The pods are designed to offer secure indoor and outdoor living space for up to 20 cats each, with a goal of building ten structures over the coming days.
Dr. Hurley explained, “Poor housing and prolonged length of stay are the two greatest risk factors for stress and illness in shelter cats. By improving the quality of housing, MHS will be able to keep cats healthy and more accurately assess their behavioral needs, fast tracking them to the most appropriate next stage of placement while also ensuring that owners and caregivers have every possible opportunity to be reunited with their cats.”
Maui Humane Society will soon be launching a new adoption program aimed at placing “fire cats” into the community as quickly as possible to facilitate increased trapping efforts. “People want to know how to help… this is the best way possible,” stated Labrecque.
The program will pair cats with the type of home and situation most appropriate for each individual cat based on its temperament. Some of the cats recovered from the fire have clearly lived as pets and can thrive in the MHS foster program and ultimately be placed for adoption as pets if the owner cannot be found. Many other fire cats were already living as more loosely owned community cats and are highly stressed by indoor confinement. Fortunately these cats can thrive in new neighborhoods with just a little help. Maui Humane Society will be offering free catios and three months’ food and supplies for community members willing to keep cats safe and confined for several weeks to give owners a chance to reclaim and cats a chance to adapt to a new community home if no owner comes forward. The program is being kickstarted by funding from Neighborhood Cats. More details will be released in the coming week.