Week 3 in Maui
Today marks the start of week three here in Maui. Two weeks ago when my plane landed, a Maui Humane Society (MHS) staff member picked me up and took me to the shelter. I had no idea what I was going to be doing that day or in the coming days. All I knew was that I wanted to help the feline survivors of the Lahaina fire and their families.
Maui Humane Society had accepted my offer to come help in anyway that I could but I didn’t know what that would mean or would look like. When I walked in, Dr. Lisa LaBrecque (CEO) and Nikki Russell (Director of Operations) literally met me with open arms.
Since that first day, my path has crossed with scores of people that are committed to helping in this mission. Everyone brings something to the cause, because it takes more than a village to take on a mission this large.
The first time I entered the burn zone was at night because we were trapping cats. I can certainly appreciate the magnitude of the devastation, but in the darkness, much of it was muted. When I went into the burn zone the next day for the first time during daylight, I was overwhelmed with the devastation. I’ve seen it before with other fires, especially the Camp Fire, but this was on a whole new level. I could understand why in those early days when I was speaking with people here, they did not believe me when I said cats will have survived the fire. If I were here, then I may have questioned their survival.
But, never underestimate the power of cats to survive. Hundreds of them have survived. Current estimates are 500+, but we are really just beginning to gather more complete data so that number could go in either direction, but I think 500 is a very fair estimate.
Bringing food and water sources to all of the cats was the first job to be accomplished. Maui Humane Society and Neighborhood Cats started setting up the feeding stations, as they are called, around August 26. It took until the beginning of this week that we feel we have adequate coverage to provide sustenance for the cats.
Parallel to working on the feeding stations, we have been establishing plans to bring all of the cats in from the charred areas of Lahaina to safety. It is an enormous job. One that will take months and months.
There’s so many aspects to this operation. First and foremost, we want to reunite fire cats with their owners. Owners who feared their cats died during the fire. Sadly, that is the reality for some, but for so many survivors, we want their families to know they are out there, waiting to be brought back to them
Some may wonder why we can’t go trap all of the cats at once. Capacity is the answer. Each cat needs housing and veterinary care aside from the resources it takes to actually trap the cats. Because, you see, even the friendliest of house cats will have become incredibly frightened, and may act completely feral. Trapping fire cats is similar, but very different to normal trapping for something, like say TNR. It is much harder.
Once the cats have been trapped, there has to be room at the shelter for them to come in and be housed, cared for, and receive medical treatment. Processes need to be set up for matching cats with reports of lost cats. Dozens of tabby cats that may have singed hair/coats or are filthy from living in the ash for a month and act nothing like they did the day before the fire will be hard to recognize by their owners. Matching is a skill onto itself.
For those cats that we don’t immediately find their owners will need to be housed for weeks, even months in the hope that an owner will come forward. Then, for those no owner is identified for, adoptive homes will need to be found.
Nationwide, all shelters, Maui Humane Society included, have had an unprecedented year, finding themselves over capacity with all animals. It’s been a hard couple of years for the animal sheltering industry, a result of COVID. Staff resources are stretched, housing for animals was already full before the fire, and veterinarian shortages exist across the country.
So, you have a respected organization like Maui Humane Society have a massive wildfire happen, I think you are probably starting to get the idea that the disaster is not over after the fire is out.
I am blessed to have the opportunity to be here along with others from FieldHaven and with whom I worked with at the Camp Fire, to bring our knowledge to Maui and also work with and learn so much from other organizations, and most importantly, to help the cats and the people.
Tonight, I watched the sunset, surrounded by many vacationers. They are thinking themselves so lucky to be having a vacation in such a magical beautiful place. I think I am so lucky to be here to help. Many of them are thinking of relaxing, having a lovely dinner, planning for a day of adventures tomorrow. I am thinking of all of the cats that will come out of hiding as the sun goes down. I pray that the trapping teams out tonight will bring kitties home to the arms of their owners.