Kauai has an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 feral (wild) cats, according to the Kauai Feral Cat Task Force report.
While that figure is daunting in and of itself, consider this: A female cat may have 10 to 15 kittens per year, and more than 20 litters in lifetime.
So let's do a little conservative math. It's reasonable to assume that half the wild cats are females, so let's start with a low estimate of 7,500 and multiple that by 10 kittens per year. That's 75,000 cats in a single year.
State wildlife officials estimate there are at least 30 cat colonies on the island, and Kauai Ferals reports supporting 15 colonies with food.
So let's further assume that Kauai Ferals is managing colonies appropriately and has spayed all the females under its care. Even that generous allowance, which is not borne out in reality, leaves 3,750 wild females capable of producing 37,500 new cats per year.
Now consider this figure: Kauai has 10 species of endangered birds, some of which already number fewer than 1,000 individuals. And while wild cats aren't the sole cause of their decline, wildlife officials consider them “a significant contributor,” according to the Task Force report.
Which do you think is most likely to emerge victorious? Wild cats or endangered native birds? I'll let you do the math.
Yet even in the face of these figures, some Task Force members cling doggedly to the belief that the island's feral cat problem can be resolved through trap-neuter-release (TNR) programs alone — with the Kauai Humane Society picking up the tab for spaying all the feral cats.
And that leads us to the recent vitriolic attacks on KHS Director Penny Cistaro, which have been championed in large part by the TNR folks.
The TNR supporters want KHS to offer free spay-neuter for all cats, with owners paying just a $10 microchip fee, according to a statement by Judy Dalton in the Task Force report. Dog owners, however, would receive no such subsidy. They also want the spay-neuter van, which KHS only now reactivated after securing funds for its operation, to be available for ferals, too, an approach that could quickly overwhelm its capacity to serve the general public.
It's clear that spay-neuter must be accessible and cheap to encourage wide participation. But many people fail to realize that most Kauai vets have vigorously fought free spay-neuter, as that procedure is a significant source of income for them.
So if all the feral cats are allowed to live, as the cat people desire, who should pay the cost of trapping and fixing 15,000 cats, or just the 7,500 females? At a bargain rate of $30 a pop, that's still $225,000. And stray animals are the county's responsibility, under its contract with KHS, which means taxpayers would foot the bill.
It's not fair to blast Penny or KHS for the feral cat problem when the organization simply does not have the money or personnel to resolve it. Iif all the island's vets were working solely on cat spay-neuter, they wouldn't be able to fix all the cats before new litters were born. The population is simply out of control. Yet ignorant people like Sonja Kass leave comments like this on media websites:
Cistaro raised spay and neuter prices to be unaffordable for some, and caused the recent feral cat population explosion.
Costs and logistics aren't the only issue. Even if the feral cat population was frozen at its current 15,000 to 20,000, which would be a miraculous feat, that doesn't stop the problem of predation. Well-fed cats hunt and kill, and ground-nesting native forest birds and seabirds are easy pickings for hungry ferals.
Yet the TNR folks aren't paying to protect the birds. KIUC is picking up nearly the entire tab for Kauai seabird protection — spending $2.5 million annually, an amount that has risen 125% in three years — even though cats, rats, dogs and pigs kill far more seabirds than its utility wires.
Wildlife experts contend that TNR is not sufficient to control the feral cat population on Kauai, and “other, site-specific controls must be utilized including trapping and euthanasia,” according to the Task Force's report.
This bit of reality was totally unacceptable to the TNR folks on the Task Force, with Moksha McClure, president of Whisker's Resort, writing in the report:
Currently the Task Force recommendations propose an unreasonable time frame in which to reduce the feral cat population and ultimately advocate the mass murder of Kauai’s feral cats. For an island that is so dependent on tourism, trap/neuter/euthanize is a bad idea.
It is not a fairy tale; we could live on an island where both cats and birds are protected and cared for.
Yes, perhaps we could. Just as we could live in a world where every child is wanted, fed, protected and cared for, and there's peace and prosperity for all. But we don't. Which is why both birds and cats keep dying in the wild as people attack Penny and KHS.
One of Penny's loudest critics has been Basil Scott, president of Kauai Ferals. In a June 14 letter to the editor, he went on and on about two kittens from Salt Pond being euthanized, and wrote:
These management problems have been ongoing since Cistaro arrived over two years ago. Since then, about 70 percent of the staff has been fired or has resigned!
Yet in a Aug. 23, 2014 email to the Kauai County Council distancing his group from Cheryl Martin, whom he describes as “a well-known problem for us,” he wrote, emphasis added:
Please know that Cheryl’s note does not reflect our attitude toward Kauai Humane nor does it reflect how spay/neuter activities at KHS are working. They are working well. This year feral cat spay/neuter surgeries performed at KHS have increased by approximately 40% compared to last year. Given this, it is necessary for KHS and us to jointly organize the workload to accommodate available resources.
This is good news for Kauai as it shows continued progress on the feral cat issue. It is simply not true that there is some kind of disaster here. In fact, we are making better progress than ever.
So perhaps the most recent “disaster” was drummed up by disgruntled employees and feral cat/“no-kill” people who weren't getting their way?
The “no-kill” movement is well-organized and relentless. A Facebook page offers free guides for shelters that want to “embrace life.” It goes on to state, “For those that don't, we have free guides for activists to force them to.”
Force? As in viciously attack a director who is faced with the ugly reality of too many animals, too few homes on an isolated island and insufficient revenue?
The no-kill “resource” page claims:
Shelter killing is the leading cause of death for healthy dogs and cats in the United States. And yet, statistics reveal that there are over seven times as many people looking to bring an animal into their home every year as there are animals being killed in shelters because they lack one. Almost half of all animals who enter our nation’s shelters go out the back door in garbage bags rather than out the front door in the loving arms of adopters despite the fact that there are plenty of homes available.
So tell me, do you think there are homes on Kauai for the 15,000 to 20,000 feral cats, or even sufficient people willing to pay for their lifelong care and fenced confinement in managed colonies?
Or do you think the no-kill people are just peddling a bunch of feel good bullshit that must portray shelter managers as the bad guys in order to advance its cause?