Though The Garden Island did a decent job yesterday of laying bare the myth that the Kauai Humane Society can become a no-kill shelter, it ignored the elephant in the room: feral cats.
Most of the animals euthanized each year on Kauai are not dogs, but wild cats. And with an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 feral felines on the island, there's simply no way they can all find forever homes, or continue to roam without having a serious impact on native birds.
Cats also carry toxoplasmosis, a protozoan usually spread through their feces that has been linked to monk seal deaths. Native Hawaiians also have objected to the ongoing desecration and pollution of sacred sites with cat urine and feces.
So what to do with all them furry, four-legged critters?
The Kauai Feral Cat Task Force will begin meeting today to hammer out a county ordinance aimed at controlling wild cats and regulating actions to maintain feral cat colonies.
In its final report, issued in March 2014, the Task Force identified the need for the county to:
[P]ass a comprehensive animal control ordinance that sets a goal of zero feral, abandoned and stray cats on the island by the year 2025.
The Task Force also called on the County Council to amend the cat licensing ordinance to:
Enforce penalties for owners of stray cats that are captured away from their own properties or on properties where permission has not been granted; fund additional humane officers at KHS to “seize and impound feral, abandoned, and stray cats” and issue citations; impose stiff fines for cat abandonment; redefine cat owners to include colony caretakers.
The Council has shown a willingness to repeal the barking dog ordinance and conduct a financial audit of KHS. Will it now exhibit some leadership in dealing with the hordes of feral cats?
It's important for a number of reasons, including the county's possible liability if cat colonies maintained in county parks and facilities kill endangered species. The Kauai County Attorney’s office did issue an informal opinion advising the County to ensure that “no actions [are] taken in support of any program that would return cats back into the wild where they could prey on legally protected animal species.” Others, however, question the county's liability in such circumstances.
In any case, the Task Force says no cat colonies should be maintained on county or private property without the owner's written permission, which can be revoked with 10 days' notice. It also calls for rigorously registering, certifying and monitoring cat colonies. It goes on to recommend:
Colonies must be properly maintained with a minimum 90% spay-neuter rate and overall goal of 100%. Sick or injured cats would be removed; new arrivals and new litters of kittens would be removed and made available for adoption or euthanasia.
Second phase: Five years after the cat ordinance is amended, all cat colonies must be located on private property, completely fenced, registered, certified, and monitored. Caretaking of TNRM colonies will be conducted by private individuals and not reliant on County funding.
The Task Force also recommended sterilizing any cats allowed outdoors and said the county should offer a free-spay neuter program through the end of 2016.
Australia and New Zealand, which like Hawaii have unique and rare endangered species, are taking drastic steps to reduce and eliminate their own feral cat populations, primarily through poisoning, trapping, shooting and otherwise culling the animals.
In Australia, researchers are checking cats for DNA evidence linking them to endangered species deaths, and euthanizing “problem predators.” They're also developing “toxic microchips” that would be embedded in the skin of an endangered species and break open during the an attack, poisoning the predator.
In the face of this international effort to control the destruction wreaked by cats, there's a large, well-funded effort to push for the longterm management of wild cat colonies, rather than reducing or controlling numbers through euthanasia. Hawaii wildlife officials have said a trap-neuter-return program is insufficient to control the large numbers of wild cats on Kauai and protect endangered species.
Groups that oppose euthanizing feral cats, and want instead to manage them in large colonies, have already begun their attempts to derail the work of the Kauai Feral Cat Task Force by launching an attack on Humane Society director Penny Cistaro, as I've previously detailed.
It's important for average citizens to pay attention to this issue and urge the Council to place the needs and interests of Hawaii's rare birds over those of feral cats, which are, after all, an introduced invasive species.