WEST MAUI – Ten years ago, our highways were littered with dead and dying cats. Scrawny kittens searched for food. Pathetic cries for help filled the night air from helpless animals stuffed into paper bags and dumped in garbage cans to die.
Populations were out of control.
Although the feral cat epidemic on Maui has improved, resources have become scarce for the handful of volunteers who have effectively and humanely helped to reduce the cat population.
Mike “The Cat Man of Maui” Willinsky is concerned the scenario from the previous decade could return if cat lovers on the island don’t take immediate action.
He believes the only long-range solution is the highly successful and humane TNRM (Trap Neuter Return Manage) program, which has reduced the feral cat population in over 500 cities, including San Francisco, New York City and even the Galapagos Islands.
This is a phenomenon known as The Vacuum Effect.
Effectively reducing cat populations
Cats are territorial. Fixed groups form colonies, and like a team, they keep other cats off their turf. If you kill or remove the original cats, a new gang of unfixed cats will move in and fill the void.
According to Alley Cat Allies, a leader in humane feral cat management and population control, TNRM has been proven effective worldwide, because a healthy, fixed and fed colony of cats helps prevent unfixed cats from entering neighborhoods. This reduces the birth of unwanted kittens for generations, thereby keeping the population down.
Why don’t we just kill them and get it over with?
It’s a logical question, but it doesn’t work.
Animal control agencies have been catching and killing cats for decades in a misguided attempt to reduce the number of community cats. According to Basil Scott with the Kauai Community Cat Project, Kauai has spent roughly $2 million killing more than 20,000 outdoor cats over the past decade.
Sadly, this has had no impact on population control. Plus, it has also resulted in the killing of many other outdoor pets.
This costly “kill them all” strategy not only failed, it magnified the problem.
According to Alley Cat Allies, it doesn’t work because if you kill them, more will come. Any increase in unfixed cats means more unwanted kittens. It’s an endless cycle, and there’s only one way to stop it: managed cat colonies.
The best anyone can hope for is a healthy, fixed colony protecting their block, Willinsky said.
It’s a classic win-win – the fortunate cats in those places live out their lives in peace while keeping out rodents, pests and other cats.
Won’t they go away if I stop feeding them?
Cats are survivors. Whether or not they’re fed by humans, they have plenty of natural resources and perfect, yearlong (breeding) weather in Maui.
Starving the cats won’t decrease the population. Killing them will not reduce their numbers. The only way to keep the population down is to fix all of the cats in your neighborhood and maintain healthy colonies.
Cats guard their feeding area and help prevent new cats from straggling in. A fed colony would rather see birds eat their leftovers than to allow a new cat to enter their turf.
They work for you while you sleep.
For the past ten years, the Cat Man of Maui and a small group of volunteers have battled this epidemic, finding, feeding and fixing feral felines to reduce their population.
With the focused determination of a fireman containing a wildfire, the Cat Man has worked tirelessly, driving over 30 miles and literally hiking miles through the rugged mountains each night – on his own dime – to help regulate the problem.
“Without proper control,” he said, “cats will overbreed, fight for limited resources and live miserable lives in a never-ending cycle of despair.”
As a result of the coordinated efforts of the Maui Humane Society, SPCA Maui and volunteers like the Cat Man, Maui’s cat population has improved dramatically.
According to Willinsky, there are two choices: 1) Sustain colonies of healthy, fixed and fed cats to keep the population down in our neighborhoods; or 2) Endure massive amounts of starving, struggling cats, breeding out of control and littering our highways with their dead little bodies.
Help Maui reach its goal of becoming the first major island with a zero cat over-population problem.
Sound impossible? It’s not. Unfortunately, the Cat Man of Maui, and other caretakers, rely solely on help from residents and donations to pay for food.
If people simply cared for a colony of cats in their own neighborhood, they can work toward an effective and humane solution that benefits everyone.
If you’re one of the many cat-loving Maui residents or visitors, and you don’t want to see them poisoned or killed by any means approved by a state Department of Land & Natural Resources bill, then you can help by getting in touch with the Cat Man, so he can help show you how to get cats fixed in your area, set up a colony to feed the cats and help ensure their numbers will not increase, and donate a little time to drop off fresh food and water to a grateful group of happy cats at an already existing cat colony.
Resources and volunteers are needed islandwide, but especially in West Maui.
“To effectively solve this problem once and for all,” Willinsky said, “I need food, feeders, fosters, trappers and donations.”
Help The Cat Man of Maui at www.gofundme.com/HelpMikeSaveMauiCats. To give your time, contact him directly at MauiCatMike@ gmail.com. To create a Social Media movement, the Cat Man seeks eager volunteers to video and edit his efforts.
Visit Alley Cat Allies at www.alleycat.org to learn more about the global cat problem and proven, successful solutions.