Situated on seven lush, landscaped acres overlooking a golf course, the luxury 105-unit Kaanapali Royal condominium offers a peaceful sanctuary to its residents, guests and a feral cat colony.
Built in 1980, it wasn’t always that way.
There was a time in the not-so-distant past when the delicate balance was upended by an increase in the cat population to nearly 30 animals which was exacerbated by well-meaning residents and visitors who fed the colony in a haphazard manner. The feline community was loud, with hormonal yowls that carried through the quiet night air during the mating season. The lanai became arenas for fighting and outdoor furniture a magnet for damage, not to mention the offensive odors.
Complaints ensued, and a “we want our property back” call to action from the owners to the board of directors caused then-president Matt Kinney to raise up his hands and ask for help.
It came in the form of a self-described dog person: Diane Pure, a retiree from the Northeast who said she knew nothing about cats when she volunteered to tackle the problem at a May 2017 board meeting. “I had never been around one. … I had no idea. I thought, how hard can this be?” she recalled.
Calls to the state Department of Agriculture, the Maui Humane Society and other animal rescue operations failed to provide a clear-cut solution. “They were helpful but not in the market to trap,” she said. “Each person I asked had their own way of controlling the situation.”
She subsequently connected with Bryan Kortis, national programs director for the Neighborhood Cats organization. A New Yorker, he lives part time on Maui and has 20 years of hands-on, in-the-field experience.
“I began working with feral cats in 1999 when I lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and the neighborhood was overrun with stray cats, as were most areas in New York City,” Kortis said. “A couple of neighbors and I began trapping the cats and having them spayed and neutered. We adopted out the young kittens and returned the wild adults to their original locations, providing them with food and shelter afterward. The method is known as trap-neuter-return, or TNR for short. It proved successful in reducing both the numbers of cats and nuisance complaints.
“As word spread, our services became more in demand and we started the nonprofit Neighborhood Cats.”
The group advocates in favor of TNR as a humane and effective alternative in the management of feral and stray cats. “We started a chapter in Maui in 2016 because Hawaii has for many years been infamous in the animal welfare field as a location with extreme cat overpopulation and a conservation community stuck on advocating eradication and rejecting TNR,” he said.
The trap-and-euthanize approach generally doesn’t work, according to Kortis, “mainly because the cats repopulate so quickly, many people love the cats and want them around, and the amount of resources required to eradicate them would be staggering.”
Pure presented to her fellow condo owners the TNR alternative, and, with the help of Neighborhood Cats, the trapping began in February 2018.
“There were so many. There were cats I had never seen before,” she said. “We thought there were six cats. Once we started looking into it, because it was the mating season, we discovered a total of 27, including four babies.”
Of those 27 cats, the four kittens went to the Maui Humane Society for adoption, and 11 left the property on their own for good — “Nature at work,” Pure said. By September 2018 the balance had been restored.
The Kaanapali Royal feline colony now comprises 12 cats — all spayed or neutered and vaccinated — that defend their territory and keep the property rodent-free, she said.
The Maui Humane Society assisted by offering the use of traps and providing free spay/neuter surgery for any cats brought in from the property.
“MHS provides these services to the public as an effective, positive way to manage the community cat population,” said Nancy Willis, director of development and marketing. “Kaanapali Royal did a great job of having their colony of community cats fixed with the assistance from Neighborhood Cats and set up a management plan for the future. They now are able to enjoy the benefits of having a stable cat population on their property as well as contributing to their surrounding community by limiting the number of cats that could continue to overpopulate our island.”
Training the cats was an integral part of the process; consistency is the key.
Feeding stations were erected. “You have to feed them at the same time and same place every day,” Pure said, preferably in the early morning and in a secluded, shaded location.
“At the same time we were training the cats, we were training the humans.”
When some of the residents and guests continued to feed the cats on their own, the condo association board added a house rule: No feeding the cats. The first violation results in a friendly warning; the second incurs a fine.
“It’s working out pretty well,” said Pure, now known as the Cat Lady of Kaanapali Royal. “No fines have been issued.”
The cats are content.