Most people visit Hawaii looking to spend long, lethargic hours on white sand beaches drinking bottomless mai tais.

Cat people, on the other hand, might have a more cuddly option in mind.

On the small island of Lanai, a little-known slice of feline heaven called the Lanai Cat Sanctuary is home to 495 cats. People fly from all over the world just to hang out with them.

Courtesy of Lanai Cat Sanctuary

Some of the 495 residents of the Lanai Cat Sanctuary.

Courtesy of Lanai Cat Sanctuary

Though there’s a boundary surrounding the 25,000-square-foot property, there are no cages within the main area of the sanctuary. The cats ― or “Hawaiian Lions,” as the sanctuary calls them ― have large huts and trees to climb on, patches of grass on which to sun themselves and all the human attention they could ever want.

“I call it the ‘Furr Seasons,’” executive director Keoni Vaughn told The Huffington Post. “It’s 25,000 square feet of open-aired space for the cats to run around and play in, so they’re just kind of relaxing and chilling.”

The sanctuary is open to the public for a few hours every day, and it has become a tourist destination in its own right. For humans with an affinity for felines, it’s worth a trip to Lanai in and of itself.

Vaughn says people often travel to the island just to visit the sanctuary. One particularly dedicated man flew all the way from Japan just to hang out with the cats for a day. “He even walked from the airport to the sanctuary,” Vaughn said.

Courtesy of Lanai Cat Sanctuary

A cat named Cinnamon living the life on Lanai.

Courtesy of Lanai Cat Sanctuary

Visitors can even adopt a cat or take one into foster care, and the sanctuary helps to facilitate adoptions for Hawaii locals and out-of-state visitors alike. Even if you can’t visit the sanctuary, it has an “adopt in place” program so anyone from anywhere in the world can sponsor a Hawaiian Lion.

If a cat is never adopted, however, it can live out its entire life in the sanctuary.

The sanctuary is the perfect place for cats in need of a home, but it also serves a second invaluable purpose on the island: protecting endangered indigenous bird populations.

“We started on the premise of saving our native birds on the island,” Vaughn explained. “We focus on trapping stray and feral cats from bird-sensitive areas and then bring them into the sanctuary, so it’s a win-win for both native birds and the cats.”

Until you get a chance to visit Lanai’s kitty heaven, you can sponsor a cat from afar by making a donation to help the nonprofit.

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About the Author

  • Landess Kearns

    Landess Kearns is the audience development editor for Civil Beat. She helps curate Civil Beat’s social media feeds and writes the Morning Beat newsletter.

    Landess grew up in Honolulu and is a graduate of Punahou School. After high school, she left Oahu and moved to the midwest, where she received a bachelor’s degree in English writing at Saint Mary’s College in Indiana.

    After receiving her diploma, Landess came to her senses and returned to the Aloha State to begin her professional career. Prior to joining the Civil Beat team in January 2017, Landess was senior editor at HuffPost Hawaii, a partnership between Civil Beat and The Huffington Post. She also previously held positions at Pacific Business News and the U.S. Pacific Fleet headquarters.

    You can follow Landess on Twitter @landesskearns or email her at landess@civilbeat.org.
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