In the spirit of the season, the Hawaiian Humane Society is offering a special “matching gift challenge.” Any donation to the independent nonprofit will be doubled from now to Dec. 31.

But there is also something Oahu residents can do from now to June 30 to help animals: spay and neuter them, especially cats.

Honolulu’s Neuter Now program, administered by the Humane Society, helps pet owners sterilize their cats and dogs at reduced rates at a cost to taxpayers of half a million dollars each year.

But there are also an estimated 300,000 feral cats on Oahu alone, and it’s a good bet that many have not been fixed. They are a threat to Hawaii’s rare birds and seals.

A feral cat snoozes on the concrete near a construction site in Hawaii Kai.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

That explains in no small part why the Honolulu City Council established a pilot program in September to try to reduce what’s know as the “free-roaming” cat population, which can include feral, abandoned and lost pets “as well as owned cats that are allowed outside,” according to the Humane Society.

It includes cats that belong to homeless people, and to colonies that are fed by well-meaning residents.

The new pilot program provides Medicaid card and low-income housing voucher holders with a reduced price ($10) for a Feline Fix certificate. Anesthesia for the surgery, sterilization, a microchip and an ear notch are covered by the service.

Cats Will Always Be With Us

The Humane Society, which also administers the pilot program, resisted Bill 22 because it was worried about diverting city funds from programs for pet owners.

But supporters of the bill said it could broaden the reach of the program to sterilize more cats, and thus reduce euthanasia and animal control costs. A Civil Beat Poll last fall found that almost 70 percent of Oahu voters want feral cats removed from the aina.

Asked recently how the pilot program is going, the Humane Society said it has only been in place for about two months and so it was too soon to evaluate its effectiveness.

We soon will know more, however. Bill 22 asks the city to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of the pilot program and report back to the Council in April.

“The feral cats are a problem, and it isn’t getting any better.” — Honolulu City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi

“We might consider making it permanent,” said Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, who backed the legislation. “I hate for us to spend a lot of time on spay and neuter, but there must be an easier way. The feral cats are a problem, and it isn’t getting any better.”

While the pilot program continues, cat owners and supporters might want to heed related advice and assistance from the Humane Society, which sterilized more than 56,000 free-roaming cats from 1993 to 2016.

More than 300,000 feral cats are loose on the island of Oahu.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

The group believes that a “trap, neuter, return and manage” approach is a humane, effective long-term strategy to curb the size of cat colonies. Community volunteers typically do the work, and the Humane Society loans them cat traps.

Humans are contributing to the cat problem.

A Ward Research study in 2015 found that 52,000 people — or 17 percent of Oahu households — claimed that a member of their household “feeds one or more cats that they do not consider to be their own.” More than half of those surveyed said they didn’t know whether the cats they feed are sterilized.

Cats — beloved my many, loathed by others — are believed to have arrived on sailing ships in the late-1700s. By 1861, Mark Twain was said to note that the felines (popoki in Hawaiian) outnumbered people in Honolulu by 3 to 1.

Things are not as bad now, but we still have a cat problem. Better education, an emphasis on sterilization and more political will and cooperation can help control the problem before it becomes, ahem, catastrophic.

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