The Hawaii Legislature recently rejected a bill that would have made trap-neuter-return-manage the state’s official approach to feral cats, but the city of Honolulu is still on board with this strategy for addressing cat colonies on Oahu.

Councilman Trevor Ozawa, chairman of the council’s Budget Committee, added $300,000 to the 2019 executive operating budget to be spent on continuing the Feline Fix program. The council unanimously passed the budget in June.

“I put that in because it’s necessary since we’ve had an outstanding feral cat problem, also known as free-roaming cats, in the district and throughout the island for years now,” Ozawa said.

Feral cats in Hawaii Kai are among tens of thousands in the islands. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

The money was allocated to the Department of Customer Services, which has contracted the Hawaiian Humane Society to run Feline Fix. The program encourages feral cat caregivers to trap the cats, have them sterilized and then return them to their original colony — a method known as trap-neuter-return-manage.

Feline Fix began Sept. 1. Through the program, caregivers of “free-roaming cats” (defined by the Humane Society as feral cats, abandoned or lost cats, and cats whose owners let them walk freely outside) can purchase sterilization certificates for a reduced price of $10. The certificate covers anesthesia, sterilization, microchipping and ear notching.

The only requirements listed on the Humane Society’s website for purchasing a Feline Fix certificate is to be an Oahu resident 18 or older. Certificates are valid for three months.

The program also offers $20 pet sterilization certificates for those who have a Medicaid card or a low-income housing voucher.

The new allocation of funds will allow the program to continue through the new fiscal year, which began Sunday. However, Deputy Director Randy Leong of the city’s Department of Customer Services, said that there will be a roughly two-week adjustment period between fiscal years when certificates will not be available for purchase. 

He estimates that by mid-July, feral cat caregivers will be able to resume purchasing certificates through Feline Fix. Leong also said that sterilization services will be available within the adjustment period to those who purchased certificates prior to June 30.

In the new city budget, $300,000 is set aside specifically for Feline Fix. The bill that first established the pilot program did not include funding, so for the last nine months Feline Fix has shared funding with another program administered by the Hawaiian Humane Society called Neuter Now. It offers reduced sterilization rates to pet owners and costs taxpayers $500,000 annually.

A status report evaluating the success of the pilot program was due to the City Council by April 15. Andrew Pereira, a spokesman for Mayor Kirk Caldwell, denied Civil Beat’s request for a copy of the report, saying that it’s still in draft form.

The report is supposed to outline the cost-effectiveness of the program.

Leong said that as of March 31, 867 sterilization surgeries had been performed through Feline Fix by the Hawaiian Humane Society and participating veterinary clinics, including Cat-Bird Vet Mobile Hospital, Oahu Veterinary Hospital and The Pet Doctor.

While the final version of the city budget bill passed unanimously, the portion relating to feral cats garnered mixed opinions from individuals and organizations.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources sent written testimony and a representative to testify in person.

DLNR said in both testimonies that it supports the sterilization of indoor pet cats, but opposes the trap-neuter-return-manage approach for feral cats. It noted the threat they pose to endangered wildlife, and also cited legal liabilities related to the Endangered Species Act.

Feral cats prey on other animals, and can also transmit a parasitic disease called toxoplasmosis through their feces that can be deadly to monk seals. Neither of those problems are prevented by sterilization.

“We recognize this is a really difficult problem, that people are really emotionally invested in cats as animals, and we have a good working relationship with the Humane Society,” testified DLNR’s Josh Atwood at the City Council’s final reading of the budget bill June 6. “We are trying to find a solution that works both for the native wildlife in Hawaii and for lovers of cats. But today, we don’t have a single solution.”

Some suggestions that DLNR presented to the council included aggressive adoption campaigns, cat sanctuaries and euthanasia as a last resort.  

Ozawa said he is aware of the toxoplasmosis threat, but wanted to make sure the city is contributing to the solution in a humane way.

“I think reducing the number of free-roaming cats is part of the solution, not part of the problem,” Ozawa said.

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