For the love of animals

Neighbors: Profiles of our community

Judy Aikawa, Maui Humane Society board member emeritus, poses with Monty, a purr-fectly patient cat who is up for adoption. Stop by the Maui Humane Society on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. for the annual “Clear the Shelters” adoption event. Pet adoption fees will be waived on all adoptable dogs, cats and other critters (Monty included). RUBY HERNANDEZ photo

When Judy Aikawa pays a visit to the Maui Humane Society, she rarely leaves empty-handed.

On some days, she departs with an armful of grant forms and documents. And on other days, she drives away with a (meowing) pet carrier in the back seat of her car.

Aikawa is the Maui Humane Society’s first-ever board member emeritus — a title bestowed on her by the nonprofit’s CEO, Jerleen Bryant, earlier this summer. Aikawa joined the board of directors nine years ago, and since then she’s been elected board chair a number of times and has written 36 grants and five follow-up reports. After serving three consecutive terms, she was eligible to sit out for one year beginning this summer. But Aikawa says there’s more work to do — and more grants and reports to write. “This place is such a treasure to the community,” she said. “I am so inspired by what happens here.”

A beloved childhood dog sparked Aikawa’s lifelong passion for animals, and over the years she’s brought home many four-legged friends (at one point, she had nine cats and two dogs; she currently has five cats and a poodle-terrier mix named Barkley).

“I’ve been lucky enough to share my life with a large number of cats and dogs, each of whom has enhanced my life immeasurably,” she said. “Like everyone else who loves animals, I can’t imagine life without them.” So, when Aikawa and her husband moved from Arizona to Maui in 2008, joining the Maui Humane Society’s board of directors was a natural fit for her.

“Saving lives is like a puzzle,” she said. “When you put the pieces together, miraculous things happen.” And at the Maui Humane Society, those puzzle pieces are its programs and services, which include — but are not limited to — high-volume mobile animal surgical clinics to make spay/neuter surgeries more accessible and affordable; enrichment programs for shelter animals; an expanded foster program (since last summer, foster families have provided 16,587 days of care for 1,781 animals); the Wings of Aloha program, which transfers animals to adoption-guaranteed rescues and shelters on the Mainland; and adoption events (a record 2,118 animals have been placed in new “forever homes” over the past year). There is also a multidisciplinary “360 committee” tasked with identifying and responding to any barriers — behavioral, medical or otherwise — that may prevent an animal from being adopted.

Since 2014, the Maui Humane Society’s live release rates for both cats and dogs have significantly increased. This is attributed to the organization’s strenuous efforts to promote adoption; reunite lost pets with owners; relocate animals to adoption-guaranteed transfer partners; and eliminate barriers to adoption. Aikawa credits these successes to the community’s support and the Maui Humane Society’s devoted staff. “The staff is remarkable,” she said. “They are unbelievably dedicated to saving every single animal and helping the community understand how animals enrich our lives.”

Aikawa’s own commitment to the Maui Humane Society isn’t confined to the boardroom. Over the past year, she’s opened her home to several foster kittens, including Glenn, a 5-month-old orange tabby she fostered in June. When it was time to take Glenn back to the shelter, Aikawa admits her heart sank a bit — not surprisingly, she’d grown attached — but that changed as soon as she met the trio of sisters waiting to adopt him.

“I was so sad to bring him back, but glad to see him go to a good home,” she said. “I know those three little girls will give him so much love and attention. It’s a really good feeling.”

And you can feel it, too.

Volunteers are always needed to provide temporary care for foster animals — cats, dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs — who aren’t quite ready for adoption or when the shelter is full. Apart from helping prepare these animals for adoption, fostering frees up valuable space in the shelter to accommodate other animals. 

But if you’re ready to open your heart and home permanently, opportunity will knock — or, bark and purr — Saturday afternoon. The Maui Humane Society will join more than 900 shelters nationwide for the annual “Clear the Shelters” adoption event. Since 2015, Clear the Shelters has raised awareness about the benefits of adopting and has helped 153,651 pets find their forever homes. Sponsored by the Savitt Family Foundation, the Maui Humane Society’s Clear the Shelters event will be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the shelter in Puunene; all pet adoption fees will be waived.

For more information about the Maui Humane Society or the Clear the Shelters adoption event, visit www.mauihumanesociety.org or call 877-3680. The Maui Humane Society is located at 1350 Mehameha Loop in Puunene off Maui Veterans Highway and is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

* Sarah Ruppenthal is a Maui-based writer. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at missruppenthal@gmail.com. Neighbors and “The State of Aloha,” written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.

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