Spay/neuter offers the only path to fewer cats
Council Member Riki Hokama is proposing an ordinance to ban all feeding of feral animals. In his Council’s 3 Minutes (March 14), Hokama, chairman of the Healthy Families and Communities Committee, stated that cats on Maui are harming people by transmitting toxoplasmosis and are responsible for 12 monk seals dying from this disease. These conclusions are based on inaccurate testimony given to Hokama’s committee at an earlier hearing. To cure cat overpopulation, Hokama had suggested a feeding ban on public lands, all owned cats to be licensed, and limits on the number of pets a resident can own. In addition, he wants the idea of cat sanctuaries to be explored.
We agree with Hokama that cat overpopulation is a serious issue within our community. But others have overstated the harm caused. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, most people catch the toxoplasmosis parasite by eating undercooked meat or raw shellfish, not from cats. Notably, in the 10 years from 2009 to 2018, there were only 11 cases reported on Maui. If toxoplasmosis from cats was a significant public health risk, surely this number would be much higher. When it comes to monk seals, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration reports the monk seal population is thankfully increasing. The 12 seals, which died from toxoplasmosis over the course of 19 years, could have gotten it from shellfish, meat used as crab bait, or the carcass of a rat or mongoose and not from cats.
Inaccurate claims about cats distract from the real issue — how do we lower their numbers in a permanent, sustainable way? The laws suggested by Hokama have been attempted over the years by hundreds of communities and not once has it resulted in fewer cats. We already know people won’t comply and enforcement is difficult and costly. While sanctuaries may be a good idea on their face, they are expensive, do not control the population and would only hold a fraction of the cats now on our island.
In the two decades prior to 2015, Maui tried to euthanize its way out of cat overpopulation. At least 75,000 cats were euthanized. Yet nothing changed. In 2015, we at the Maui Humane Society instituted a new direction. At no cost to the public, the cats are spayed and neutered and their left ears tipped to identify them. No longer able to reproduce, the cats’ numbers are gradually declining; as evidenced by the over 25 percent drop in cats being surrendered to Maui Humane Society. National research has seen similar results and spay/neuter programs have proven effective in numerous peer-reviewed, published studies.
Maui has found its solution — spay/neuter. It’s working and deserves council and community support. We look forward to working with Chairman Hokama and all others in the community to address this challenge.
* Steve MacKinnon is chief executive officer of the Maui Humane Society.