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StarBulletin.com

Feral cats dog residents


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POSTED: Monday, October 26, 2009

Al Alicea still visits Kakaako Waterfront Park for walks with his wife, but stopped holding family barbecues there because he's bothered by the feral cats.

He doesn't want his five kids to play on the grass because of the cat feces, and has complained about people leaving behind feeding containers that become covered with flies.

“;It's just like the homeless,”; he said. “;They're evicting them off the beach. Why can't they do something about the cats?”;

Alicea is not alone in his objections. Last week some residents sent complaints about the cats to the sate Department of Health, prompting the agency to look into the issue.

Jerry Haruno, administrator of the department's Environmental Health Services Division, said he will review the park's history for past violations and investigate whether the state, which owns the park, is in violation.

The Health Department's Vector Control Branch controls the spread of disease-carrying insects, rodents or other organisms, and its concerns are not the feral cat population, but the feces that can attract flies or other insects that become a nuisance, Haruno said.

“;The risk for disease is very small,”; he said.

Anthony Ching, executive director of the Hawaii Community Development Authority, which manages the land, does not know how many cats live in Kakaako, but said they are a concern. The agency has taken measures to reduce the impact of the feral cat population.

Maintenance crews pick up cat feces, wash down areas that smell of urine and trim back naupaka bushes where they hide, Ching said.

HCDA also works with caregivers to reduce the population. Under the caregiver program, permits are issued to individuals who must sterilize the animals, clean up after them and nurse the sick in exchange for permission to feed.

Ching said complaints about the cats are likely related to people abandoning the cats and other issues, not the feeding program.

Unlicensed people feeding the cats do not place food in the same place and might strew it on the sidewalk, he said.

While some have pushed for eradicating the cats, that is not HCDA's current policy, he said.

Jacque LeBlanc, a Hawaiian Humane Society spokeswoman, says the caregiver strategy is the best way to reduce euthanasia for cats, control feral populations and ensure animals live healthy lives.

The agency sterilizes cats for caregivers at no cost, using donations to pay for the service. Last fiscal year the Humane Society sterilized almost 2,400 feral cats that were brought in by more than 400 people on Oahu, she said.

At Magic Island, residents raised concerns about the feral cat population there several years ago before the city installed signs prohibiting the feeding of animals.

Les Chang, director of the city's Department of Parks and Recreation, said he did not see any cats at Magic Island Saturday.

That could be because the city discourages feeding animals in parks by picking up the food, he said.

Feeding animals in state parks is also prohibited where signs are posted, unless authorized by permit.

Josephine Chay, a permitted cat feeder in Kakaako, says her colony on the park's Ewa side has shrunk to nearly half because of sterilization. She now cares for fewer than 40 individuals.

She does not know how many cats are in the park, but says five others have permits to feed in the surrounding area.

She has had a permit since 2006 but has been feeding cats about two to three hours a day for the last eight years.

“;It's a bit of kindness, a little less suffering in the world,”; the retired Farrington High School social studies teacher said of why she feeds them. “;They can't be gotten rid of, because people dump cats.”;

Gerald Kim from Makiki, who was walking along the waterfront Saturday, avoids the strays because he doesn't want to end up taking one home. He has two cats, but opposes the stray colonies living in the park.

“;It's kind of sad,”; he said, adding that they look sick in the winter. He believes the existing population leads people to think it's OK to abandon their cats there.

But not everyone disapproves.

Huron Robinson from downtown walks daily in the park for stress relief and wants the cats left alone.

He believes those who grumble just like to complain.

“;What problem is the little kitty?”; he asked. “;I don't see a big influx of cats. I've never been attacked by a cat.”;