Christin Matsushige, president of Hawaii Cat Foundation, has been helping feral cats since 1993. The foundation, which works with the Hawaiian Humane Society, is modeled after Best Friends, the nation's largest animal sanctuary for abandoned and abused animals in Utah.

Feral cats get
chance at new life

A nonprofit foundation
helps strays avoid euthanasia
through its neutering program

By Genevieve A. Suzuki

A cat named Hope likely would have been one of the 10,000 cats euthanized last year at the Hawaiian Humane Society if it weren't for Christin Matsushige and the Hawaii Cat Foundation.

Matsushige took Hope to see veterinarian Eric Pearson when the emaciated cat was brought to her from the North Shore.

"If the Humane Society had done blood tests and found that her white blood cell count was really high, and if they had seen that she was shot by a gun, they would have deemed her unadoptable and therefore possibly euthanized her," Pearson said.

The cat had an upper-respiratory infection and had been shot five times by a pellet gun, three times in her chest area, two in her back.

"She's so friendly that she was probably enticed by someone and then shot at close range," said Matsushige, 49.

Christin Matsushige examined a cat trap in October. The foundation advocates a no-kill policy and helps communities trap feral cats for spaying or neutering.

After Hope received medical attention, Matsushige brought it to its new home at the Hawaii Cat Foundation's 1 1/4-acre sanctuary in Kahaluu.

Matsushige, a dental hygienist, and several friends founded the Hawaii Cat Foundation in 1993 to help control the overpopulation of feral cats and furnish a safe house for abandoned and abused cats. The foundation operates on $4,000 to $7,000 a year, which come from donations and grants.

The foundation advocates a no-kill policy and helps communities trap feral cats so they can be taken to the Humane Society to be spayed or neutered, and then released in the areas they were found.

The foundation, a nonprofit organization that takes care of 85 cats, was able to purchase its Kahaluu headquarters through a donor who contributed $40,000 for the down payment.

"The trap-neuter-return program is good because it stops the breeding, it stops the cycle of population growth, and while you're working on the educational component and the adoption component, your numbers shrink through natural attrition," said Matsushige, who lives in St. Louis Heights with her attorney husband, Cary. "That promotes kindness.

"If you have to err, let's err on the side of life rather than euthanasia, which has typically been the response people have had to stray cats."

Matsushige models Hawaii Cat Foundation after Best Friends, the nation's largest animal sanctuary for abandoned and abused animals in Utah.

The Hawaiian Humane Society supports the trap-neuter-return-and-manage program as a worthwhile method to control the feral cat population.

In 2001, the Society sterilized 2,667 cats brought to them by 526 cat caretakers, according to Eve Holt, Hawaiian Humane Society spokeswoman. In 2002, the number of caretakers bringing in cats increased to 572.

"Since the program began in 1993, we have sterilized 19,786 cats," Holt said.

To become a cat caretaker, individuals must apply with the Humane Society and agree to take care of the cats by regularly feeding them and providing any necessary veterinary care.

Microchip IDs, which cost $5 each, are implanted into the cats so the Humane Society can trace them back to their caretakers. But Matsushige said the process needs one more step.

"We feel like in addition to the trap-neuter-return component there has to be a vigorous adoption component, as well," Matsushige said. "We try to remove the sociable ones and the kittens. We also feel like to be proactive you have to go a step back and prevent abandonment from happening. Abandonment is cruelty and cruelty is a crime."

In March, the Hawaii Cat Foundation, the Humane Society and CrimeStoppers formed an Animal CrimeStoppers program, which provides up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of people cruel to animals.

The $1,000 reward sits in a trust for the program and originated from a $20,000 grant from the city for the Hawaii Cat Foundation to provide trap-neuter-return educational programs.

Matsushige said the foundation needs more volunteers to help with educational projects and further construction on the sanctuary.

Hawaii Cat Foundation
Hawaiian Humane Society

For more information

To become a cat caretaker: Call the Hawaiian Humane Society at 946-2187, ext. 285.

To join the Hawaii Cat Foundation: Call Christin Matsushige at 739-0505 or Cary Matsushige at 521-9336.

E-mail to City Desk


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