Maui animal charities need all the help they can get. Nationals with their hands out need a sense of shame.
WAILUKU, Maui, Hawaii––Vultures are not native to Hawaii, but metaphorical vultures of the human variety are now conspicuously circling over the smoking ashes of Lahaina and several other parts of Maui, begging donations via social media on alleged behalf of the animals injured and orphaned by the firestorm of August 9-10, 2023.
Neighborhood Cats is actually in the neighborhood
Only one national animal charity, Neighborhood Cats, had any evident history of involvement on Maui before the current storm of appeals.
Neighborhood Cats national program director Bryan Kortis, who with his wife Suzi Richmond has lived on South Maui for many years, has a long history of helping small Maui-based charities with every aspect of trapping, sterilizing, releasing, and monitoring feral cats.
Other national organizations passing their fedoras likely had little idea where Lahaina even is––or was––before the 89 human deaths counted so far made the top of news broadcasts.
Who isn’t there
That includes the American SPCA [ASPCA], Animal Survival International, Best Friends Animal Society, Humane Society of the U.S., International Fund for Animal Welfare, Network for Animals, and another suddenly very noisy player, Greater Good Charities of Seattle, Washington, whose online appeals are illustrated with a stock photo of a dog in a burned building that ANIMALS 24-7 has found used in other organizations’ appeals at least since 2009.
Local animal charities that are on the scene in Maui, verifiably involved, with annual budgets of less than ASPCA president Matt Bershadker’s compensation of $966,000-plus per year, include Kitty Charm Farm, the Hawaii Animal Rescue Foundation, the Maui Humane Society, and Save Maui Cats, whose work ANIMALS 24-7 has described in previous coverage and below.
Before you give, verify!
There are likely other Maui animal charities of which ANIMALS 24-7 is as yet unaware; but a prudent person, before responding to anyone’s appeal, will check to make sure the recipient of a donation has a verifiable Maui address, had a social media presence predating August 2023, and has IRS 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.
Some national animal charities may also send some aid to Maui. Be aware, however, that after the national organizations deduct their overhead expenses, historically less than fifty cents out of each dollar donated actually reaches disaster areas, and often much less than that does, whereas 100% of a donation to a local animal charity gets there to be put to work where needed.
Mike Willinsky checks in
Save Maui Cats founder and president Mike Willinsky of Lahaina on August 12, 2023 posted to Facebook that he is “safe from the horrendous Lahaina fire. Unfortunately,” Willinsky added, “many cats and people perished and I can’t feed most colonies. The city is damaged beyond belief. Thank you everyone for checking in and for your thoughts and prayers. My cell phone barely works,” Willinsky said, “and I’ve been without power for a week. I will try and reach out soon.”
Posted Bryan Kortis, “Neighborhood Cats, with our chapter on Maui, is seeing the devastation first hand. An entire town has burnt to the ground and thousands of acres of fields have been destroyed. Among the victims are Maui’s cats and the dedicated caretakers who look after them. And they need help now, badly.
Maui Wildfire Relief Fund
“Caretakers lost their homes and livelihoods in a matter of hours,” Kortis said, “but they are still determined to provide for their colonies. In the days and weeks to come, they will need food for the cats, funds for veterinary care, transportation, carriers, traps, and replacements for lost or damaged equipment.
“The aftermath of the still-burning fires will be heartbreaking,” Kortis acknowledged, “but we can make it better.”
Kortis announced that Neighborhood Cats has formed a dedicated Maui Wildfire Relief Fund, “to help the caretakers and cats keep going while they recover.
“Are you a Maui caretaker impacted by the fires?” Kortis concluded. “Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know what you need.”
Kitty Charm Farm
Kitty Charm Farm founder and director Sarah Haynes of Haiku, among the closest animal rescuers to Lahaina whose own facilities were not burned, posted on August 12, 2023 that “Today was the first day we were let in” to search for cats in Lahaina, with productive results despite the difficulties and devastation.
Among the first cats the Kitty Charm Farm team found was “a cat named Shadow,” near the Saint Maria church.
“We have kitty safe,” Haynes said. “Singed whiskers and eyelashes, but not burned. Eating well, happy to be indoors. If anybody has contact to the nuns, please let them know we possibly have their kitty. Very friendly. No microchip. Drools when purring.”
Later in the day Haynes posted about “Finding first kitten, aged by our bottle feeder Bonnie Pederson at eight days old.
“We cannot fathom how this trooper survived,” Haynes said. “We would like to try and get mom and any other babies, but unfortunately the area is often closed” during searches for human remains.
“Rumi Roms is the person rescuing these animals,” Haynes explained. “She lived in the Front Street area of Lahaina. Her home burned to the ground. She was looking at the devastation when she found this first kitten. She had brought cat food in case she saw anyone.
“Staying on site so she can continue searching”
“Kitty Charm Farm has intermittent access to the area,” Haynes continued, “and is receiving these animals as Rumi finds them. She is staying on site so she can continue searching. We are driving in and out with supplies and animals. We are also feeding the colonies in the areas we can get to.
“Rumi is now well equipped with what she needs to safely rescue,” Haynes said. “Much of this area is closed for miles. If we can get back in today, we have electric bikes for her. If anybody has a generator between Front Street and Napoli, we would love to be able to bring and re-charge these bikes every couple of days.
“Neither Rumi nor anyone at Kitty Charm Farm is paid,” Haynes reminded. “Donations go toward rescuing animals. If any funds remain,” Haynes pledged, “they will be donated to colony feeders in the aftermath.”
“A woman who is very happy tonight”
Finally, Haynes posted a photo of a woman who “is very happy tonight! She evacuated and ended up in Wailuku at a friend’s house, where her cat escaped. Smack downtown! We set traps but he didn’t go in them. He walked right up to the door, and began meowing tonight! This does not happen very often. I highly suggest trapping all displaced cats. But yay! And now we have one more trap for the fire region.
“Over the coming weeks,” Haynes mused, “we are likely to pull many more [from Lahaina] who need expert and expensive care.”
First responder status
The Hawaii Animal Rescue Foundation [HARF], in Wailuku, south of Lahaina, announced that “In a coordinated response with the Maui Humane Society, HARF was finally granted first responder access to the west side [of Maui] on Friday,” August 11, 2023.
“Our team included a veterinarian, a vet tech, and two trucks filled with supplies,” HARF said. “While we were not able to access Lahaina (yet), we were able to offload supplies to folks who needed help. We are going back today and starting in Olalwalu,” four miles south of Lahaina, near where the wildfire that razed Lahaina apparently started.
“Our plan,” HARF explained, “is to drive through the neighborhoods to anyone who needs assistance. We will be distributing pet food, medical supplies, and whatever else we can.”
Hawaii Animal Kuleana Alliance
The Hawaii Animal Kuleana Alliance, of Hawaii island, declared on Facebook that, “It’s time for HAKA to enter the fray,” supported in part by the Hawaii Animal Rights Alliance, Hawaii Animal Rights alliance Cathy Goegel told ANIMALS 24-7.
“We’ve been invited by Maui County and the Maui Humane Society to assist with animal search and rescue and other animal aid needs on the ground in Maui,” the Hawaii Animal Kuleana Alliance said. “After working on logistics and gathering supplies all day, we have a team who arrived on Maui this evening.
“These are the moments that HAKA was created for, and we are grateful that we are able to assist the people and animals of Maui,” HAKA said.
Maui Bird Rescue
“We are housing parrots saved from the fire whose owners are homeless and cageless now,
and are in need of parrot cages,” Maui Bird Rescue reported from mauibirdrescue.org in Haliimaile. “Cages can be loaned to us, sold to us, or donated to us.
“Many parrots saved from fire and not enough cages,” Maui Bird Rescue said. “Our current setup is pictured with birds we have been able to take in and house.
“There are nine or ten without proper cages,” Maui Bird Rescue mentioned, after three more parrots were rescued on August 12, 2023.
Dead animals beneath charred banyan tree
The limited information available from national news media about the animals of Lahaina remains markedly more grim than the often upbeat reports coming directly from animal rescuers, who are buoyed by their occasional live rescues.
Offered USA Today, “Anthony Garcia saw dead animals, such as cats and roosters, as he stood under Lahaina’s cherished banyan tree, now charred. As the grim reality sank in, he felt like he had to ground himself and safeguard his mental health.
Associated Press announced the latest human body count “as federal emergency workers with axes and cadaver dogs picked through the aftermath of the blaze.
“Dogs worked the rubble, and their occasional bark — used to alert their handlers to a possible corpse — echoed over the hot and colorless landscape.
“Retired fire captain Geoff Bogar and his friend of 35 years, Franklin Trejos, initially stayed behind to help others in Lahaina and save Bogar’s house,” Associated Press continued.
“But as the flames moved closer and closer Tuesday afternoon, they knew they had to get out. Each escaped to his own car. When Bogar’s wouldn’t start, he broke through a window to get out, then crawled on the ground until a police patrol found him and brought him to a hospital.
“Trejos wasn’t as lucky. When Bogar returned the next day, he found the bones of his 68-year-old friend in the back seat of his car, lying on top of the remains of the Bogars’ beloved 3-year-old golden retriever Sam, whom he had tried to protect.
“Trejos, a native of Costa Rica, had lived for years with Bogar and his wife, Shannon Weber-Bogar,” Associated Press wrapped up, “helping her with her seizures when her husband couldn’t. He filled their lives with love and laughter.”
Franklin Trejos was the first reported Lahaina victim who died trying to save an animal. Very likely he will not be the last.