Two million bucks for the Maui Humane Society: catnip for all?
LAHAINA, Maui, Hawaii––A week after animal rescue teams led by the Maui Humane Society were at last allowed into the burn zone, where 115 people and untold numbers of animals died on August 8, 2023 in a wind-driven firestorm ignited by downed electrical wires, the Maui Humane Society is perhaps two million dollars richer, less rescue expenses.
Other Maui rescue groups are another week older, tired, frustrated, and deeper in debt, unless of course the Maui Humane Society elects to share the windfall.
$1 million in matching funds from the Duffields
Posted the Maui Humane Society on September 1, 2023, “The Dave & Cheryl Duffield Foundation have pledged a $1,000,000 matching gift to Maui Humane Society if we can meet our $1 million Facebook Fundraiser goal to assist in fire relief efforts!
“We are close to our goal with about $200,000 left to raise,” the Maui Humane Society said.
The Dave & Cheryl Duffield Foundation, with reported assets of $563 million, is separate from Maddie’s Fund, also endowed by the Duffields, with current reported assets of $258 million.
“Earlier this week during search and rescue operations in Lahaina,” assisted by personnel sent by Animal Search And Rescue, Animal Incident Management, and Greater Good Charities, the Maui Humane Society acknowledged, “our teams brought back many cats,” including “a sweet and friendly orange cat caught in the very last trap that was set out late the night before.”
Finn found her way home
With the help of a microchip, the orange cat, named Finn, was promptly reunited with her human caretaker.
The caretaker, identified only as Danielle, “told us her story of that horrific day, separated from her two boys Finn and Bali, having to evacuate and not being able to take them with her,” the Maui Humane Society narrated.
“I cried every day, feeling guilty I couldn’t break down the door to save them,” Danielle said. “I held out hope even though it had been weeks. My partner and I just pictured their faces and hoped beyond hope they would make it by some miracle. Getting the call my Finn not only survived but was okay was the happy news we needed in these uncertain times.”
But no one found Blondie in time
But Lahaina cat rescuer Rumi Roms, who like Danielle lost her home, learned that, “My baby Blondie went through the worst possible case scenario he could have been through. He had an Apple tag in his collar that kept moving around per my phone reception until one day he stopped moving,” Roms reported on Facebook.
“After 23 days of waiting for his mama to come get him, he finally gave up and his heart stopped. A dear friend found him dead at the address my AirTag was pinging at. He suffered a painful and agonizing death.”
Further explained Kitty Charm Farm founder Sarah Haynes, “His AirTag showed him moving around for four days after the Front Street fire. His momma Rumi Roms was granted access to look for him immediately after the fire. She brought food and water in, but he was not located. She rescued three other cats that day.
“Could have been saved”
“Blondie’s Apple AirTag continued to ping,” Haynes said, “but after those first four days, always in the same area. Our friends at Greater Good were able to locate him using her phone, making his collar ping, but sadly it was too late. He was now deceased.”
Roms and Haynes tried to have Blondie necropsied, “but he had been decomposing too long,” Haynes said. “It appears he made it the four days, then died.
“Blondie could have been saved by the Maui Humane Society, or by any one of us, including Rumi, but after that first morning, no one was allowed back in again,” Haynes recounted.
“There are many hundreds of cats alive in the burn scar,” Haynes added, “and they are being trapped and brought out nightly. Rumi Roms,” Haynes finished, “has since rescued countless cats from outside of the closed area, all of whom are recuperating with us.”
“Dying for no great reasons”
Confirmed Save Maui Cats founder Mike Willensky, a Lahaina resident whose house escaped the firestorm, “We fed over 200 healthy, fixed çats for 17 years. We hear there may be as many as 1,500 fixed cats and pets still locked inside cleared areas, dying for no great reasons. Several experienced national groups came to help. Most left Maui two weeks later, as they were sitting on the sidelines doing nothing,” until the Maui Humane Society teams were finally allowed into the burn zone on August 23. 2023.
Offered someone calling herself Mamabear McBear, “Three hellish weeks later and thanks to a dedicated mama who literally slept in the fields along the perimeter for many nights to get her baby back, Rebel,” a dog, “is back home with her family.
“There are literally hundreds of fire survivors still in the burn area,” Mamabear McBear testified, “who are hanging on waiting for rescue, many sticking close to their burned down houses and coming out only at night. We are hoping hard that the Maui Humane Society reinforces their trapping effort,” Mamabear McBear said, “because 3-4 trappers for that entire burn zone is not nearly enough when so many are severely injured and starving.”
“We need a ‘Blondie’s Law'”
Observed Maui Fires Pets Help Group member Deirdre Hoare, “The same horror story could happen again anywhere disaster strikes, unless we all do something to change the laws. We need a ‘Blondie’s Law’ to ensure trained animal rescuers are given access to disaster areas as soon as recovery efforts begin. The PETS Act,” passed after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, “is either not strong and prescriptive enough, or it doesn’t have any teeth, because it seems it was ignored by the powers-that-be in Lahaina.”
Posted Paula Negley, “I have been involved in cat rescue for over 40 years, the entirety of which has been guided by one simple question: What if no one ever came?
“In 2003,” Negley remembered, “my life was forever changed by what the world knows as the Cedar Fire, but to those here in San Diego it will forever be known as the Scripps Ranch Fire.
“No one was coming for pets”
“I, and many others, learned a very painful, very hard and very bitter lesson in the Scripps Ranch Fire: no one was coming for our pets. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not ever. The same was also true of the horses, and the llamas, the goats, the rabbits. After the Scripps ranch Fire, I personally witnessed what happens when no one ever comes.
“The immediate standard protocol for animal rescue after a wildfire of this nature,” Negley explained, “is to evacuate and transfer any healthy animals in existing shelters, rescues, and fostering programs out of the impacted fire zone. This is a critical first step in opening up space to take in displaced and injured animals from the fire, and just as importantly, to maximize the use of critical rescue resources, especially skilled veterinarians, vet techs, and medical supplies.”
Negley praised the work of the Good Cat Network, Lucky Dog Rescue, and Honi Honi Cats Maui in evacuating animals after the Lahaina firestorm, then testified about the need for ongoing rescue efforts in the burn zone.
600 “fire cats” rescued after Paradise burned in 2018
“Joy Smith remained in Paradise, California, for nine months after the Camp Fire,” which in 2018 killed 85 people, Negley remembered.
“Together with volunteers Joy rescued more than 600 fire cats, and her rescue, FieldHaven, became the most experienced feline disaster rescue organization in the world. Mistakes made in 2018 after the Camp Fire appear now to be repeating themselves on Maui,” Negley opined, “specifically traumatized cats being misdiagnosed as feral and written off.
“In 2018, ‘written off’ had a number of interpretations and meanings,” Negley continued, “including cats being released back into a toxic environment, transferred to shelters [outside the immediate area] where they couldn’t be found and became impossible for their families to trace, or becoming so extremely stressed and withdrawn from being confined to a cage for weeks as a ‘feral’ that they were euthanized.”
“Don’t ever bet against a cat”
Negley also mentioned Shannon Jay, “a game-changer in fire cat rescue,” whose motto is “Don’t ever bet against a cat because you’ll probably lose.”
Shannon Jay, Negley said, “is a former law enforcement officer who has lived over 6,000 hours of his life searching for and rescuing lost and displaced felines in the U..S.,” including “4,000 hours spent effecting fire cat search and rescue missions inside the burn zones of nine western U.S. wildfires, among the worst in U.S. history,” living “among the fire cats for months at a time, rescuing hundreds of cats and reuniting many with their families.
“My first direct experience with Shannon’s rescue work was after the Camp Fire,” Negley said, and I learned so much from him. I speak from experience when I say this: the fire cats of Lahaina are there, waiting to be found, to be rescued.
“Save Maui Cats has been boots on the ground since the first day of the fire”
“Save Maui Cats could really, really use some help,” Negley concluded. “They are an established small non-profit all-volunteer rescue that was, and remains, in place on Maui close to the burn zone.
“Save Maui Cats has been boots on the ground in Lahaina since the first day of the fire and haven’t left, pro-actively feeding, protecting, and rescuing fire cats, and some dogs too. They have also been directly dealing with stressful issues and opposition involving fire officials and restrictions. Like many small local rescues responding to a community wildfire, they are over-extended and under-resourced. They still have no internet access, only cell phone communication.”
“A sound I will never forget”
Seconded Jan Pickton, from Ramona, California, “I have been doing rescue for over 30 years. I was out in the Cedar and Witch Creek fires. The problem is, the powers that be think that only they know how to handle things. We were all firefighter trained, swift water rescue trained, certified by the State of California in large animal rescue, and certified as animal rescue specialists. They threw it back in our faces, stole our load of hay for 400 horses, and tried to get the highway patrol to move our receiving area.
“Do you have any idea what it’s like to be right there listening to horses, dogs, cats and everything else scream and they won’t let you in? It’s a sound I will never forget.
“You can change as many laws as you want,” Pickton suggested, “but it still comes down to the power play for notoriety and money.”
Which moved slower in 2018, the authorities or the lava?
Rebecca Brooke, from the Big Island, remembered comparable roadblocks “during the 2018 lava flow, when the government blocked us from going and saving animals in areas where people had already evacuated and left animals behind. Please know the lava took days and in some cases weeks to spread down to the coast, so people had several days to evacuate their animals, but many waited to the last minute, then left the animals to die.
“Also the government should have evacuated all of lower Puna as a safeguard and didn’t. There was only one small two-lane road in and out of all of lower Puna, and it still is that way now, so an area with probably 10,000-20,000 people was at risk of being totally cut off from escape if that one remaining road by Leilani estates got cut off, and its miraculous it didn’t, because there were and still are steam vents all around that road.
“It could have been way worse,” Brooke allowed, since there were no human fatalities, “but yes, I saw first hand the ineptitude and/or corruption and ‘who cares’ attitude of our local government.”
Jennifer Rikert of Maui, “currently sheltering 10 cats in my home and more to come,” mentioned that, “The displaced evacuees who have found me and have left their cats with me to keep safe and heal are weary of larger organizations because of the bureaucracy and problems” associated with them.
As of August 31, 2023, posted Neighborhood Cats, whose national programs director Bryan Kortis is a Maui resident, “Specialists in animal search and rescue entered the burn zone and in two nights pulled out 50 cats in need of medical attention and brought them to Maui Humane Society.
“Once this first wave of emergency rescues is complete, Neighborhood Cats will take on a larger role trapping in the areas destroyed by the Lahaina fire.
After the burn zone is cleared
“Once the burn zone is cleared of animals in need,” Neighborhood Cats pledged, “we will begin our part in the next, longer-term phase of trapping free-roaming cats in the many neighborhoods surrounding the 5.5 square mile disaster area.
“The goal is to spay and neuter any intact cats and prevent repopulation of the fire zone,” Neighborhood cats said, “and also identify and reunite lost pets with their families.”
All of which is what Rumi Roms, Sarah Haynes, and Mike Willensky, among others, have already been doing for three weeks now.
Leigh St. Leger testifies
Meanwhile, recounted Leigh St. Leger, a member of the Greater Good Charities rescue team, “A week ago I flew into Kahului, Maui on a ghost plane. Sitting in my window seat I could see what remained of Lahaina town in the distance but nothing could have prepared me for the devastation once we got on the ground. The little seaside town was unrecognizable. We gained access to the burn scar on August 31, 2023, and assessed the area in hopes of finding life.
“This part of Maui was home to thousands of free roaming cats, many of which we had spayed or neutered at our #goodfix clinics over the last few years.
“We saw no signs of life as we drove the perimeter and my heart sank,” St. Leger said.
“There were still cats alive”
“Then night fell and our ops team drove into the dead zone with spotlights, combing the rubble for eye shine and there it was. Almost three weeks after the fire that consumed Lahaina, there were still cats alive where there were no resources.
“We pulled close to 100 cats out of these areas, many singed and some clinging to life. We were able to reunite cats with owners who had lost absolutely everything else.
“We set up 24 water and feeding stations throughout the burn scar to help sustain those still lost in the rubble, with the hope that their people will be let back in and able to find them.”
“Cat & owner were hugging each other”
Added Dave Pauli, also part of the Greater Good Charities rescue team, whose disaster relief experience goes back to Hurricane Andrew in Florida in 1992, and includes having been incident commander at the Lamar-Dixon animal rescue center north of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, “For about the 100th time in my career, I got to see the eyes, the smile and the exhilaration of someone reunited with an animal family member after three-plus weeks of worrying and searching.
“This humanitarian lost her house and belongings,” Pauli said, “and hoped against hope that one of her cats might have survived. But she was beginning to accept that her kitty could not survive the intense concentrated heat that took her home and literally melted every outdoor vehicle on her block. Her cat’s ears were burned and gone, her whisker and eye lashes vanished, but cat and owner were hugging each other.”