How to Help Cats
Volunteers are the soul of every cat shelter and cat sanctuary, giving tirelessly of their time and energy to better the lives of homeless cats. Volunteers can help in many ways, including:
- Cat rescue, intervention and population maintenance
- Infrastructure and construction
- Housekeeping and repair
- Animal socialization
- Public education and outreach
One shelter, on the small Hawaiian island of Lanai, exemplifies how volunteers have come together to build and maintain a successful outdoor cat sanctuary. The Lanai Animal Rescue Center, LARC, is a 15,000 square foot outdoor sanctuary for over 370 feral cats. The lessons learned from LARC will inspire anyone with an interest in cats to reach out and volunteer to help cats in need.
LARC Greeting Committee
LARC History: A Lesson in Cat Rescue and Intervention
Kathy Carroll, manager and co-owner of the Mike Carroll Gallery in Lanai City, was the one who first envisioned the sanctuary, who saw the need as the feral cat population on the island grew to troubling numbers. After rescuing a starving kitten and taking it on the 45-minute ferry ride to Maui to visit the vet, she happened to ask the doctor about spay-neuter programs for Lanai, thinking "somebody else" might do something about containing the feral animal population. Kathy soon found herself bringing a trap-neuter-release, TNR, effort together. Quarterly spay-neuter clinics were conducted in horse stables located on the grounds of the island's Four Season Lodge at Koele, since the small island does not have a veterinarian, let alone an animal hospital. When a species of endangered birds was discovered on the island, TNR was no longer a viable option, and the idea for the sanctuary was born.
Lanai Animal Rescue Center
How Volunteer Labor Built a Cat Paradise
The LARC sanctuary was built through the efforts of many volunteers and on an initial shoestring budget of $10,000. What the volunteers have been able to create is a model outdoor animal sanctuary that could be duplicated in similar warm-weather cities and towns.
The sanctuary is located near the Lanai airport, with distant views of the ocean. A cat-proof fence of New Zealand design defines the sanctuary’s 15,000 square foot boundary and keeps the cats contained. In the main area, contented, healthy and vibrant cats lounge everywhere.
Volunteers constructed sleeping cubbies - kitty condos lined with hay to give the cats shelter and privacy - as well as an expansive multi-level communal feeding station, large kitty play structures and a compact three-sided "barn." The barn was financed by a concerned benefactor who was felt that the cats should have shelter from the sun and rain. The barn also serves as a sort of greeting place for volunteers to sit, visit, and play with the sanctuary cats.
The Power of Volunteer Labor
How Volunteers Keep It Clean
In spite of housing over 370 cats, the LARC sanctuary has no discernible cat odor. A big outdoor "litterbox" area of red dirt is cleaned up and plowed daily. There are other clean, well kept areas for kittens still being socialized, and another for ill cats that need to be isolated from the main population. Water dishes and food dishes are scrubbed daily. All areas are tended to by volunteers, who also make the effort to learn each cat's name while taking care of housekeeping chores.
Housekeeping tasks like these serves a couple of purposes: the cats learn to associate humans with a clean environment - a positive - and volunteers notice if any cats are hiding, ill, or otherwise in need of attention. In a larger sense, then, housekeeping is an important part of cat socialization.
How Volunteers Help Cats Bond
Cat socialization at a shelter or sanctuary usually involves volunteers playing with and grooming the cats. It helps cats bond with humans and seek them out for comfort, fun and companionship.
LARC supports a "pet and play" program where volunteers - even tourists who are visiting the island - sign up to play with the cats for a time. On a past trip to the island, we met with Amanda, our effervescent host, who picked us up from our hotel and drove us out to the sanctuary, filling us in on the program along the way.
Our arrival was greeted by four nearly identical gray tabbies, identified as “Lucy, Lucy II, Ethel and Ethel II,” that pushed against the inner gate as we entered, kneading the red dirt beneath their feet, and bopping their heads together in an energetic frenzy of pure kitty happiness.
Everywhere we walked, a slow and steady kitty entourage followed us, tails high, confident that we would eventually sit and pet them. More than half of the cats at LARC are already well-socialized, eager for human company and play time, but dozens of pairs of cat eyes watched us from the hidden safety of tall grasses. These cats, we were told, were still fearful of humans, and learned by watching the more socialized cats interact with people. Eventually they would learn that humans could be trusted to care for and about them.
Socialization through petting and playtime is an important part of the mental and physical well-being of all shelter and sanctuary cats. Socialization makes a cat infinitely more adoptable and it likely increases their lifespan. A happy cat is a healthy cat. A strong volunteer force is always needed by shelters and sanctuaries to help with cat socialization.
Public Education and Outreach
How Volunteers Can Spread the Word
Most cat shelters maintain a high number of cats on a very limited budget. Volunteers can help cats get adopted in a number of ways:
- Use social media to promote a favorite shelter or sanctuary;
- Offer to take good, clear photos of adoptable animals for the shelter's website;
- Offer to write accurate descriptions of adoptable animals for the shelter's website;
- Build a website for a shelter that does not yet have a website;
- Assist with developing educational materials to promote responsible pet ownership.
LARC Website: www.lanaianimalrescue.org
The Humane Society of the United States: www.humanesociety.org
Why Be a Volunteer
Cat lovers and anyone with an interest in the well being of animals should consider volunteering their time to help shelter or sanctuary cats. Even an hour a week spent petting cats can make a profound difference. Volunteers can mean the difference between an unsocialized cat that may never find a home, to a happy cat ready to bond with a new family.
Finally, if you find yourself vacationing on the island of Lanai, take an afternoon to play with the LARC cats. It is a delightful and unforgettable experience that will open your eyes to the power of volunteerism.
KA Hanna (author) from America's Finest City on May 08, 2013:
Thanks nArchuleta! Best Regards to Lindemann, too!
Nadia Archuleta from Denver, Colorado on May 08, 2013:
Fantastic! I'm afraid to volunteer at a shelter because I fall in love too quickly. But I feel inspired by this Hub -- thanks for sharing. (Lindemann, my shelter-adopted cat, approves, too.)
KA Hanna (author) from America's Finest City on May 07, 2013:
LARC is an amazing place. The cats are healthy and vibrant; the volunteers there are exceptional people.
L C David from Florida on May 07, 2013:
It's so great to know that there are places like this in the world. Too many cats end up abandoned, starving and sick. Wonderful pictures too!