I love cats. I mean, I really LOVE cats! I’ve had them as pets most of my life. The last one lived to the ripe old age of 17, which is part of the reason I didn’t start traveling earlier than I did; I simply couldn’t leave her for any length of time. So when I learned that the Lanai Animal Rescue Center (L.A.R.C.) in Lana’i, Hawaii allowed people to visit the 372 felines they care for, I just had to see for myself.
Co-founder and executive director Kathy Carroll met us with a big smile on the morning we arrived. Before escorting us through the chain link gate she provided a brief overview of the operation. L.A.R.C. is a no-kill sanctuary in a park-like setting, located on 3.4 acres of land that is leased from the majority landowner on Lana’i. The cats dwell in a 14,000 square foot cat-proof fenced area where they are free to run and play, climb trees, and lounge in the Hawaiian sun. The “kitty kamp,” which includes a number of weatherproof, safe shelters scattered around the grounds, was created entirely with recycled and donated materials.
Kathy and her husband, renowned painter Mike Carroll, first visited Lana’i more than ten years ago to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. They loved the tiny island so much that they returned to Chicago, sold their home, packed up and moved. Mike, who had previously earned a living as a medical illustrator, opened up the Mike Carroll Gallery of Fine Art and returned to his roots, painting gorgeous oil canvases influenced by the beauty of the Hawaiian islands. Kathy became the “cat woman.”
She describes the situation on Lana’i in those years as the “perfect storm.” For 70 years, residents who lived in housing owned by Dole and worked in the pineapple fields were not allowed to keep pets. As a result, hundreds of strays roamed about, existing on scraps left out by kindhearted islanders who did not want the animals to starve but could not welcome them into their homes. Breeding was rampant and unchecked; with the warm weather cats were birthing up to four litters each year. By the time pineapple planting ceased in 1992 and Dole left, there was a serious overpopulation of felines on Lana’i. In order to avert euthanizing hundreds of cats, Kathy took on the challenge of finding an alternative solution and L.A.R.C. was born.
I stuck the feather-tipped cat toy proffered by Kathy into my back pocket and eagerly stepped into the compound. A dozen cats of all colors and sizes instantly rubbed up against me and wound between my legs. As I settled onto a nearby wooden bench, one particularly eager gray striped tabby stretched up from the grass and planted his paws on the edge of the bench, his beautiful big blue-green eyes begging for attention. Cats were everywhere: climbing up wooden ramps into kitty condos, lounging on kitty hammocks, and mewing from from every level of a wooden structure where they are fed each day. Off to one side, Sanctuary Manager Lynn Stubbart washed dishes in preparation for feeding time, gently pushing away a giant orange and white cat that insisted on getting in on the dish washing action.
At the rear of the facility I ducked into a lean-to and sat down in the midst of more cats, some of whom jumped into my lap or nudged my thigh. One, however, was more persistent than the others. It climbed into my lap, placed its paws on my chest, and repeatedly touched noses with me. He purred contentedly as I stroked his back and scratched his ears, while doing his best to push away all others who contended for my attention. Lynn and Kathy know the name of almost every cat in the sanctuary, however in this case they were at a loss. Deciding it must be a new arrival, they named it Bobbie in my honor – at least until Kathy lifted up its tail to check the sex and had to change the name to Bobby.
Since 2004, L.A.R.C. has prevented the birth of thousands of homeless kittens through a spay/neuter program, however there is still a tremendous need for homes for these precious animals. If I had a home, I definitely would have taken Bobby with me. Instead, I did the next best thing and donated $20 to their “Adopt In Place” program, which cares for one cat for a month. If you plan to visit Lana’i and, like me, are a cat lover, make sure to include a visit to L.A.R.C. on your itinerary. You’ll definitely get your feline fix.And the cat lady will be eternally grateful.
The Lana’i Visitors Bureau kindly hosted the author’s stay as part of the #VisitLanai Artist in Residence Program. However, the receipt and acceptance of complimentary items or services will never influence the content, topics, or posts in this blog. I write the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.