It was an anxious time when we gave Trixie away, the spunky little tabby kitten who fell in love with our handsome black-and-white Toobie and became a fixture at our back door.
She was the one we couldn't adopt because she was so wild, and not in a million years could be bathed, thus aggravating my asthma. After the Maui Humane Society offered to euthanize her, we racked our brains and finally found a devoted colony manager who agreed to take her.
Oh, it was a nightmare. Trixie was hysterical, throwing herself against the bars of the cage and howling when our friend picked her up after she was fixed. She took Trixie to her new home - a very nice place, trust me, with lawns and hedges, a wall to lounge on, and artfully constructed feeding stations.
It's her practice to leave newly relocated animals in a cage by the food for four days so they can acclimate. But Trixie threw a fit, knocking over the water dish, caking herself with litter. She yowled so loud she scared the other cats away. Finally the colony manager could stand it no more, and let her out two days early to an uncertain future. Trixie vanished.
The manager went back to that area twice a day instead of once, to make sure Trixie had enough food (the mynahs and doves in the area dive-bomb as soon as it appears). Weeks went by. No Trixie.
It turns out this heroic person manages colonies all the way from Maalaea to Kahana, and spends $800 a month on cat food! Weekends she makes new feeding stations. (The girl badly needs a power screw drill.)
Meanwhile, I received a letter from Trixie, via another colony manager: "I hope if Toobie finds a new cat in need his person will have more understanding and compassion."
Well, I learned a lot. "We have a huge problem on this island with abandoned and homeless animals," the letter writer told me. "The island is at a tipping point now in terms of getting the numbers down."
It doesn't work to trap and kill cats, because new ones arrive to take over the territo-ry. The only humane method for reducing the population is TNRM - trap, neuter, return and manage. Over time, the numbers decrease.
The biggest problem managers face is the illegal dumping of tame cats into their colonies. It puts a burden on the manager and often the animal will be abused by the others.
"We will NEVER see much of a change in helping these cats until every single person does their part," the letter writer said. "It's just like recycling. Sanctuaries aren't the answer to this problem unless the entire island becomes a sanctuary."
This means trapping and spaying the strays in your own neighborhood. (It's easy. Put a can of cat food in the trap and cover it with a dark cloth or trash bag so the animal stays calm, and bingo.) Take it down, get it fixed and release it back into its own territory.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (280-0738) lends out traps at no charge and runs spay/neuter clinics almost every Sunday. All it asks is that people pay what they can. Ninth Life Hawaii (572-2499) also offers pay-what-you-can clinics, announced in The Maui News. The Maui Humane Society (877-3616) offers low-cost spay/neuter services daily.
I thought about Trixie every day. What if she died of grief, flinging herself across a road? What if she was so freaked out by her new surroundings that she fled to a less hospitable zone, where she was attacked by the cats of that territory?
One day not long ago, the call we'd been waiting for came. Our manager was at the feeding station early that day, around dawn, and saw a pretty tabby lying in the grass. "At first I thought it was someone else," she said. "But then I saw that fluffy tail." It was definitely Trixie, who had made friends with a mother cat about her age and its two black kittens. How we rejoiced. Trixie lives and has a place in the sun.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.