9th Life Hawaii Sends Maui Shelter Cats to the Mainland


Catster_award1_small_16Who else is dreaming of a tropical vacation? Somewhere with white sand, blue water, pink sunsets, and … cats? For much of the vacationing public, seeking local cats isn’t always at the top of the list. But if you’re anything like me (and I suspect you are), cats make every vacation better, and saving a cat can make a vacation perfect.

But how? Look to the island of Maui.

9th Life Hawaii is Maui’s largest nonprofit, no-kill, all-cat rescue and sanctuary. Since 1998, 9th Life Hawaii has been saving Maui cats. Not only does it provide sanctuary for approximately 300 cats — many of which are adoptable — but it founder Crystal Smith was the first person to implement an island-wide trap-neuter-return program in the late 1980s.

Executive Director of 9th Life Hawaii, Phyllis Tavares, with a feline friend. Source, 9th Life Hawaii.
9th Life Hawaii executive director Phyllis Tavares with a feline friend. Photo by 9th Life Hawaii

“We are committed to compassionately and nonlethally reducing the cat population,” says Executive Director Phyllis Tavares.

Tavares adds that 9th Life Hawaii provides free and low-cost spay/neuter services, and the group has sterilized more than 6,900 cats.

“Our mission is to bring about a day when companion animals are no longer killed as a failed method of population control, adoptable animals can be assured of a forever home, and feral, free-roaming community cats will be allowed to live in peace in sterilized, managed cat colonies,” she says.

The state of Hawai’i may be considered “paradise,” but many people don’t realize how dire the feral community cat issue is on the islands. Aside from life-saving TNR programs and providing healthcare for cats who need homes (9th Life even takes in neonatal bottle babies), the shelter has created an innovative program to find cats forever homes on the mainland: the Meowy from Maui transport program.

A furry friend helps out in the office at 9th Life Hawaii. Source, 9th Life Hawaii.

Meowy from Maui sends cats from 9th Life Hawaii to Every Creature Counts no-kill shelter in Fort Lupton, Colorado. Once in Colorado, the Maui cats are exposed to a greater population of adopters. Phyllis tells me that in 23 years, Every Creature Counts has adopted out nearly 44,000 cats and dogs.

“We had been sending individual kitties to the mainland for years, usually with tourists who see the desperate plight of the thousands of homeless and abandoned cats on Maui. We provide free carriers and have worked out reduced rates at Wailuku Pet Clinic for vet costs and airline health certificates,” says Tavares.

However, she says, the group hadn’t found a way to send larger groups of cats to no-kill rescues on the mainland. During a conversation with Barbara Burton, one of the group’s supporters in Colorado who also volunteers at Every Creature Counts, Tavares mentioned Maui’s homeless cat problem, and the idea for Meowy from Maui was born.

Now 9th Life Hawaii sends cats unaccompanied in groups, as well as along with travelers coming from Maui.

Meowy Maui pick up
Some newly arrived Maui cats are picked up by Every Creature Counts in Denver. Source, 9th Life Hawaii.

There are a number of ways you help a Maui cat travel to the U.S. mainland.

First, with the Meowy from Maui program, the shelter helps coordinate the transport of a cat to Every Creature Counts. It also facilitates individual adoptions of Maui cats along with transportation back to the mainland. The group is willing to work with other no-kill shelters on the mainland, but any organization’s no-kill status must be verified before transport.

Here are the steps to transporting a Maui cat.

  1. Make airline arrangements: When booking your flight to and from Maui, check with your airline to see whether and cats are transported and how it’s done. (Do cats have to be in cargo? Can they be in the cabin with you?) 9th Life Hawaii covers the cost of the Maui cat’s health certificate and carrier. As a traveler, you cover the cost of the cat’s transport. All medical preparations and crate preparations are handled by 9th Life Hawaii.
  2. Provide shelter data: Contact the receiving shelter to see whether it will accept cats from Maui. If you are flying to Denver, inform Phyllis Tavares at 9th Life Hawaii. She will contact Every Creature Counts and coordinate the transport. If you are flying elsewhere, provide Tavares the shelter’s contact information, as well as your contact and flight information. 9th Life Hawaii will follow up with the mainland shelter to coordinate the transport.
  3. Collect the cat at the airport in Maui: If the cat is flying in the cabin with you, a representative from 9th Life Hawaii will meet you at the airline ticket counter with the cat approximately two and a half hours before your flight. If the cat is flying in cargo, 9th Life will meet you at the cargo check-in area. Sign some paperwork authorizing that the cat is flying with you. The cat then goes through a regular screening process, and off you go.
  4. Arrange a mainland meeting spot: Before you leave Maui, arrange with the receiving shelter a meeting place to collect the cat, either at the cargo area or another location if the cat rode in the cabin with you.
  5. Hand off the Maui cat: Upon arriving at your destination, meet the representative of the receiving shelter and surrender the Maui cat, who’ll be off to a new life.

Congratulations! You’ve saved a Maui cat.

9th Life Hawaii seeks additional transfer partners on the U.S. mainland and in Canada, so if you work with a no-kill shelter or know of one, contact Phyllis Tavares at (808) 572-3499.

Cat lovers who are not flying from Maui can still help 9th Life Hawaii and the Meowy from Maui program. Tavares emphasizes that donations are vital to sustaining the Meowy from Maui program and all the shelter’s life-saving operations. Nobody is on salary; all donations go to the shelter cats’ well-being.

Make donations via the 9th Life Hawaii How You Can Help page. For additional donations, see its Amazon Wish List.

Many kitties have already found homes through the Meowy from Maui program.


Pixie and her sister Trixie were only three days old when they were discovered in a Maui construction site. They had been placed in a pie tin.

Pretty young Pixie. Source, 9th Life Hawaii.

After Tavares nursed them back to health, Trixie was quickly adopted, but Pixie stayed on at the shelter nearly into adulthood. A volunteer at Every Creature Counts saw Pixie’s picture in the early days of the Meowy from Maui program and subsidized her flight to Colorado.

“Pixie was only in Colorado two days when she was chosen by the Proch family with the specific intent of her being a therapy kitty for their son Kris (age 12) who had undergone brain surgery,” says Tavares.

According to the Proch family, “Pixie adores [Kris] and follows him everywhere. When Kris has bad days and can’t get up, Pixie brings a smile to his face and comfort to his body and mind. … She is a nut and fits right in.”

Ele Ele (Hawaiian for “Black”)

Ele Ele was one of Tavares’ “bottle babies” who was, sadly, returned to 9th Life Hawaii as an adult when his family could no longer care for him. Transported to Every Creature Counts, Ele Ele was quickly adopted by a Nebraska family who fell in love with him.

Baby Ele Ele with a face full of milk! Source, 9th Life Hawaii.

Thrilled to be with a family, Ele Ele “[circled] around the room going from my husband, to me, to each of the kids to rub against them while purring, and then would start his rounds again.”

Ele Ele chose the family’s daughter, Paisley, as “his” person, following her around, devoted to her. Says the cat’s mom, “Ele Ele is a much-loved addition to our family.”

Ele Ele and his person
Ele Ele shares a moment with Paisley. Source, 9th Life Hawaii.

As you plan your next Hawaiian getaway, consider working with 9th Life Hawaii to help a Maui cat. Saving a cat’s life could be the perfect way to end your vacation.

Read more by Louise Hung:

About the author: Louise Hung is a morbidly inclined cat lady living in Yokohama, Japan, with her cat, her man, and probably a couple ghost cats. She also writes for xoJane. You can follow her on Twitter or drop her a line at IamLouiseMicaela@gmail.com.

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