HILO — Efforts continue to bring animals stranded in restricted lava zones to safety, and the current break in the Kilauea eruption means rescue crews can do so with greater ease.
Donna Whitaker, executive director of the Hawaii Island Humane Society, said animal rescue teams have taken advantage of the lull in lava activity to continue helicopter missions in some areas.
“We still have to go in by helicopter, so the expense and logistics are the same,” Whitaker said. But with the respite from the eruption, rescue teams “don’t have to worry about lava bearing down on them. I was worried for their safety every minute they were in there. In a couple of situations, (they) were really worried about their own safety.”
According to Whitaker, teams were on the ground in both Kapoho and Pohoiki last week, where four more cats were rescued, “and we’re pretty much done there.”
Trapping, however, continues in Leilani Estates three or four days a week.
As of Friday, and not counting last week’s rescues from Leilani Estates, Whitaker said 367 animals have been rescued since the eruption began May 3 in lower Puna.
A lot of those have been cows, sheep, goats, chickens, a peacock or two and even a pet fish, she said. Right now, rescuers are mostly seeing and concentrating efforts on cats.
“It has been difficult but rewarding, because we all, early on, hated to think of what would happen if we didn’t go in there,” Whitaker said.
With the animals cut off by lava and with limited access to fresh food and fresh water, “it was rewarding to be able to go in there and get them out,” she continued.
According to Whitaker, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which provided assistance in the animal rescue efforts earlier this summer, was on the Big Island for about two weeks.
The ASPCA “helped us get organized, because they had done this before, and we had never worked on these air missions,” she said.
Whitaker also expressed gratitude for her staff and the community, including helicopter pilots who have assisted with rescues, “because this has been a pretty big effort.”
Members of the community have “really come out to help us pound the pavement and get these animals out,” she said.
The ongoing rescue efforts coincide with the Humane Society’s busy time.
Whitaker said summer is typically busier with puppies and kittens, and shelters are “always crowded right now.”
At the HIHS shelter in Keaau, a “sort of an isolation tent” has been set up for rescued cats to ensure they’re healthy and to keep them contained and taken care of.
These animals have “been through a very stressful ordeal,” she said, and the shelter is “just giving them time and space to just rest and eat and get over it.”
If owners do not come forward, rescued animals get put up for adoption, said Whitaker.
Local animal rescue groups and foster families have been a “great help” by housing some of the rescued animals, which not only alleviates stress on the animals but crowding in the shelters, as well, Whitaker said.
Her fingers are crossed that the volcano will “pause long enough for us to get some of these animals adopted and create more room and save more lives, basically,” she said.
Hui Pono Holoholona is one such group that has helped with rescue efforts.
“When the volcano started erupting, it was pretty well known animals needed to be rescued,” said HPH founder Frannie Pueo.
The nonprofit shelter, which has 20 acres in rural Kopua Farm Lots for its Pono Animal Way Sanctuary, brought in about 75 cats during lava encroachments in 2014-15, and about 90 during the recent eruption, according to Pueo. Some came from displaced families and others from the HIHS.
HPH recently received a $2,500 grant from the Humane Society of the United States, which will be used to build an additional 20-foot by 30-foot covered kennel that will include an isolation area.
“The irony in this eruption scenario is that cats’ instincts are to shelter under buildings or climb trees, which can put them in the path of the encroaching lava,” Pueo said. “Every animal is precious and deserves to be kept safe and rescued from these disastrous conditions.
“I wish to thank Keith Dane of HSUS for this much-needed grant,” she continued. “This will enable us to expand our cat shelters to include an isolation section to treat the many cats entering with upper respiratory infection and eye irritations caused by the lava ash and sulfur dioxide.”
Dane, the Hawaii policy adviser for the Humane Society of the United States, said the organization has given grants to HPH over the years for their general operations.
The HSUS “wanted to find a way to help,” he said. “This grant is one of the ways to put some funding behind a very-needed expansion of the sanctuary, to bring these animals in.”
HPH also is in need of volunteers. Visit hphhawaii.org or call 968-8279 for more information