HILO — Hawaii County garbage transfer stations are going to the dogs. But especially the cats. Not to mention the pigs, the goats and the chickens.
County officials are trying to get a handle on a feral animal proliferation problem by pushing, in the case of cats, a catch, spay-or-neuter and release program and urging people not to dump or feed animals at the transfer stations.
“People abandon their pets at the transfer stations as if they’re garbage,” said Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara, who’s been working on legislation to put some teeth into the county code.
She said there are more than 100 feral cats at the Keaau transfer station alone, and it’s not the only transfer station with problems. Feral cats also remain a problem at the Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant, a nesting ground for threatened and endangered seabirds.
O’Hara’s first attempted solution was to allocate some of the $215,000 that’s slated for spay and neuter programs annually in the county’s $2.1 million animal control program to various animal welfare nonprofits to increase animal sterilization countywide. That effort proved unsuccessful.
Her newest effort, Bill 192, will require the county to control “nuisance factors” such as plant species, feral cats, dogs and pigs that affect environmental and human health at facilities controlled by the Department of Environmental Management. The bill requires the department to establish best practices for a comprehensive quality control program at transfer stations as well as wastewater treatment facilities.
The County Council Environmental Management Committee is scheduled to have the bill on its Nov. 1 agenda. The meeting time has not yet been set. On a favorable ruling from the committee, the bill goes to the county Environmental Management Commission for its consideration and recommendation before being heard twice more at the council level.
Environmental Management Director Bill Kucharski said the department already uses best practices. The bill, he said, will make the procedures more formal. The bill also requires the director to allocate sufficient resources to effectively develop the project.
“There are people that very much love cats and try to take care of them,” Kucharski said. “We’re trying to find a different way to manage the feral cat population.”
Kucharski said the department discourages feeding of cats and other feral creatures to try to keep them from accumulating in large numbers and procreating.
O’Hara said the county would need to spay or neuter 5,000 cats a year to get the population under control. She said about 800 are spayed or neutered annually now.
The county isn’t the only level of government trying to do something.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has declared the common cat an invasive species, saying the feral animals kill native birds and are also a required pathway for a Toxoplasmosis parasite that is deadly to endangered monk seals and nene. DLNR says the public should not feed feral cats.
That policy is going even farther with DLNR’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation. DLNR has approved a rule barring the public from feeding or adding to colonies of cats at boat harbors, and stray dogs and cats at boat harbors can be seized by authorities and disposed of according to state law. The rule, scheduled to start Jan. 1, has yet to be signed by the governor.