Hometown Heroes: Debbie Cravatta, KARES providing essential animal care during pandemic

  • Angel, who was caught in a pig snare, was treated and is recovering at KARES. (KARES/Courtesy photo)

  • One of the adoptable animals at KARES is Odin, a one-eyed cat. (KARES/Courtesy photo)

  • Volunteers assemble dog food packages for distribution. (KARES/Courtesy photo)

  • Dr. Stang and assistant Paige of the Kohala Vet Clinic, preparing for a spay. (KARES/Courtesy photo)

  • Snow White, a KARES rescue, after getting medical treatment through KARES and local veterinarians. (KARES/Courtesy photo)

  • Snow White, a KARES rescue, was wounded by being chained. (KARES/Courtesy photo)

  • Pooh Bear, a KARES rescue, after being provided medical treatment. (KARES/Courtesy photo)

  • Pooh Bear, a KARES rescue, before being provided medical treatment (left) and after. (KARES/Courtesy photos)

  • Volunteer pilots work with KARES to transport rescues to be homed on sister islands. (KARES/Courtesy photo)

  • Debbie Cravatta of the Kohala Animal Relocation Education Service cuddles a rescue dog.

  • Debbie Cravatta of the Kohala Animal Relocation Education Service cuddles a pair of rescues. (KARES/Courtesy photo)

  • Debbie Cravatta and Marilyn Gagen, KARES board member, exercising dogs. (KARES/Courtesy photo)

Editor’s note: Each Wednesday, West Hawaii Today is publishing a story about individuals, groups or organizations that have helped make life better for others in our community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Few things are more comforting than the love of a four-legged friend, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kohala Animal Relocation and Education Service (KARES) is helping Big Island residents take care of them.


Established in 2009 and staffed entirely by volunteers, KARES is headed by Debbie Cravatta, a Kohala resident who always carries at least two phones on her so she doesn’t miss a report of an animal or pet owner in need of help. That help covers a wide range of animal care — from free spay-and-neuter services to helping with food and medical care.

“We do for free what the Humane Society gets paid to do but doesn’t,” Cravatta said. “Spay-and-neuter is so critical right now, when puppies and kittens are being born.”

KARES has sterilized 125 dogs in just the last two months, preventing more abandoned and uncared-for litters in a time when Ka‘u’s Hawaiian Ocean View Estates already “looks like a Third World country” due to the number of strays and abandoned animals.

“We’ll have 10 more done by the end of the week,” Cravatta said.

The service is a “‘hardcore’ no-kill shelter,” according to Cravatta, and takes care of mostly dogs, but some cats as well (and sometimes pigs, she added). KARES even finds homes on other islands when needed, working with local private pilots to load up rescue animals and take them to forever homes on Maui and elsewhere.

“We flew 30 puppies to Maui the other day,” Cravatta said. “We went around asking for more puppies, ‘please, give them to us, we have homes waiting for them.’ We save lives.”

And during the pandemic, KARES has been keeping Big Island pets fed, too, especially those where reduced income and job loss are concerned.

“Where they’re feeding people in Waimea, we’re feeding pets,” Cravatta said. “We’re bagging food for animals. The Salvation Army is coming to us for pet food. We’re feeding hungry dogs and cats and humans.”

The 30 volunteers of KARES, many of whom are on fixed income, also foster rescue animals, keeping them socialized and happy, and waiting to meet their new best friend. Cravatta said she has 20 dogs at her home right now, and has put 200 dogs in homes since the start of the year. They even coordinate with local veterinarians to help with medical care for quadruped companions.

June Gravitte, who attended KARES weekly foster events held at Petco before the pandemic struck, called out the organization and Cravatta specifically as praiseworthy.

“When the COVID-19 crisis first started in mid-March, the Saturday Kona Petco adoption events were suspended,” Gravitte said in an email. “In my mind, I guess Debbie and KARES could have stopped their adoption and fostering efforts and gone on hiatus but chose to increase its efforts to help the Big Island’s homeless animals. KARES seemed to increase its efforts to find fosters and adopters, especially through its foster to adopt program.”

“We get people begging for help in the oddest ways,” Cravatta noted with a chuckle, and recounted helping a woman with the paperwork and more to be able to take her cherished pets back to the mainland when she moved away, rather than abandoning them on the island. “It’s all part of animal rescue. There’s nothing we don’t do for the community.”


To get involved with KARES — to donate, foster, adopt, or even just volunteer to walk and show off dogs at adoption events — visit www.kareshawaii.org, email kareshawaii@gmail.com, or call 333-6299.

Know a Hometown Hero that should be highlighted next Wednesday? It can be anybody, from a youngster doing good for the community, to a professional helping with the COVID-19 pandemic, or even a kupuna! Please send your nominations to cjensen@westhawaiitoday.com with the subject: Hometown Heroes Nomination. Please include the hero’s name, contact information and what makes them a hero.

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