InsightMost animal lovers will tell you spending time away from their pets while on vacation can be a little melancholic. If you love your cat or dog or even your Burmese python, just a few days apart from them can be tough.

It turns out folks vacationing on the Valley Isle have been satiating some of those pet-related withdrawal symptoms for years at the Maui Humane Society (MHS), dropping in daily to spend time with homeless animals at the nonprofit shelter.

“We’ve always had people on vacation that come by to visit the animals,” said Jocelyn Bouchard, CEO at the Maui Humane Society. “They tell us ‘Oh, I’m just getting my doggy fix’ or ‘I miss my cat.’”

Seeing an opportunity, the 60-year-old MHS, located in central Maui on the highway between Kihei and Kahului, launched a visitor volunteer program earlier this month aimed at offering traveling animal lovers a chance to both ShaneNelsonspend time with pets at the shelter and provide the organization some much-needed assistance.

From 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. every Wednesday and Thursday, Maui vacationers are encouraged to take part in the MHS Helping Paws Visitor program, which begins with a brief orientation followed by a chance to help out with activities like walking dogs, bathing puppies, brushing cats or even just playing with the puppies and kittens, something Bouchard said is vital for the animals.

“Socialization is a huge thing for our shelter animals because our staff stays very busy providing for the basics,” she explained. “That does include a little socialization, as well, but that time is limited with all the cleaning and other things to do.”

Visitors interested in doing more than just interacting with the animals are also welcome Wednesday and Thursday afternoons at MHS and can help with everything from kennel cleaning, gardening, general maintenance to office work. The organization is also happy to work specifically with travelers who inquire prior to an MHS visit to arrange individualized volunteer projects and opportunities for larger groups.

Another option for Maui travelers looking to help some of the approximately 10,000 homeless animals that come through the doors at MHS each year is assisting the non-profit with flying pets to the mainland U.S. and Canada.

Home to around 150,000 people, Maui’s relatively small resident population means there is a shortage of suitable homes for the many animals at MHS, but the organization started a Wings of Aloha program last October, flying pets to partner rescue organizations in states such as Oregon, Washington, Colorado and even to Canada that don’t share the same animal overpopulation issues and have a high demand for adoptable cats and dogs.

Airfare for shelter animals is expensive but is reduced substantially if a pet flies under the same reservation as a ticketed passenger. MHS is actively seeking Maui travelers already headed to transfer partner shelter cities and willing to allow animals to travel on their reservation.

According to Bouchard, the process is pretty painless, requiring only that travelers contact the shelter prior with flight details and then meet an MHS staff member at the Maui airport to check in before the flight with the animals, who travel beneath the plane. Representatives from the partner shelters will handle everything else upon arrival on the US mainland.

“In February, we actually did more Wings of Aloha pet flights than adoptions,” Bouchard said, noting that MHS has flown nearly 300 animals to partner rescue shelters on the U.S. mainland and in Canada since last October. “So it’s become a very significant program for us in a very short amount of time.”

For more details about the Maui Humane Society’s Helping Paws and Wings of Aloha programs, visit, email [email protected] or phone the volunteer department at (808) 877-3680.


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