Under the Kauai Community Cat Project’s Wings for Whiskers program, volunteers take the island’s homeless kittens to shelters on the mainland for adoption.
Cat lovers considering a stay on Kauai can help reduce the island's population of homeless kittens as part of their vacation.
The Kauai Community Cat Project, a nonprofit established in 2008, launched the Wings for Whiskers program last year, working with volunteers who will be flying on Alaska Airlines to relocate kittens to cities such as Seattle; San Diego and Oakland, Calif.; and Portland, Ore.
Partner organizations such as the Kitsap Humane Society in the Seattle area and the Helen Woodward Animal Center in San Diego regularly have people looking to adopt kittens, according to Martha Girdany, vice president and transfer coordinator at the Kauai Community Cat Project.
"There's not a big, permanent population here," she said. "Kauai has about 70,000 permanent residents, and everyone else is a tourist so there are not a whole lot of people who are able to have pets, and we tend to get overrun with kittens."
Girdany said that her organization currently has 88 kittens in foster homes across the Garden Isle.
"I've got 20 cats at my house," she said. "Our founder has over 40 at her house. We've just kind of run out of people. That's why we try and ship them away."
Although flying Kauai kittens to partner mainland organizations isn't exactly cheap at about $200 per cat, Girdany said the results are usually successful. Through the end of last month her organization had transferred more than 100 kittens to the U.S. mainland in 2016.
"When the kittens go away, almost always they are adopted within a week," she said. "And that is just a wonderful thing."
There's no additional cost for the much-needed volunteer travelers, dubbed Kitty Kouriers by the Kauai Community Cat Project. Folks just need to be booked on a nonstop Alaska Airlines flight between Kauai and Seattle, San Diego, Portland or Oakland.
Girdany takes down the travelers' confirmation codes and makes all the arrangements with Alaska to transfer the cats in containers that can go under the plane in the cargo compartment or in soft-sided carriers that can be brought into the cabin. Volunteers meet Girdany and the cats at the Alaska check-in counter in Lihue Airport two hours before their flight to complete paperwork. After the flight, officials from the partnering animal organization meet the travelers on arrival at the baggage claim to finish the kitten transfer.
Girdany said that the Kauai Community Cat Project, which is funded almost entirely by donations, also works with visitors from the mainland interested in adopting stray and homeless cats they've become attached to during encounters around resorts on their vacation.
"People will email us, saying 'I'm a tourist, and this cat is wonderful and I don't want to leave it,'" she said. "So we've just started asking, 'Do you want it shipped to you?' And a lot of times the response is, 'Can you really do that?'"