Interview! Keoni Vaughn, Executive Director of Lanai Cat Sanctuary

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“My job has helped me instantly get to the heart of what I want to do, which is rescue and protect animals that can’t speak for themselves.”

Keoni is the Executive Director of the Lanai Cat Sanctuary, and oversees a staff of only 6, who provide daily care for almost 600 cats! Prior to working here, he was the VP and Director of the Hawaiian Humane Society, where he worked hard to rescue animals. The Humane Society found themselves working as mediators in the midst of an abundance of free roaming cats on the islands, due to constant nice weather and a lack of natural predators. A bulk of his time there was collaborating with colony care givers and housing associations to mediate on how to best handle the overpopulation situations.

Keoni was born and raised in Oahu and has worked hard to position the sanctuary as the #1 place to visit in Lanai. He has worked with travel websites to create viral content that has increased the awareness of the sanctuary in the area. 95% of the sanctuary’s donations come from visitors and a quick commuter plane or ferry ride will bring in tourists for a great day trip to visit.

When given the opportunity to work at the sanctuary, he jumped on it. Despite only having about 3,000 people on the island and it being remote, he was determined to help solve the cat overpopulation issue, despite the limited resources. Him and his team focus attention on where endangered birds live and breed, in order to create the safe environment they need. By using trail cams, along with help from the community, they are able to watch for the colonies and take cats they find to the sanctuary when needed.

Believe it or not, 95% of the cats that come to them from the island have never seen a human before! That is why it’s also important for Keoni to work on socializing these cats, as well, which about 40% of them are doing well with at this time. Most adoptions they do make happen tend to come from off of the island, so it’s important to work with the cats’ socialization at the sanctuary on a daily basis.

He has also written an article about building sanctuaries in other parts of the country and what the tips and ideas are relevant that he would give. It can be a struggle, but he has learned how to be efficient. He discussed the many requests he gets to build sanctuaries in other parts of the country, but he is adamant about really being able to sit down and evaluate the specific scenario and to start slow!

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