Anaeho’omalu Bay (A-Bay) Beach on the Kohala Coast of Hawaii has a half-mile stretch of salt and pepper sand and calm water, a great place to learn to stand on a paddle board, strap on a snorkel and fins, or bask in the sun. It’s also home to a colony of feral cats that live behind the beach next to an ancient Hawaiian fish pond under the gnarled and twisted limbs of a tree that I have yet to identify.
Considered by some to be pests, threatening rare and endangered birds, feral cats are everywhere on the Big Island: cruising for table scraps at outdoor restaurants, snoozing under cars in hotel parking lots, grooming themselves on quiet lanais. In 2011 I wrote a story about two tabbies that made daily visits to the back door of the condo where I was staying.
Many visitors to A-Bay don’t seem to notice the felines, although there’s usually at least one sunning on the lava rocks next to the parking lot near the sign posted by KARES, the local nonprofit whose volunteers feed this colony.
Last week when I visited a caregiver had recently set out food and fresh water so there were lots of cats around. I counted about fifteen and many looked familiar to me from prior visits. Most of them had tipped ears showing they had been spayed or neutered, keeping the population stable. A blue-eyed Siamese watched me from his perch on a tree limb and a black and gray tiger-stripe jumped up on a lava-rock wall near where I was standing, close enough to touch.
I was looking for a cat called Red.
I first noticed the orange tabby with one missing eye two or three years ago. Charlotte, one of the volunteers who care for the colony, told me his story.
Red was in a nasty fight with a cat from a nearby colony. Charlotte was told about the brawl by a woman who heard the cats and then saw them separate. Charlotte looked for Red for days, but he had disappeared. When he finally showed up a couple of weeks later, he had a bulging, infected eye, that looked like something out of a horror movie.
She tried to lure the wounded cat into a trap with food, but he eluded her. Finally, in desperation she made her move, getting close enough to grab him and put him into a cat carrier. A local veterinarian cared for him for several days and removed his injured eye. Charlotte and another volunteer shared the cost of the discounted fee for his surgery. (KARES is only able to pay for spay/neuter surgeries)
As I was about to walk away, Red showed up. He looked healthy and contented and settled in to share a bowl of kibble with two other cats. Charlotte says he’s friendly, but always gives her a wide berth.