The volunteers and foster families that keep Kaua‘i Animal Welfare Society up and running do so in an effort to find pets their forever homes and keep euthanasia out of the equation.
Joe Paxton is quite handsome. He’s also charming, gentle, likes to snuggle and has plenty of love to give. Sounds like a personal ad, but this guy’s profile isn’t on a dating app; it’s on Kaua‘i Animal Welfare Society’s website. And this special boy has four legs, fur and an adorable black button nose. He’s one of the many dogs that KAWS has helped rescue since it was founded in 2015, and one of approximately 17 currently in foster care and available for adoption.
He found his way into the arms of volunteers after he was abandoned at a dog park. Unfortunately, the former hunting pup suffered from heartworm disease and couldn’t be cared for at the local shelter, so KAWS stepped in. They’ve since nursed him back to health, and now he’s ready for the perfect home.
The group takes in animals, like Joe Paxton, who otherwise would not have found homes — the sick, injured, shy or “picky with friends.” It’s a rescue organization, meaning it isn’t able to directly accept stray dogs, though it can accept feral cats. KAWS can also take owner surrenders, but the group typically pulls at-risk dogs from the local shelter.
“It’s really a labor of love,” says KAWS board member Nick Hua.
They have traditionally accepted dogs that have been through the shelter system and might not otherwise have had the opportunity to find a new abode. They acclimate them to home life and assist them medically, as well as socially. One dog, Willow, for example, needed to have her leg amputated due to a serious injury. KAWS was able to provide the treatment she needed, and Willow now is happy and healthy in her new Oregon home.
“Not only did she find a home, she had at least 10 applications,” says executive director Dinah Chao.
Volunteers also assist people who have found stray animals or need to surrender a pet by providing them with basic supplies — like collars, leashes, crates, beds and flea/ tick medicine — to help the animals get into a new home.
The organization doesn’t currently have a physical shelter, but it’s one of the group’s many long-term goals. Chao and co-founder Ally Kirk felt that there were too many animals on the island that needed help.
“I just knew that I had to do something,” says Chao.
They wanted to find the island’s homeless dogs and cats loving homes, and if they couldn’t find that, at least give them a permanent place to stay without the threat of euthanasia.
“We focus on the animals that need more resources than the shelter can offer,” adds Kirk, who works at Natural Pet Hawai‘i.
The way they do so is by finding foster families who are willing and able to care for the dogs or cats for whatever period of time they can commit to.
“They just have to provide the home and love,” says Kirk.
KAWS gives the families everything they need, including food and medicine. The dogs stay with families for however long they need to before finding a permanent home. Some find placement locally, while others do so on the Mainland. And because KAWS volunteers know the personalities of their dogs so well, they make sure the canines find suitable homes by using an adoption process that involves applications, home checks (they also have people on the Mainland who assist with this step), and helping families get set up with their new “kids” by giving them “trial stays” and providing training when needed.
“All this is in an effort to set both dogs and humans up for a successful life together,” says Chao. “Even after a dog or cat is adopted, if the owner can no longer keep his or her pet, we will bring it back into our program with open arms.”
The feral kitties also spend time at local foster homes adjusting to life and getting socialized but usually undergo a different adoption process. More often than not, they are transferred to Kitsap Humane Society in Washington, where they are typically adopted within 48 hours of their arrival.
“They’re exotic Hawaiian kittens,” jokes Allison Jacobson.
The partnership with Kitsap Humane Society is a lucrative one. The Washington location happens to be in an area that doesn’t have many pets available for adoption, so it’s a perfect scenario. KAWS finds volunteers willing to bring the cats, or kittens, as travel companions on their flights to Washington.
The kind of organization that is required to make these things happen needs the dedication of volunteers and a voluntary board, which includes Chao, Kirk, Jacobson, Nick Hua, Kim Foster and David Schwartz. Though they have “day” jobs, they commit their time to saving animals’ lives.
“And each and every life that you get to touch is so rewarding, no matter how much time and effort you have to put into it,” says Jacobson. “Just to see an animal survive and thrive and be in a home and loved, that’s all the reward you need.”
To donate, foster animals or learn more about KAWS visit kaws4paws.org.