By Léo Azambuja

Licorice was a foster dog from the Kaua‘i Humane Society. When they called me back to return him to the shelter, we decided to keep him. I became a ‘failed foster.’

As I sit down to write this, my three dogs are safe asleep under my roof. In the morning, they’ll go back to their backyard (it’s really theirs), where they run and play freely all day, terrorizing every dog and pickup truck going down the street. They get two meals a day, treats and more love than I ever got from anyone but my parents.

But they are the lucky ones. Many dogs and cats on Kaua‘i live a miserable life as stray or abandoned animals.

In 2016 alone, the Kaua‘i Humane Society took 1,238 dogs and 1,771 cats for a total of 2,999 animals picked up or surrendered. Almost half of them were euthanized, including 283 dogs and 1,168 cats. The rest was returned to their owners, adopted out or transferred to Mainland shelters.

While the statistics can be depressive, the good news is the sharp decline in the numbers of animals euthanized compared to only a few years ago. In 2012, KHS euthanized 951 dogs and 2,524 cats.

To be sure, adoption numbers have been falling steadily in the last five years, but the numbers of animals picked up or surrendered have also been falling. In 2012, KHS took in a combined 5,717 cats and dogs.

In 2012, I asked former KHS Executive Director Shannon Blizzard what would take for Kaua‘i to have a no-kill shelter. I knew that before Shannon came to Kaua‘i, she had worked in a large no-kill shelter in Arizona. At KHS, Shannon had boosted or created programs increasing cat and dog adoptions. So I expected her answer to be a rundown of different potential programs by KHS.

Instead, Shannon somewhat put the burden on the community. First, she said, we have to have a no-kill community, with their cooperation in stronger spay and neuter efforts. Fair enough, I thought. We can and should become part of the solution.

Last month, I had a chat with current KHS Executive Director Scott Pisani. At some point, I asked him the same question I had asked Shannon, half-expecting a similar answer. But rather than pointing fingers, Scott called upon the community to participate in the discussion.

First and foremost, Scott said, a “no-kill shelter” is both divisive and misleading — no-kill shelters are allowed a certain percentage of animals to be euthanized and still keep their title of no-kill shelter.

Scott said a better way of approaching the issue was asking which animals have an appropriate behavior and should be given a chance to live in our community. It was more a matter of the community coming together and deciding what is acceptable.

For example, he said, what would the community want for an aggressive dog? Would it be more acceptable for the dog to live the rest of its life in a kennel or should it be humanely euthanized. Those are tough choices, he said, but it’s something that has to be discussed by the community.

Ultimately, the goal of KHS is to focus on their progress to save more cats and dogs, to try to adopt out more animals that can be adopted, animals that are not being euthanized.

I think Scott is taking KHS into the right direction. The fostering program has anywhere between 50 to 100 animals out in the community at any given time, directly increasing adoptions and indirectly increasing the shelter’s capacity by a large margin. Some families have fostered more than 100 animals, and there are many “failed fosters,” where families end up adopting an animal after fostering it. I can relate, my mighty Chihuahua, Licorice, was a failed foster dog.

Other programs allowing dogs to be taken out for a day, overnight or during extended holidays have also resulted in happy tales and tails, and increased adoptions.

Unfortunately for stray cats, they are hit the hardest. For most feral cats, there’s nothing to do but to euthanize them, Scott said. Only 100 cats taken by KHS last year were owner-surrendered. The remaining 1,661 cats were strays, and only 148 were returned to their owners. KHS was able to adopt 339 cats and transfer another 96 to the Mainland. Still, 1,168 cats were euthanized.

KHS depends on our support, either by volunteering, fostering, money donations or in any other way. For cat and dog owners, micro-chipping is the best way to reunite with a runaway.

If you can save just one life, you are already a winner for life, pun intended.