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Volunteering in Kitty Paradise

Photo by Marco Garcia

Photo by Marco Garcia

Sweetheart Rock, or Pu'u Pehe, on the southern coast of Lanai.

New Year’s Day on the Hawaiian island of Lanai: My husband and I sat on our friends’ deck overlooking Manele Bay’s azure waters, dazzled by the sights. In the distance bobbed Lanai owner Larry Ellison’s 183-foot sailboat and his 288-foot yacht, just two reasons why it wasn’t difficult to imagine the Oracle billionaire and co-founder shelling out a reported $300 million for the island. We were breathing some extremely rarified air.

My friend Madeline winked. “Nice, huh? I want to show you something even nicer,” she said. “We’re going to the kitty sanctuary!”

The three amigos look forward to a little loving at the Lanai Animal Rescue Center. Photo by Michael Rybak.        

Hidden among the island’s luxe offerings is the Lanai Animal Rescue Center, Lanai’s most charitable delight and number one tourist attraction. Given the range of available activities—scuba diving, boating, paddling with dolphins—that’s really saying something.

Just as two-legged Lanai visitors enjoy four-star accommodations, this creatively designed haven for abandoned cats is a 15,000-square-foot outdoor paradise full of artfully crafted perches, kitty jungle gyms, trees and lots of toys. Visitors are welcome to volunteer by grooming, cuddling and playing with the center’s “Hawaiian lions.”

I fell into this feline nirvana during the Pet-n-Purr Open House, held daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Armed with a loving attitude and a tiny grooming brush given to me by founder Kathy Carroll, who’s been caring for Lanai’s cats since 2003, I went looking for friends. Within minutes I’d met Willow, Butterfinger, Yahoo and Chanel, purring delegates from a group of some of the most contented kitties I’d ever seen gathered in one place.

On the day I visited, the sanctuary received a constant stream of visitors: a family from Los Angeles, a French couple and a woman from Seattle who had just lost her 20-year-old cat. It was hard not to tear up as we watched her face shift from grief to joy as she welcomed cat after cat into her arms. Forget Ellison’s yachts; that is the memory I will always treasure from our Lanai visit.

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