He’s the Cat’s Meow

Lucky Paws Animal Foundation founder Chris Thompson is doing all he can to help feral cats live their best nine lives possible.

Chris Thompson knows the business he’s in is anything but lucrative. As the founder of Lucky Paws Animal Foundation, he spends his days rescuing and rehabilitating the island’s feral cats. Not a physically, emotionally or financially easy task, but it also results in regular kitty snuggles, soothing purrs and rubs of affection, so it’s more than worth it.

“We know there’s no money in animal rescue and adoptions,” says Thompson, citing the high cost of vet care, medications, shelter and food. “We focus on the sick, injured and most at-risk, which is even more expensive.”

Lucky Paws’ three-pronged approach — rescues, adoptions, resort — ensures that it can continue its good work. Profits from its resort fill the monetary gaps government subsidies and grants leave behind. Under the motto “every stay saves a stray,” more boarders means more money being funneled into saving cats from the streets and finding them forever homes.

Plus, it’s not all bad booking a stay at the Lucky Paws resort. For families undergoing home termite tenting treatments, heading off to vacations, or even those wanting more socialization and companionship for their feline friends while at work, having their cats stay at Lucky Paws is a great option. Owners can check on their cats via a webcam located in each resort suite, which is decked out with custom lighting that mimics the rising and falling of the sun, videos of wildlife, cozy beds and more.

While cats doze in their personal chambers inside Lucky Paws on South King Street, Thompson and a cadre of volunteers are out on the streets engaging in TNRM (trap, neuter, release, manage) efforts. It’s a step up from the traditional TNR method and adds the management aspect to prevent a resurgence in overpopulation and breeding.

Photo by Lawrence Tabudlo

“We aren’t trying to eradicate cats by poisoning or euthanasia,” he says. “Science has shown those efforts just don’t work because cats will quickly breed to repopulate a void. A lot of people want action now, they want the cats removed immediately, but it creates a vacuum effect.

“I don’t know anyone that hasn’t been affected by the cat population on the island,” Thompson adds. “Cats walk on top of cars, poop where they’re not supposed to, and we’re trying to address what we can.”

That’s where TNRM comes into play. Granted, it’s a more time-consuming process, but Thompson assures that it’ll result in longer-lasting effects.

“It’s difficult to do TNRM in Hawai‘i effectively because of lack of resources, funding and not enough veterinarians,” Thompson admits. “It’s a compounding problem, but this is the most humane and effective way to mitigate the cat overpopulation crisis. We try to get to as many as we can, but I literally get 10 calls every other day asking for TNRM help.”

He offers a revealing example: Spay/neuter services run anywhere from $200 to $400, and Lucky Paws’ current funding only offers $45 of payback.

“There’s a lot that goes into TNRM, but first we need funding,” says Thompson, who works with nonprofits like Aloha Kitty TNR and KAT Charities to do as many TNRMs on their own dime as possible. “Once we get that, then we can really give TNRM an honest go.”

Cats who have been spayed or neutered have that tell-tale notch on their ears: left ear for males, and right ear for females — “Because girls are always right,” Thompson jokes.

Sterilization can result in sweeter, friendlier cats, who are less prone to getting cancer. Males who get fixed are less likely to chase females or start fights by roaming into new territories — many are likely familiar with those resulting late-night yowlings.

“Fixing does away with a lot of those nuisance behaviors,” Thompson adds. “Getting cats fixed will help the colony get along better.”

Lucky Paws also gets help from those in the community who take it upon themselves to care for feral cat colonies. Thompson calls them “compassionate feeders.”

“They feed the cats at the same time in the same place; they take inventory of what cats are new, which ones are hurt, which one is diseased, they take them in,” he notes.

These cats trust compassionate feeders, which makes it easy to conduct TNRM and control colonies.

“These compassionate feeders help manage the colony,” Thompson explains. “We work with different feeders, some of whom are homeless themselves, and they spend all their money on cat food, not on housing or their own personal needs. They’re so important and compassionate; it’s a beautiful thing. They get a lot of hate, but we work with them and encourage them to partner with us.”

Thompson is a compassionate soul in his own right, too. Before COVID-19, he and his wife, Jessica, would foster cats for organizations like Poi Dogs & Pōpoki and KAT Charities. At one point, the couple housed 70 cats spread out over three of their Waikīkī rental units, which remained empty during the pandemic.

“We realized that there was this compelling need to help the voiceless and suffering animals we saw every single day,” says Thompson. “We saw how difficult it was to get these critters adopted out, so we tried to adopt them all out by ourselves from our home and we were having good luck there.”

The Thompsons were able to adopt out hundreds of cats on their own every year, which led them to make things official by launching Lucky Paws in 2020, along with Thompson’s friend, Aron Garcia. In September 2022, Lucky Paws opened its current standalone location, adjacent to Hawaiian Humane Society, to continue its TNRM work and adoption efforts.

TNRM remains Lucky Paws’ main mission because the nonprofit sources its adoptable cats from feral populations.

“We try to get our cats from outdoors, not people surrendering them,” Thompson notes.

Because Hawai‘i has limited funding, resources and space, Lucky Paws has also partnered with rescues in Seattle and San Diego to help local cats find their forever homes on the mainland. In Seattle’s greater metro area alone, there are millions more people than in the entire state of Hawai‘i.

“If we can’t get adoptions to take place here, we can’t rescue the next cat,” Thompson explains, adding that national adoption partnerships are of paramount importance to a small nonprofit like Lucky Paws.

In fact, Lucky Paws recently signed an agreement to place adoptable cats in PetSmart locations and continues to maintain its relationship with North Shore Animal League America, the world’s largest no-kill animal rescue.

Adoption is arguably the most heartwarming aspect of Lucky Paws’ mission. The joy of seeing a family find their perfect feline companion is bar none, and knowing these once-vagrant cats have regular food, shelter and love reminds Thompson why he does what he does.

“Myself, my wife and my best friend, Aron, we’ve all been in this cat thing for a while,” Thompson notes. “We all have a really big passion and want to help as many cats as we could. We believed really early on that we had a calling to do this.”

Lucky Paws Animal Foundation is always looking for foster families and volunteers to aid the cause. For more information on how to help, adopt or donate, visit luckypaws.org.