It’s a comforting idea to think that in the lush, peaceful, and tropical landscapes associated with the Hawaiian islands, animal abuse, neglect and abandon do not exist. Unfortunately, it is not the case.
Hawaii is not exempt from backyard breeders, animal abuse and neglect, or owner abandonment. And in fact, the islands have some of their own issues that end up creating problems for canine residents. These include dogs who were abandoned when their owners moved back to the mainland; dogs who were lost or abandoned in the wilderness during pig-hunting trips; and ailments directly related to the perpetually hot, humid climate.
But the Big Island has a special place where some of Hawaii’s unwanted and unlucky animals get shelter, care, and, most importantly, love.
Rainbow Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kurtistown is a nonprofit group that can take in as many as 80 dogs and 250 cats. And while most of its residents are of the canine and feline variety, the sanctuary has also welcomed a pig, birds, guinea pigs, chickens, and a donkey.
The sanctuary was founded in 2001 by Mary Rose Krijgsman and has been a refuge for 3,000 to 4,500 animals in need since its creation. In 1999, Krijgsman, a Dutch expatriate who had been on the Big Island for nine years, was growing increasingly disheartened by the situation of the Hawaiian dogs and cats and decided to react. “I felt I had three choices: Move (and see similar challenges elsewhere), close my heart, or do something,” she says.
So she did something.
Following some training in opening and running an animal sanctuary, as well as in emergency animal rescue, Krijgsman purchased a 7.5-acre property in Kurtistown in May 2001. Construction of kennels, pens, and catteries immediately began; by January of 2002, more than 50 dogs and 75 cats had found a new home at the sanctuary.
Today, Rainbow Friends has approximately 50 dedicated volunteers, and just this year was able to hire a couple of staff members. But with no funding from the state or county level, the sanctuary must rely solely on donations to keep everything running. According to Krijgsman, it currently costs around $8,000 a month to provide the housing maintenance, food, and veterinary care necessary for the sanctuary’s residents.
But true to its vision of giving and positivity, whenever there are rare extra funds at Rainbow Friends, Krijgsman and her volunteers will organize veterinary interventions and food donations for the pets of people who have fallen on hard times. She says she’d rather see pets be able to stay with their owners than have to come to the sanctuary, which is always tight on space.
Because most of the animals at the sanctuary will spend their entire lives there, Krijgsman is often faced with having to turn animals away that she couldn’t realistically take care of. “A huge challenge is the need that exists on the island,” she laments. “With the amount of calls we receive from the public who would like to bring their animals here, we could open a similar sanctuary every two to three months.”
And while all the animals taken in by Rainbow Friends never have to worry about being homeless or neglected ever again, Krijgsman and her volunteers do adopt out dogs and cats to loving families whenever possible.
“We have adopted out dogs into fantastic forever homes on the islands of Oahu and Kauai, but also to New York, Alaska, Arizona, Maryland, Colorado, Florida, and Wisconsin,” she says. “But yes, most dogs are adopted out to families on our Island of Hawaii.”
Krijgsman explains that attracting and keeping volunteers is both a challenge and success for the sanctuary due to its location and the sheer amount of work necessary to keep it running on a daily basis. But for some volunteers like Sandi Alstrand, Rainbow Friends Animal Sanctuary has become an integral part of their lives.
Alstrand started volunteering at the sanctuary in 2002, and has been there ever since. She helps with fundraising and marketing, and now also coordinates all the monthly spay/neuter clinics organized by Rainbow Friends — spay/neuter clinics made possible by a specific team of dedicated volunteers as well as two veterinarians who fly in from Oahu every month to participate.
“[When I first visited the sanctuary] I was very impressed with the open pens and the loving care that Mary Rose and the volunteers gave to the animals,” Alstrand says. “I have been with the sanctuary for over ten years, and I still love it.”
And you need only look at the photos on the sanctuary’s website and Facebook page to get an idea of the overwhelming sense of tranquility and peace that reigns at Rainbow Friends. There, once-broken, dejected, and lost animals are treated with dignity and respect. The positive results are life-changing.
“Dogs come to us clueless about what it means to be a dog,” Klijgsman explains. “Here they heal, learn to play, interact in a pack, [and become] a part of a pack of humans and dogs before they go to their own forever home.”
Dogs like Ricky, a gentle soul who had been tortured and found with rope embedded in her paws. She was taken in by Rainbow Friends and underwent extensive surgery to repair her wounds. Despite the extent of her injuries and the painful recovery, the beautiful dog never snapped or growled at anyone. When she was feeling better, Ricky was adopted by an animal-loving couple living on the Big Island and who already had three adopted dogs from Rainbow Friends. Klijgsman says Ricky is happy and healthy with her new pack.
Klijgsman and her team are continually striving to make life as comfortable as possible for the animals at Rainbow Friends Animal Sanctuary while also taking care of each resident’s specific physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs.
People comment on the openness and the peacefulness of the sanctuary, she says. “Through years of landscaping, it is becoming a park and has a homey feeling for the animals. We really embrace living with ‘Aloha’ and extend this to every person and every animal.”
All photos via Rainbow Friends Animal Sanctuary’s Facebook page and website.
About Crystal Gibson: A child-sized Canadian expat in France who is fluent in French and sarcasm. Owned by a neurotic Doxie mix, a Garfield look-alike, and two needy Sphynx cats. An aspiring writer and pet photographer with a love of coffee and distaste for French administration, she can be found blogging over at Crystal Goes to Europe.
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