Last year I did a series of posts highlighting my favorite travel experiences, destinations, foods and people for the previous year and I decided to once again perform this bit of forced reflection. Rather than just serve as a gratuitous way to recognize people and places, it’s been a healthy exercise in quantifying why some travel experiences are better than others. Each day I will highlight a different aspect of the travel experience and pick my favorite from amongst my 2011 travels. Today I want to recognize the person I most enjoyed meeting while traveling.
Some of the most interesting people I have ever met and some of the best conversations ever begun have happened while traveling. There’s just something about the experience of exploration that makes me want to seek out new and interesting people and I think that’s the same reason they are always willing to share stories about their lives. I met a lot of interesting, courageous and fun people this year, but none made a more lasting impression than Kathy Carroll.
I think it’s interesting to note that for the second year in a row, a resident of the tiny Hawaiian island of Lanai (home to 3,000 people and some mouflon) was my choice for favorite person, and none deserve it more than Kathy.
Kathy and her husband, the renowned Lana’i painter Mike Carroll, moved to the small island more than ten years ago from Chicago to live a simpler, happier life. By all appearances, this energetic couple have achieved that remarkable feat. They own and operate an art gallery in the center of town and are extremely active in the civic life of the island. But Kathy wasn’t content with just that. As a strong supporter of animals, she soon recognized a need on the island that was sorely lacking, an animal rescue center.
After tremendous research, persuasion of local residents and hard work, Kathy, along with an army of supporters and volunteers, created the Lana’i Animal Rescue Center (LARC). The centerpiece of their efforts is one of the most interesting and ingenious rescue facilities I have ever seen, the cat sanctuary.
Lana’i has a problem, a cat problem. Over the years, domesticated cats have been released to the wilds where they lived out their lives breeding and perpetuating the process over dozens of generations. Over time, literally thousands of wild, feral cats began to call the wide-open fields of Lana’i home. The sanctuary takes these animals in, gives them health care, spays/neuters them and over time acclimates them to human interaction and attention. The sanctuary is incredibly important for the cats, as it saves them from a dangerous life that, in many instances, leads to an early, tragic death.
Kathy didn’t just put up a fence and rescue some cats, she has been working diligently to change the entire perception of homeless animals on the island. Before her arrival, the idea of a significant stray animal population on Lana’i really didn’t bother anyone, although the problem was rampant. Kathy and the volunteers she has recruited have, in just a few years, single-handedly changed cultural sensibilities regarding animal welfare for the better.
Kathy receives nothing in return for her long years of hard work and sleepless nights except for the gratification that she is saving lives and making the island a better place for everyone, locals and tourists alike. It is this selflessness that spoke to me immediately and still resonates today and for this I can think of no one more important to highlight from my 2011 travels than Kathy Carroll.