Quote Unquote: What It’s Like Being CEO of the Humane Society—With Cat Allergies

Starting as a volunteer for the Hawaiian Humane Society after college, Lisa Fowler, who has worked full-time at the nonprofit for seven years, took the helm of the organization after longtime CEO Pamela Burns died last September. The lifelong animal lover, who has two rescue dogs and a cat with her husband, is overseeing the construction of the state’s first high-volume spay-and-neuter clinic and the nonprofit’s 5-acre campus in West O‘ahu.
Lisa Fowler
Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino


I GET ASKED ALL THE TIME, “How long do you keep animals here before you euthanize?” And the answer is there’s no time limit. It’s really sad for us to think that people don’t bring animals here because they think they will be euthanized. That’s just not the reality.


WHILE IT’S MOSTLY A MIX of cats and dogs, we’re O‘ahu’s only open-admission shelter, so we take anything that comes in: guinea pigs, rabbits, goats, chickens, peacocks. This is the only place for these guys.


THE PEACOCK—his name was Kevin—went to a home in Mānoa. We inspected the house to make sure he would be taken care of. Peacocks have special needs. They’re not like cats or dogs. They need lots of space and special food. We need to know that the [adopter] knows what he’s doing.


“We help as many people as we do animals.”


THE OBJECTIVE OF OUR latest renovation [to the Mō‘ili‘ili facility] was to improve quality of life for the animals, reduce their stress and allow for more natural behaviors. We created more areas where dogs can play together, and that gives visitors an idea of what these dogs are really about, what they’re like and how they will be in their own homes. The whole idea was to create spaces that are all about the animals. … They’re healthier and happier and that helps them get into more homes faster.


THE SPRAY-AND-NEUTER clinic is scheduled to open [this] spring to address one of the biggest issues—free-roaming cats in the community. We felt this was our biggest contribution to make to this issue, but it won’t solve the problem overnight. It will provide 8,000 sterilizations per year. What we’re trying to do is reduce the number of kittens being born by these cats. But it’s just part of the solution.


PAM [BURNS] WAS A MENTOR to me. We were a good team. We had been working closely for a long time. She and I would joke that we’d retire together.


WE STILL FEEL HER HERE so much. When we talk about our future, Pam is always our guiding force. She was a force to be reckoned with. She was so smart and focused and dedicated to this mission. She was boundless and that was contagious.


WE ARE MUCH MORE than an animal shelter. We’re a resource for our community. We help as many people as we do animals. We’re about compassion and giving these animals a voice, and so often, when we address animal issues, there are humans attached to them. We advocate for laws to protect animals, we work to resolve disputes between neighbors, we do outreach with the homeless. … We help people and animals live harmoniously and compassionately together.


I HAVE A CAT, BUT I’M actually allergic to them. But I got over it. I use Flonase every day—because I am not going to live without cats! It changed my life.


The Hawaiian Humane Society’s Mō‘ili‘ili campus can house around 400 animals.


SEE ALSO: Quote Unquote: What It’s Like Being the Honolulu Zoo’s First Female Director