Debbie Cravatta, KARES providing essential animal care during pandemic

  • Courtesy photo Debbie Cravatta of the Kohala Animal Relocation Education Service cuddles a rescue dog.

  • Courtesy of KARES Odin, a one-eyed cat, is one of the animals recently available for adoption from KARES.

  • Courtesy of KARES Volunteers assemble dog food packages for distribution.

Few things are more comforting than the love of a four-legged friend, and during the COVID-19 pandemic the Kohala Animal Relocation and Education Service (KARES) is helping Big Island residents take care of them.

Established in 2009 and staffed by volunteers, KARES is led by Debbie Cravatta, a Kohala resident who always carries at least two phones on her so she doesn’t miss a report of an animal or pet owner in need of help. That help covers a wide range of animal care, from free spay and neuter services to helping with food and medical care.


“We do for free what the Humane Society gets paid to do but doesn’t,” Cravatta said. “Spay-and-neuter is so critical right now, when puppies and kittens are being born.”

KARES sterilized more than 100 dogs in the past two months, preventing more abandoned and uncared for litters in a time when Ka‘u’s Hawaiian Ocean View Estates already “looks like a Third World country” because of the number of strays and abandoned animals.

“We’ll have 10 more done by the end of the week,” Cravatta said recently.

The service is a “‘hardcore’ no-kill shelter,” according to Cravatta, and takes care of mostly dogs, but some cats as well (and sometimes pigs, she added). KARES even finds homes on other islands when needed, working with local private pilots to load up rescue animals and take them to forever homes on Maui and elsewhere.

“We flew 30 puppies to Maui the other day,” Cravatta said. “We went around asking for more puppies, ‘please, give them to us, we have homes waiting for them.’ We save lives.”

And during the pandemic, KARES has been keeping Big Island pets fed, too, especially those where reduced income and job loss are concerned.

“Where they’re feeding people in Waimea, we’re feeding pets,” Cravatta said. “We’re bagging food for animals. The Salvation Army is coming to us for pet food. We’re feeding hungry dogs and cats and humans.”

The 30 volunteers of KARES, many of whom are on fixed incomes, also foster rescue animals, keeping them socialized and happy — and waiting to meet their new best friends. Cravatta said she has 20 dogs at her home right now, and has put 200 dogs in homes since the beginning of the year. They even coordinate with local veterinarians to help with medical care.

June Gravitte, who attended KARES weekly foster events at Petco before the pandemic struck, praised the organization and Cravatta.

“When the COVID-19 crisis first started in mid-March, the Saturday Kona Petco adoption events were suspended,” Gravitte said in an email. “In my mind, I guess Debbie and KARES could have stopped their adoption and fostering efforts and gone on hiatus but chose to increase its efforts to help the Big Island’s homeless animals. KARES seemed to increase its efforts to find fosters and adopters, especially through its foster to adopt program.”

“We get people begging for help in the oddest ways,” Cravatta noted with a chuckle.

She recounted helping a woman with the paperwork and more to be able to take her cherished pets back to the mainland when she moved away rather than abandoning them on the island.

“It’s all part of animal rescue. There’s nothing we don’t do for the community,” Cravatta said.


To get involved with KARES — to donate, foster, adopt or even just volunteer to walk and show off dogs at adoption events — visit, email or call 333-6299.

Email Mitchell Bonds at

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