Neighbors, employees, animal advocates express concerns with Maluafiti
Hostile confrontations, public verbal abuse, mismanagement of a nonprofit to the detriment of its animal beneficiaries paint a troubling picture about the candidate for State Senate.
During the 2018 legislative session, Representative Matt LoPresti was giving a floor speech about a piece of legislation related to feral cats, and the role of nonprofits in addressing the issue. Rep. LoPresti spoke in opposition to the bill.
“Several legislators, including myself, opposed a bill that was designed specifically to give deference to this one person’s nonprofit and to allow them to be exempt from state law,” LoPresti said in a statement to The Independent.
While there is some disagreement between feral cat advocates and LoPresti on what exactly the bill would have allowed and the effectiveness of Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) programs, one thing is certain: halfway through his speech, the staff at LoPresti’s office received a phone call from Alicia Maluafiti who was watching LoPresti’s floor speech and was furious with his remarks.
Maluafiti runs a nonprofit called Poi Dogs & Popoki (PDP), which seeks “to end the euthanasia of animals that fill our shelters on Oʻahu.” She took disagreement with LoPresti’s position.
“I could hear her screaming from the desk over—every word of it,” said Randy Gonce, a former LoPresti staffer who was in the room when Maluafiti called. “You can tell Matt to shut his f—king mouth; he doesn’t know what the f—k he’s talking about; I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure he never has a place in politics again.”
Maluafiti called LoPresti’s office a second time, after the first staffer hung up, and berated a second staff member who also hung up after a barrage of insults. Afterward, the staff sent an email to every one of the organizations that Maluafiti had lobbied for or worked with and told them that she would never be welcome in LoPresti’s office again.
One of those organizations was the Hawaiian Humane Society, which—according to Gonce—had a photo that featured Maluafiti on its website. LoPresti’s staff called to inquire about the photo, and the Humane Society disavowed Maluafiti. They promised to remove the photo.
On September 19, 2017, KITV had broken the news that Pamela Burns, president and CEO of the Hawaiian Humane Society, had passed away. Tagging Maluafiti in a Facebook post sharing the news story, Poi Dogs & Popoki Board Member Sabrina Dela Rama wrote a graphic comment celebrating her death.
Dela Rama is a frequent source of backup for Maluafiti in the numerous online arguments and tirades she has engaged in, some of which have been documented by members of the feline welfare group known as Cat People of Oahu (CPO). Another post Dela Rama shared celebrated the destruction of a fireworks market in Mexico, which exploded on December 20, 2016, killing and injuring dozens, including children. Sharing a CNN story, Dela Rama exclaimed “This is GREAT!!!!!” To which, Maluafiti commented in response, “awesome! idiots.”
Dela Rama is still a member of the board of PDP, according to 2018 lobbying records, along with Blake Oshiro, Ryan Yamane and Michelle Kidani (see page 8 of 15).
Maluafiti did not respond to any of the multiple attempts made by The Hawaii Independent to reach her for comment or interview.
In 2012, Maluafiti submitted a capital grant request of $45,000 to renovate a building for “Popoki Place” (which other feline advocates say they have never heard of). In the request, PDP states that it works to “prevent the need for rescue by helping owners, families and other loosely formed groups properly care for and keep the pets that they already have” by providing “owners with the necessary resources, information, and tools so that they can better address these challenges, become more informed pet owners, and avoid being placed in a situation in which they may surrender or lose their pet.”
PDP’s mission is to improve the quality of life of pets and their people and is based on the assumption that most people sincerely care about their pets but they just need a little help. A strong volunteer network has demonstrated a deep commitment to animal welfare and PDP’s mission and an active and engaged board of directors shares that commitment.
“Do they provide a needed service? Absolutely. They are effective at providing low cost spay and neuter and wellness services to the public, which helps reduce the overpopulation problem and high euthanasia rates,” said Alexis Jamison, a CPO administrator and former volunteer with PDP’s TNR program. “But they’ve had a ton of turn over since the end of 2017 and have had to cancel tons of clinics due to lack of staffing. So they’ve been fixing less animals than usual. They have to get volunteers [in order to TNR], but they’ve burned all their bridges.”
Under Poi Dogs & Popoki, Maluafiti operates two mobile veterinary vans called The Big Fix (for spay/neuter) and The Big Fix II (for wellness).
The members of Jamison’s Facebook group—which she moderates along with another group founder, Jessica James—are very active in rescuing stray kittens and cats, fostering and adopting out, and engaging in TNR to humanely reduce the feral cat population. Thus, many members utilize PDP/The Big Fix for services because they legitimately had the lowest cost spay/neuter and wellness services.
“And when you’re rescuing dozens of cats who need medical care, you need to keep your costs down,” said Jamison. “Alicia was very active in this group too, and supportive of our members. Alicia personally authorized us to bring in severely injured feral cats to be treated under her account at VCA Kapolei Animal Hospital. We had both been volunteering with her for many years.”
“I had volunteered with The Big Fix for years,” James said. “I truly believe that The Big Fix provides a vital service to the community and I loved volunteering there because I learned many things and enjoyed the company of other volunteers, the employees, and the animals.”
Jamison and James starting working more closely with Maluafiti when they volunteered to help PDP with the numerous dogs found at the Nimitz homeless camp during the city’s sweep in October, 2017.
“As I was helping there, I noticed some 100 cats that also needed help and approached Alicia about it,” said James. “She said that PDP would provide the vet care and get any non-adoptable cats into the sanctuary run by PDP.”
It was through this experience working on the Nimitz sweep project that Jamison and James decided to start the Facebook CPO Facebook group. Before too long, the group had more than 2,000 members. One of the group’s main goals is to help community cats, and part of that means educating others about the importance of spay and neuter, and listing affordable spay and neuter clinics. The Big Fix was one of those clinics.
“Not only were we advertising their services, but Alicia actually advised us to send community cats her way who needed help,” James explained. “So we were told that we were authorized to bring community cats into VCA Kapolei for treatment, and she would authorize charges, or if it was minor enough, we could get them to The Big Fix for treatment. Every single cat that was seen was approved by Alicia first. She said it was her way of helping people who were trying to help community cats, but couldn’t afford vet care. So members would post about sick or injured community cats and we would try our best to either fundraise as a group for vet care or get them into VCA Kapolei to be seen under the authorization of PDP. The goal was basically to work together to help alleviate the suffering of community cats.”
But that all ended this past summer. A CPO group member named Tammy Nichols had a negative experience with The Big Fix on May 10, 2018. Specifically, two feral cats she brought in for sterilization died during the operation. The surgeon was Dr. Richard “Jim” Brown, only recently licensed in Hawaiʻi on April 11. 2018.
“This is extremely rare,” said Jamison. “Spay and neuter is simple, quick, and routine.”
Because of this, Nichols asked Maluafiti which vet would be performing surgeries at the next clinic near her so she could opt to go with another low-cost sterilization provider and avoid that surgeon. The request seemed to upset Maluafiti, who insisted that Nichols would not be allowed to use the Big Fix any more.
“I am always polite and respectful to anyone,” Nichols told The Independent. “Alicia did help me with fixing some four-dozens feral cats, but her reaction to my simple request—asking if the same unlucky vet was going to do future surgeries—was met with an attack on me. She refused to answer my question and, even though she didn’t use the word ban, she told me to go elsewhere.”
What’s worse, Maluafiti told James that Dr. Brown had attempted to perform an unauthorized necropsy and left the bodies open instead of closing them. This meant that the bodies would need to be cremated, and Nichols would not get to bury them as she had wanted.
Nichols felt like she needed to tell others in the CPO group about her experience, which she did in a public Facebook post.
“Alicia was extremely upset that Jessica and I did not take [Nichols’ post] down,” said Jamison. “We don’t believe in censorship—we don’t even take down posts when people are insulting us. We let people express their negative opinions about any other animal related organization, so we are not going to take something down about PDP just because they helped us out.”
“Alicia will tell you that people ‘take take take’ and never give back, but I had volunteered for years with The Big Fix,” said James. “As a group, we [CPO] had fundraised for The Big Fix, gathered volunteers for them, advertised their services frequently, and spoke highly of them in many posts. We also shuffled donations over to PDP as they came in to help cover any vet costs associated with Alicia authorizing charges for community cats at VCA Kapolei. So we worked hard for anything and everything we received individually, or as a group, from Alicia.”
By the summer, Jamison and James had also been banned from PDP/The Big Fix services and Maluafiti told the other group members that if they continued to be members of Cat People of Oahu, they could not use PDP/The Big Fix services either.
Caitlyn Rought was one of the CPO members that ended up banned by Maluafiti. In June, Rought had sought out Maluafiti for help concerning a friendly, fixed adult cat named Boots that had been found dumped on base by her former military owners.
“Because we were leaving island soon too, I knew I couldn’t keep her even though I wanted to,” Rought recalled.
She contacted Maluafiti about the PDP kennels at PetSmart to see if Boots could be placed there. Rought was low on money, and Maluafiti generously offered to cover the costs of her vaccines, deflea, and deworm medicine. Boots went into the PDP kennels on June 9.
“I asked Alicia to be notified when applications came in so I could help pick out the best forever home for her, which she agreed to do.”
Boots shared the kennels with another tabby named Waimea. A family was interested in what they thought was Waimea, but was in fact Boots. PetSmart had mixed up the two cats and did not check Boots’ markings or scan for a chip. So Boots was adopted as Waimea, and Rought was never notified because of the mix-up. Boots ended up going to a new home without PDP knowing of the mistake.
Rought messaged Maluafiti about the mix-up to see if there was anything she could do to help, expecting that—at the very least—Maluafiti might offer condolences. Instead, Maluafiti told Rought to stop contacting her, and said that she could “thank Jessica” for the loss of PDP support.
True to form, Dela Rama immediately jumped on Facebook to blast both Rought and the CPO community, even tagging Jamison in the post.
Two weeks before Nichols had lost her cats, another CPO member named Iris Herrera had also lost a cat, and by the same veterinarian—Dr. Brown. This is statistically very rare. In about 4,200 surgeries, CatFriends lost only two cats in 2017.
“I talked to a former The Big Fix manager and she said in all her years—comprising of roughly 4,000 surgeries—she’d seen only lost one feral cat, and no pets,” said Jamison.
Days after the cat, named Lolita, passed away, Dr. Brown called Herrera to tell her that the cause of death for the cat had been heart failure due to an enlarged heart from a congenital heart disease.
“I reached out to a few people and considered putting in a complaint against the vet, but was advised to think of the consequences,” Herrera said. “This is when I found out, in a public forum, that there were several other cats, and at least one dog, that had been lost within the timeframe of a month, all to this same vet.”
“Alicia brought Dr. Jim over from the mainland and during his short tenure, he lost at least five animals from what vet techs have told me,” said Jamison.
While Dr. Brown is now no longer employed by PDP, Jamison and James strongly suggested that her affected members make Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA) complaints about Brown but, she says, they were scared they would no longer be allowed to use The Big Fix. They have now since either chosen not to use PDP anyway, or have been banned by Maluafiti.
Maluafiti holds one of the public positions on the Board of Veterinary Examiners. Nothing ever happened to hold Brown accountable and Maluafiti has never sincerely apologized to her former customers.
In addition to spay/neuter and wellness services, PDP holds three of the six kennels at PetSmart ʻIwilei and had been letting CPO members show their foster cats in those kennels to get more exposure and hopefully get them adopted.
“Banned CPO members are not allowed to do that either,” said Jamison. “So, generally, someone who vows to love and care for animals is actively preventing other people who rescue and care for animals from doing so as well as they could because she is denying us those services.”
Considering that PDP is subsidized by taxpayer dollars—the central issue at stake in the bill hearing that LoPresti spoke against—it is a fair question to ask whether Maluafiti can ethically ban community members from accessing the service over what amounts to a vendetta over a simple set of questions regarding the competence of the surgeon Maluafiti brought in from the mainland.
A PDP staffer also expressed concerns over the deaths of the cats under Brown’s care, and met severe retaliation for speaking out.
“I was [Maluafiti’s] lead surgical nurse on the rig for Poi Dogs & Popoki,” said Abbie Roman. “Despite conditions in the rig—100 degree temperatures with no A.C., for at least 12–15 hours a day; lugging a generator that weighed over 100 pounds to and from the rig; having my personal belongings thrown in the garbage out of spite because I left them on the front seat of the rig—I loved this job. I had finally gotten to do what I loved to do: help animals and people in need.”
While working for PDP, Roman assisted with surgeries, and answered house calls for pain, infection and anything else an animal needed. Then, her husband, who is in the armed services, received orders to station in California, so Roman put in her one-month notice. Maluafiti, who was unusually fond of Roman—according to both Roman and Jamison—threw the vet-tech a going away party and was told that if she needed a letter of recommendation, all she had to do was call.
“But before I left the island, I was approached by some of the rescue community people whom I trust and love,” Roman said. “They were concerned about operations on the rig that had resulted in multiple deaths. I voiced my concerns with Alicia, which made her furious. She proceeded to bash my name and reputation all over the Internet and tried blackballing me from my profession after I had moved to California.”
Roman’s current employer was notified and approached her about it. “Luckily he is an amazing doctor and realized that this was all out of hatred and that I’m an excellent nurse.” she said.
Meanwhile, Joy Lam worked as a technician for Maluafiti in PDP up until this summer. She recalls asking Maluafiti if PDP could run a wellness clinic at the Waiʻanae boat harbor for the houseless camp there. “She said that Twinkle Borge—the leader of the camp—doesn’t share her [Maluafiti’s] political views. Do dogs and cats have political views? Is there a clause in her grant proposals and nonprofit status that allows her to discriminate against people with opposing political views?”
Maluafiti, most prominently, has lobbied for the agrochemical industry in the past.
Lam says Maluafiti would routinely tell her staff not to take animals for spay/neuter and wellness from people that she had had disagreements with.
“She lost a lot of good doctors and techs due to her abusive behavior,” Lam said. “She’d verbally abuse her staff and clients, and would fire people or cause them so much grief and stress that they’d quit. She would withhold their pay for months.”
Lam says that Maluafiti and her current office manager are looking for a new surgeon for spay and neuter. “They asked us to lie and tell all potential hires that Maluafiti has nothing to do with PDP since she’s burned so many bridges and they probably wouldn’t want to work with us.”
Over the summer, Lam was struck by a car. With severe injuries, Lam knew couldn’t work, so she let Maluafiti know.
“She called me and left a voicemail saying that if I didn’t call her back she’d have to let me go,” said Lam. “I texted her back saying that I was on pain meds with a fractured leg and bruised ribs and could barely breathe, and I would call her as soon as I could. She texted back saying, ‘you can text but you can’t talk on the phone?’ So she fired me via a second voicemail. This was July 7, 2018. She still hasn’t paid me.”
The Big Fix Is In
Maluafiti owns two adjacent properties in ʻEwa Beach, one fronting Ft. Weaver Road, and one on ʻEwa Beach Road. She lives alone in one of the units, while the second holds both a cattery of roughly 150 cats (by Maluafiti’s own count) and a revolving cast of tenants that are often times offered lower rent in exchange for caring for the numerous felines and the more than 10 dogs on the property. Her elderly parents lived with her for awhile, before she sent them to be with her brother on the mainland. She is divorced with no children (though campaign materials, including her website, seem to indicate that she has experience raising a family and putting children through school).
Multiple neighbors have complained about the smell coming from the cattery unit. Although Maluafiti does have the unit cleaned regularly, the smell persists, according to neighbors.
“I live next door to Alicia and have complained to various city and state departments about the smell and the multiple makeshift kennels which house more than 70 cats at a time, and around 10 dogs in her property,” said ʻEwa Beach resident Sandra Javar. “We have gone to court over shooting our pellet gun to scare away the birds, which she attracts every feeding time, and subsequently poop all over our home, cars and yard. The city, including HPD and the mayor’s office, has done nothing to help us.”
The kennels are pictured below:
Javar continued, “We recently called them to stop PDP trucks from doing business right there in Fort Weaver Rd., but were told by HPD that they cannot stop them because she is parked on the federal property—five feet outside the fence of the old Tsunami Warning Center.”
Pictured below, The Big Fix parked on federal land:
Javar says that Hawaii News Now (HNN)‘s Ashley Nagaoka came out and interviewed her but, as of publication of this story, HNN has yet to produce any story on the situation.
“Sadly, the animals she is personally responsible for are also in very bad shape,” said Jamison. “In her cattery, many of the cats are sick and do not receive medical care.”
“While it’s understandable that a rescue group would be prone to acquiring sick animals, or dealing with animals who get sick in their care, these circumstances dictate that the animals see a vet whenever possible,” said James. “The concern is that this is not happening.”
However, even worse is the property she owns in Nanakuli, which houses some 400–500 cats, again, by Maluafiti’s own count.
“She has an old man who cares for them, and she admits he does a terrible job at it and is only capable of feeding and watering them,” Jamison continued. “Some are being eaten alive by flies, living in filth, and many are sick and in dire need of veterinary care but they do not receive it. This is the antithesis of what someone who runs an animal welfare organization should be doing. It’s effectively animal cruelty.”
Lam says that Maluafiti accepted $10,000 from a realtor to trap and neuter about 18 feral cats and have them live at the Nanakuli property. Jamison says she has accepted money from several others in exchange for taking in feral cats at this property as well.
“When the realtor saw the sanctuary and the conditions that the cats would live in, she asked if Alicia would use some of the money to improve the living area at the sanctuary,” said Lam. “Alicia yelled at her and hung up. The realtor had no choice but to go along with the deal as there is no other place on the island that can take that number of cats.”
With her access to veterinary staff for The Big Fix and other veterinary connections, Jamison says there is no reason they should be living like that. “Sadly, we put a lot of cats there after the Nimitz Camp sweep,” she said. We thought they were going to live somewhere better and safer, but we were wrong.”
Public court records show an array of cases brought against Maluafiti, including a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) granted on January 10, 2011; a complaint for possession/landlord-tenant damages for $6,000; a complaint filed by what appear to be former tenants for summary possession and damages; a successful suit brought against Maluafiti and her nonprofit by a PDP customer whose dog was struck by a car while in the car of PDP for $2,500 (half of what the plaintiff sued for) plus court costs and fees; and what appears to be a dispute over a petition for appointment of successor trustee between Maluafiti and a Linda Leon (the plaintiff in the $6,000 damages case as well).
“The worst thing is that she was initially trusted by people in the animal rescue community,” said Jamison. “So, foolishly, when we were told that Rep. LoPresti is a cat-hater who was attacking [Maluafiti], we believed it and attacked him inappropriately. I have even personally apologized to LoPresti since then.”
“I still haven’t gotten the ashes of the two cats I lost under [Maluafiti’s] care,” said Nichols. “I never asked them to be cremated. I just wanted them to be buried at my property. I tried very hard to save cats, and my efforts were mocked. I don’t have confidence in her to serve in public office. We all make mistakes, but her indifference to us was unacceptable.”
“In my opinion, there are many reasons that Alicia Maluafiti is unfit to run a nonprofit, let alone hold public office,” said Jamison. “She is incredibly aggressive, is prone to outbursts, openly tells lies, and has ultimately worked against her mission to help animals by engaging in vendettas with others in the animal rescue community. I have had numerous CPO members tell me that they thought what she was doing was wrong, but that they were scared to speak up because they were afraid of being banned or experiencing some other form of retaliation. That is what she does: she uses scare tactics to keep people quiet so she can keep on doing what she is doing the way she is doing, even if her actions are unethical or legally questionable.”
“[Maluafiti] not only tried to hurt my career, but she’s taking away from the community that is in need of these services all because they have a different opinion than her,” said Roman. “Can you imagine what would happen if she was in charge of anything government wise? I want to come forward and tell my story to anyone that will listen. I’m no longer staying silent.”
“From what I understand, Alicia is crippling the very people that she is claiming to help and receiving donations and public funding for it,” said Herrera. “Alicia is using her nonprofit organization’s benefits as leverage over people. Many of us go out and do so much for the cat community and I never once expected her to cripple us the way she did because we voiced our opinions. I’ve heard of multiple accounts of PDP behaving in a less that charitable or ethical manner. She has run the organization into the ground. Her hunger for power and using that power in unethical ways is scary. Alicia does not belong in politics in any way shape or form.”
Said James, “Yes, her organization has helped many people with their animals, but we must separate Alicia from The Big Fix and the wonderful services it has provided to the community, and stop excusing her horrible behavior just because she helps animals.”