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San Nicolas Island Cats Update: Hamilton and Willow

The Humane Society of the United States

  • Willow is now enjoying her forever home. The HSUS.

  • Hamilton hangs out in "feral cat paradise" at the Ramona Wildlife Center. The HSUS

The following are updates on some of the cats rescued from San Nicolas Island. On Sept. 23, 15 cats were introduced to their large new habitat, built thanks to the generosity of DoGreatGood.com.

Willow's story

Hamilton's story



Willow was always a special kitten. During the feral cat trapping on San Nicolas Island, Willow's mom was one of just three pregnant cats captured. Thanks to the generosity of DoGreatGood.com, Willow was just six weeks old when she and other cats were flown off the island and arrived at the Fund for Animals Wildlife Care Center in Ramona, Calif.

Tiny, but plucky

Willow weighed just 1.5 pounds, the smallest of all of the San Nicolas Island kittens. When she and the other kittens were together, Willow loved to play. Unlike the other kittens, she needed to nap more frequently. It turned out that Willow had a heart murmur.

Willow's veterinarian sent her to a specialist who diagnosed her with Patent Ductus Arteriosis, a heart condition that can be corrected with surgery.

Successful surgery

The excellent veterinary team treating tiny Willow was successful in correcting her PDA and eliminating her heart murmur. Willow was able to go home to the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center the next day.

Finding a forever home

A couple of potential adopters (one a biologist who had worked on San Nicolas Island for 20 years) visited the cats. The couple already had three cats at home, but they were looking for a new kitten.

After visiting with all of the San Nicolas Island kittens, the choice was clear—it was Willow. Her tough start in life was finally over, and her life with a new family was just beginning.

Special thanks to Dr. Orvahalo, Dr. Pike, Dr. Soares, Dr. Diaz, and everyone who gave Willow the great life that she deserves.


by Kimberly D'Amico, an animal technician at the Fund For Animals Wildlife Center.

Feeding time with the San Nicolas Island cats has become a bonding experience for me and the cats—especially a cat named Hamilton. This orange tabby always manages to surprise me.

During Hamilton's early days at The Ramona Wildlife Center, I would pet him during his meals in an effort to socialize him. He'd look up to me as if to say, "Lady, as long as the food is here, you may pet me all you want." But when his meal was finished, he was done with me and he'd retreat to his carrier.

Once or twice I tried to pet Hamilton without his face buried in a dish of food and he immediately swatted at my hand and gave me a displeased look. He was setting his boundaries, and I was happy to oblige our unspoken agreement.

Feral cat paradise

Since the days of being in the kitty condo, Hamilton has been moved to a feral cat paradise outside, complete with trees, rocks, comfy cat beds, an endless supply of cat food, and, of course, his newfound feline friends. He spends his days lolling about in the California sunshine, playing with toys, and enjoying his afternoon snack amongst friends.

Donate to The HSUS' Community Cat Program Fund to help the San Nicolas Island cats.

I usually show up in the afternoon like a free pizza-delivery service, providing food to the cats. Whenever I enter Hamilton's section of the habitat, he is always quick to greet me. As he is my best customer, I always serve Hamilton his plate of food first.

A friendly gesture

One recent day, while sitting with the cats, I watched as Hamilton finished eating and began walking circles around me while flicking his tail in my direction as he passed by. Until now, I hadn’t seen such an outwardly friendly gesture from Hamilton, so imagine my surprise when he stopped right in front of me and sat down. Looking right at me, he blinked his beautiful yellow eyes and as I reached out a hand to pet him, he crawled right into my lap.

I began petting him softly, while I quietly spoke to him and he looked up at me and meowed. As far as I could tell he was enjoying the experience, though my heart was racing because at any moment I was expecting him to turn and swat me.

Instead, he pushed his head into my hands asking me to scratch his ears. The purring that came out of this cat was unbelievable; I could feel his whole body reverberating in my lap. 

After about 20 minutes of this, I wanted to end our session on a good note. I gently nudged Hamilton to move from my lap as I stood up. He obliged, but stood at my feet. I reached down to pet him and he was still purring. I asked, “Do you want me to pick you up, little man?” He didn’t answer, but maintained his position. As I reached down to pick him up, he went limp in my hands. I brought him to my shoulder and his purring continued. I felt his head push to my head as he meowed into my ear.


It was getting dark outside and it was time for me to go, so I carried Hamilton over to his favorite tree. As I set him down on one of the branches I said, "Thank you, Mr. Hamilton." Then he flicked his tail, hissed at me, and climbed up higher into the tree.

This session with Hamilton served as a reminder: even though the cats from San Nicolas Island have unique beginnings, they're still typical cats.

How you can help

If you would like to help us care for Hamilton and his friends, please make a secure donation online, send a check to The HSUS at 1255 23rd Street, NW, Suite 450, Washington, DC 20037 (write "San Nicolas Island Cat Program" in the check's memo line), or call 202-452-1100.

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