Winter 2010 Newsletter

New Cat House at
Animal Humane New Mexico

By Nancy Marano

The dream is a reality. Cats awaiting adoption at Animal Humane I New Mexico (AHNM) are now housed in a brand new 1,200 square foot, indoor/outdoor facility where they are free to climb, explore, go outside or meet prospective adopters. The objective of the new design is to offer a natural colony living environment for cats and a better experience for potential adopters to view and meet the cats. The grand opening of the Robbie Jones Memorial Cat House, named for the donor's mother, was celebrated September 25-27.

The new cat house is part of AHNM's Year of the Cat campaign. Special attention is being given to cats in order to increase adoptions and decrease the number of euthanasias. Shelters realize finding homes for cats is more difficult than finding homes for dogs. This may be due to the way people adopt cats and because cats don't show up well in a shelter environment.

Most shelter dogs tend to market themselves to potential adopters. They come to the front of their kennel, they bark, they lick your hand or bring you a toy. They are generally cute and eager. When you want to get to know the dog, you snap on a leash and he's ready to go for a walk with you or play with you in the bonding room.

Cats are more reserved. When cats are put in a cage, most withdraw to the back of the cage and shut down. They close their eyes, draw in their paws and pretend they are anywhere but where they are. If an adopter wants to visit with a cat, a volunteer reaches into the cage, grabs the cat and carries it into the bonding area. Only the most gregarious, self-confident cats respond well to this treatment or come to the front of the cage to rub against a visitor's hand.

"People don't go out of their way to go to a shelter to adopt a cat," says Peggy Weigle, AHNM's Executive Director. "Cats show up in people's yards or the person is given a cat by a relative or friend. Then the person allows the cat to stay."

To put cats in front of people so they think about adopting them, AHNM instituted a program called Cats Around Town. The shelter partners with businesses in the Albuquerque area. The business sets up a cat condo and houses a cat for adoption. Some of the partners are Celebro Natural Living, NM Parent & Child, Peacecraft Gifts and Books, Jack and Rascals, VCA Adobe, VCA West Mesa, VCA Montgomery and the Wild Bird Center in Corrales. People who come into the store or veterinary office for something else see a wonderful cat waiting to go home with them. So far over 85 cats have been adopted through this program and AHNM is looking for more participating partners.

"We shamelessly copied this program from the Erie County SPCA in Buffalo, NY. We also used their idea for a program we call Bernco Blitz. This program provides free spaying for any female cat less than one year of age. The idea is that a female cat usually produces at least 3-4 litters in their lifetime. If we can spay them early, we avoid the problem of unwanted kittens," Weigle said.

This program takes persistence and commitment. "After seven years, Buffalo reached the point where there wasn't one healthy, shelter cat euthanized in the whole system. They accomplished this by spaying 1500 cats more each year than they usually did," Weigle said. "We hope to achieve similar results here."

When the idea for a new cat house was agreed to, "We asked for ideas from various architects and selected three firms," said Weigle. Two, Mullen Heller Architecture PC and Fanning Bard Tatum Associates AIA, Ltd. are local firms who have experience working with animal organizations. The third firm is Packlick/Lagueux in San Francisco.

Each of the four rooms in the new facility will house five cats. The cats chosen for this facility will be ones who get along easily with other cats. All the rooms feature bright colors with cheerful designs to create a friendly atmosphere for people and felines. The rooms are multi-leveled for climbing with individual cubicles in which cats can play or sleep. Feeding and litter stations fit the décor of the room. Each room has a door leading to a fenced-in outer room so the cats can go outside. Inside and outside spaces are 10 X 12 feet.

The room designed by Mullen-Heller is called "Pish-Posh in the Park." Its main feature is a cat tree along one wall and a bright green floor. The tree branches out over the entire wall and has cat perches at various levels so cats can sit in the tree. "Tres Chats," designed by Tatum Bard features an entire wall of cat pictures. It, too, has multilevel spaces to enable climbing. Two rooms designed by Packlick/Legueux are called "Check Mate" because of their chess theme. The floor is divided into chess board squares with a color scheme of red, purple and mango. There are large cubes for kitty comfort while visitor seating and the food and litter stations are shaped like chess pieces. All the signage in the cat house is done by local, ceramic artist, Pumpkin Cary. Her hand-painted, animal-themed tiles are featured in many Albuquerque stores. A sound system throughout the cat house plays classical music to calm any frayed feline nerves.

Everything in these rooms is designed to invite the visitor to watch the cats play and live in a homey habitat. The cats are relaxed and show better for potential adopters. AHNM hopes that when people see happier cats, they will want to adopt them.

"We know the cats will remain healthier if they are less stressed. This is the state of the art way to house cats." Weigle said. "We patterned it after the cat house at Best Friends Sanctuary in Utah."

The cat house is self-contained. It has its own washer and dryer and local food preparation area. There is a full security wall around the building. The wall will have space for memorials to people's animals. "It's as if we are building a sanctuary park where visitors can sit on the benches and watch cats play in the outside facility," said Weigle.

Weigle believes the new cat house has some wonderful features. During the day cats can go in and out at will. They will be inside at night. There is more space in which they can live and move. And it is a good environment for adopters to hang out with the cats. "They will get a better picture of each cat's temperament so I think we'll see increased adoptions," she said.

Instead of using the new facility to increase the number of cats AHNM takes in, the capacity will be kept the same. Cages will be removed from the old cattery to provide more space. Current double-decker cages will have a hole cut between the layers so cats will have space to go to the cage on the top layer as well. They will have their own loft.

Albuquerque cat lovers stepped up to the challenge of a capital campaign to fund building of the cat house. The original donation from the Robbie Jones Welfare Fund was used in a matching fund campaign. Extra money raised during the campaign will be used to maintain the house.

All of these improvements should lead to happier cats and increased adoptions. Go to AHNM to look at the new cat house. Perhaps you'll leave with a new forever friend.

Nancy Marano is an award-winning author who is owned by two cats, Sammy and Rocky, and a Westie named Maggie May.

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