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February 27, 2013

Adoption centers are dedicating free-roaming spaces to their feline guests

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

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The cats-only room allows adoptable felines to roam free with each other and adopters, making the experience more pleasant for the cats as well as potential pet parents.

Sorry, pups. Thanks to a recent influx of kitty sanctuaries, metro Detroit seems to be going to the cats.

Earlier this month, the Oakland Pet Adoption Center, part of the Oakland County Animal Shelter, announced that it will expand its facility to include a “cat retreat,” designed to keep adoptable felines separate from other animals in the shelter. According to Oakland County Animal Control Manager Bob Gatt, the move was a result of data suggesting that separating dogs and cats could potentially increase feline save-rates at the shelter.

“My biggest priority is improving our save-rate,” said Gatt in a prepared statement. According to the shelter, OPAC’s save-rate is currently 71 percent for dogs and 60 percent for cats, which the shelter claims is the highest in the state for publicly funded shelters with intakes of more than 5,000 animals.

The retreat was Gatt’s idea. He took the helm at OPAC earlier this year and said he thought separating the cats from the rest of the shelter’s population was the best option after consulting with OPAC’s veterinary staff.

The new retreat will, in theory, decrease the transmission of illness and stress inflicted on the cats, improving their chances for a longer, healthier future.

“Cats are more susceptible to illness in the shelter because a stressful, noisy environment weakens their immune system, targeting them for upper-respiratory infections. These infections are highly contagious and difficult to control, once they spread,” said OPAC Administrative Supervisor Joanie Toole in the statement.

The cat retreat, which will be housed on the shelter’s lower level, is currently under renovations to include a surgical suite, adoption center and stray-cat holding area.

“It will take some time to make the area what we want. I wanted to do this the right way and will continue working proactively to save more lives,” said Gatt in the statement. 

In addition to helping save the lives of homeless cats, the cat retreat could make adopting cats a more pleasurable experience for both the felines and potential adopters. Just ask Addy Shattuck, owner of several local Pet Supplies Plus stores. In 2011, Shattuck built a “Kitty City” inside her Bloomfield Hills store: a free-roaming adoption center where cats mix and mingle in a playroom, rather than being confined by cages. Shattuck said the “City” prompted a surge in the store’s cat adoption rates.

“It’s because people can get personal with the cats and hold them and cuddle them and see who they match up with,” said Shattuck. “Usually, when a cat is in a cage, they’re afraid. They can’t really be who they really are. In Kitty City, people who are interested in adopting can just walk in and pet them and see what their true personalities are.”

The Kitty City is an enclosed room to keep cats separate from the retail floor, but it gives cats plenty of space to jump around and play in a sunlit room, complete with miniature couches and sparkling chandeliers. The results of the first “City” were so successful that, last summer, Shattuck added one to her store in White Lake.

“They’re so much happier, and they remain healthier because they’re not so stressed. They can just relax and sleep or whatever,” said Shattuck.

A similar cats-only area is on the agenda for new Macomb County Animal Care and Control Manager Jeffery Randazzo. Just weeks into the job, Randazzo said he’s already made some changes to the shelter’s cat adoption policies, and he’s not stopping there.

“Right now, we have the cat adoption area, which is more quiet than other areas. We have an acquaintance room, where we try to match the adopter in a quiet, isolated room,” he said. “We have wonderful volunteers that make toys for them to provide enrichment in their cage. But we want to set up a cat room where the adult cats can be free-roaming in this area.”

Randazzo said that, as of right now, a major hurdle in giving cats their own room at the shelter is a lack of space. He said he hopes, though, that with a little tweaking and plenty of help from volunteers, the shelter can become a safe and comfortable haven for all types of animals.

“We’re definitely looking for volunteers, and they can sign up through the county website. We definitely want people that want to walk with dogs, clean cages, hold cats, whatever they want to do.”

For more information on the Macomb County Animal Shelter, visit www.macombcountymi.gov/animalshelter. Visit the Oakland Pet Adoption Center online at www.oak gov.com/petadoption and Pet Supplies Plus at www.PetSuppliesPlus.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.