A LITTLE PIECE OF KITTY HEAVEN
Text and photos by Nancy Marano
Catzilla snoozes on the carpeted bench, his head resting on a pillow. Magic hides in the bottom of the furry covered boat. Ming sits in front of the window watching the people in the store and Mackensie perches on the highest catwalk near the ceiling. Just another day in Kitty City.
Kitty City, located in Clark's Pet Supply in Albuquerque and run by PACA/AAR, The People's Anti-Cruelty Association / Albuquerque Animal Rescue, is the only cageless adoption center in New Mexico. This unique concept definitely was an idea ready to happen. It's a success for everyone involved, but particularly for the cats.
Seventy-five cats were adopted between December 2, 2000, when Kitty City opened, and March 30, 2001. Sixty-six of them were adult cats, many from Animal Services Division, better known as animal control, where a cat's life expectancy is measured in days or hours.
The beauty of Kitty City is that the cats live there day and night in an environment that allows each cat's true personality to blossom. An adult cat sitting in a cage is not happy or personable. Often it's unresponsive, aggressive or just plain hostile. At Kitty City the exact opposite is true. Prospective adopters see that, contrary to many reports, cats are social animals. They enjoy being together, playing together, and doing that most catlike of activities, napping together. If you go into Kitty City and sit down for a few minutes, you're likely to have cats crawling all over your lap or rubbing your leg.
Jane Long, PACA/AAR president, says, "I heard of this new way of showing cats at a no-kill conference I attended. It was usually done in shelters and everyone swore it was an unbelievable success because the adoption numbers soared. The cats were more comfortable and showed better. I came home all excited."
Jane tried to sell the idea to anyone who would listen hoping to find a space to try it. The shelters had no room, and the retail stores wouldn't even consider giving up space for it.
"I offered it to Aaron Clark because we already had cats in his store. I told him PACA would manage it, bring in the cats and take care of them. At the time he didn't have the space, but it sowed the seed in his mind," Jane said.
When Aaron bought a second store, he decided to try the cageless idea. "PACA did most of the work. We just gave them the space. I used to sell puppies. I finally stopped doing that because the puppies weren't healthy or were abused in delivery. I received such a positive response from the community when I stopped selling dogs, that it made me receptive to the idea of putting rescued animals in my store," Aaron said.
PACA volunteers did most of the construction and all the painting, wiring and decorating for the new space. Rows of bricks painted around the top half of the room contain the names of cats adopted from Kitty City. Volunteers built various levels of catwalks, climbing trees, and kitty houses from floor to ceiling. If a cat, like Mackensie, prefers to stay above the fray, she can. A carpeted bench runs the length of the room to provide seating and cat napping space. Arches cut in the bottom of the bench hide litter boxes, and an exhaust fan, for kitty privacy.
Myrtice Scabarozi, a PACA volunteer, comes every morning to clean up, feed, and check on the cats. "Kitty City makes a big difference," Myrtice said. "We have regular visitors who come every week to see which cats have been adopted and who is new. If the cats are out in cages, they're upset. In here they're home."
Aaron has seen a sharp increase in his business since Kitty City opened. "I think it's important to have animals in pet stores. This is a way to do that and provide a service to the community at the same time," Aaron said. "If someone asked me what I did five years ago, I was almost ashamed to tell them because there was such bad publicity. I tried to do it differently even then, but now we're doing it very differently. Now I'm not ashamed to tell anyone what I do."
The true winners in this experiment are the cats who have the chance to live in Kitty City. No more than 12 cats live there at any one time and cats under the age of seven months are not allowed. Juvenile cats simply haven't learned cat etiquette yet and agitate the older cats.
"The public loves this. Some people say they don't know how we ever adopt any cats from Kitty City because all the cats look so happy," Jane said.
Visit Kitty City at Clark's Pet Supply, 11200 Menaul Blvd. NE, Albuquerque.
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