Here is an advance look at a guest column by Robin Cutson running in tomorrow's Chapel Hill News:
The new Orange County Animal Shelter off Eubanks Road cost $9 million and just opened in 2009. Unfortunately the single cages for cats don’t meet the space requirements for humane sheltering even for a shelter planning to hold cats only two to three weeks before euthanizing. (See the Association of Shelter Veterinarians “Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters” and the Cat Housing Recommendations from the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program).
The new facility has a huge lobby with skylights, a cathedral ceiling, a sitting area, art sculptures, and lots of pretty blond wood for people to enjoy. But the massive lobby is merely wasted space because people don’t congregate in the lobby; they congregate in the rooms where the animals are. Meanwhile the majority of cats are in horribly small cages with no toys or enrichment items.
The only time adult cats in these single cages get to walk more than a few inches is if a volunteer or someone interested in adopting them takes them to a “meet and greet” room. Most of the time the adult cats stay in their small wood and glass cages, alone, slowly losing their minds from misery and boredom until they are either adopted or euthanized. Cats left in tiny cages tend to become unadoptable due to “behavior” issues. In 2010 in the month of September alone, 123 cats were euthanized.
There are some larger enclosures primarily used for cats that come in with kittens (called cat colony cages or family cages) but even these aren’t great because most of the space is vertical (small floor area very tall glass enclosure) and most of these rooms do not have anything for the cats to climb on to make use of that “vertical” space.
So what can be done?
One. Become a volunteer and demand that your time be spent petting and playing with the cats and not cleaning. Currently, all volunteers are required to do cleaning to help the paid staff.
Two: Demand the shelter institute a policy whereby the cats in single cages must be granted at least an hour out of those small cages for petting and playing in a larger room and demand the small cages contain rotated enrichment items.
Three: Contact the shelter’s Board of Directors and the County Commissioners and demand the wasted space in the lobby be reworked to include at least one large area for housing eight to ten adult cats where they can walk, climb, play and interact with other cats and people. Offer to raise donations or volunteer labor to construct this room.
Four: Demand that the family/colony cages include something immediately to make use of the wasted vertical space. At the no-kill shelter Paws4Ever they use inexpensive and easily disinfected plastic stackable boxes/crates with holes that the cats climb, play on and sleep in. Waiting until the shelter can afford more attractive and expensive “designer” furniture is unacceptable.
Five: Push for the shelter to be open on Sunday and closed some other weekday. Working folks and families have more time on weekends to visit the shelter when thinking of adopting or looking for a lost pet. Six: Don’t take “no” or excuses as an answer. This is your community shelter and the cats need your help.
Robin Cutson can be reached at email@example.com.