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The "101" Department: Helping Cats Find Their Happy Place

Towering trees, designer digs—and more modest efforts, too—showcase kitties and please people

  • Volunteer Lucy Taylor watches a cat descend a custom-made, floor-to-ceiling climbing structure in the big playroom of Bow Valley SPCA in Canmore, Alberta. Cats at the shelter enjoy spaces that are clean, bright, and stimulating—qualities that appeal to potential adopters, too. Joseph Potts/Bow Valley SPCA

Towering over visitors’ heads, the tree has become quite an attraction, visible even from the road, turning the heads of drivers who pass the Angels for Animals shelter in Canfield, Ohio.

“We’ve had all kinds of questions about it. People [who see it] have asked me if we have primates,” says Diane Less, who co-founded Angels for Animals in 1990.

It’s a reasonable question: The large room that holds the tree is the key attraction in the shelter’s 13,500-square-foot, $3.5 million Lariccia Animal Center. At 24 feet tall, the tree is constructed of steel pipes, plywood, and artificial grass, and wrapped with durable, black plastic netting that makes the trunk and branches climbable. The branches terminate in big, green pads that are perfect for high-altitude lounging. And at first glance, the room does bear some resemblance to those that zoos set up to house monkeys.

But the tree is orangutan- and chimp-free. Instead, it serves as the centerpiece of the main cat colony space at the shelter—and on any given day, it’s the high-altitude hangout for between 30 and 40 cats waiting for homes.

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