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Does that tabby come in a size 8?

From Animal Sheltering magazine September/October 2016

This grey tabby didn’t stick around for long—the woman who brought her to the Arizona Humane Society as a stray decided to make her a permanent family member.

Allison Summerday’s living room and car are full of shoeboxes, but the Arizona Humane Society (AHS) volunteer couldn’t care less about Jimmy Choos. In November 2014, a fellow volunteer brought a single shoebox into the shelter. “I thought, ‘We need shoeboxes for every kitten and cat!’” says Summerday. “I just sort of went on overdrive.”

Summerday approached several shoe stores and explained her mission. Although not one shoe store turned her away, she now works with just one, Wholesale Fashion Shoes, which was “the most jazzed about it,” she says.

Shoppers often want to wear newly purchased shoes out of the store, says Summerday. For the past year and a half, store employees have saved the leftover shoeboxes once destined for the dumpster—from children’s shoeboxes for kittens to larger hiking shoeboxes for bigger cats—and asked nothing in return (although AHS acknowledges the store in its newsletter and during its weekly TV spot).

Summerday drives to the Phoenix store on Mondays and picks up anywhere from 30 to 150 boxes for distribution between AHS’s two campuses. AHS has “easily” 500 cats most months, says Liz Truitt, feline welfare specialist, but that number can spike to 1,000 during kitten season.

“If they have to move through the shelter, the box will move with them, so they have something that’s theirs even though the kennel’s different. It gives them that sense of safety and security,” says Summerday.

In addition to the elevated platform and scratch pad inside most kennels, cats can climb on, play with, sleep and hide inside the sturdy boxes, and staffers sometimes add toys or pieces of flannel they call “cozies.” Cats occasionally try to snack on the boxes, so Summerday is careful to check each box for warning labels.

“We’ve toyed with a few different methods [of enrichment],” says Truitt, “but the boxes they really seem to hit on, and they worked out really well for staff, too, so it’s a win-win for cleaning and for being able to monitor the cats and still see them even while they’re hiding.”

The boxes don’t hurt the cats’ adoption prospects, either, especially when kittens snuggle together in one box or a cat is slightly too big for his box. “It turned out to be a draw for people,” says Truitt. “It’s adorable to see a cat all curled up in a box.”

About the Author

Bethany Wynn Adams is a senior editor at Animal Sheltering, a quarterly magazine for anyone who cares about the health and happiness of animals and their people, and From tales of shelter mascots to guidance on backyard chickens, Bethany works with experts from across the country and within the Humane Society of the United States to bring wide-ranging, engaging print and web news to the animal welfare community. Winner of the Cat Writers' Association's MUSE Medallion and finalist in the 2019 Content Marketing World and 2018 Eddie & Ozzie Folio awards, she lives in Maryland with her husband and two naughty rescue dogs.