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Getting bigger all the time

Making space for Colorado kitties

From Animal Sheltering magazine July/August 2013

Along with other cat-vocates, Theresa Geary, vice president of operations for the Dumb Friends League (DFL) in Denver, had pushed for bigger kennels to accommodate the increased number of larger cats in animal shelters.

The average cat used to weigh 7-8 pounds, Geary says. But—as it is for many Americans—that number is trending upward for cats; many now weigh 10 pounds or more. And space is especially important for kitties, who usually don’t leave their cages as regularly as dogs do and tend to have longer shelter stays.

So Geary couldn’t have been happier in 2010 when the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s licensing and inspection program amended its minimum space requirements for shelter cats, increasing them by 2 square feet.

Over the past two years, Geary has worked with other DFL staff to design a new type of kennel to give cats the space they need, replacing smaller intake kennels at the DFL’s Quebec Street and Buddy Center shelters. The most important times for cats not to be stressed out are during the intake process and when they first arrive, Geary says. By the time the cats get to the adoption kennels, they’re more relaxed, show better, and have a better chance of finding a new home.

In order to exceed the square footage requirements in Colorado’s Pet Animal Care Facilities Act (PACFA) without significantly reducing the shelter’s number of cat cages, Geary added another bank of cat kennels. “We had to go up [to] a third story, which we knew is hard for the staff, but we all agreed that it was more important for the cats to have that kind of space,” says Geary.Instead of a porthole—which didn’t make kennels seem bigger or more open—the new kennels have a single-panel divider that, when removed, creates a space that’s a little more than 11 square feet. That’s just one cat-friendly feature of the new kennels. Another is that the top half of the kennel gate has horizontal rather than vertical bars to give cats a better view of their surroundings.

Cats who would rather hide can do so behind a 10-inch-tall, frosted-glass panel at the bottom of the gate. “We’ve noticed that cats are [behind the glass] for several days, usually low, and then they start to come up on the shelf and peek up and start engaging us, but we’re not forcing them to engage us constantly or bothering them constantly,” says Geary.

A slight alteration to the third-story kennels, a 1½-inch clear strip of glass at the bottom of the frosted glass, allows opening and closing managers to see that each cat is OK, and has food and water, without having to climb ladders to peer into the kennels. A clear glass window about a quarter of the way down the kennel’s back wall lets in a little more light, and gives the cat another view, even if it’s only of another wall.

The kennels have wraparound perches that are wider than usual, so that a cat can sit up underneath; a feral cat box also fits beneath them. So as not to frighten the cats, the gate has latches that open and shut quietly.

Anecdotally, Geary says, both shelters have seen a reduction in upper respiratory disease since the installation of the new kennels. “We have not run numbers on this yet, but for sure the cats are quieter and more relaxed.”

Though Geary wants cats to stay fewer days, many actually stay longer, because the shelters are doing more medical and behavioral work. “I think that our intention was not to decrease the length of stay necessarily,” says Geary. “It was to make sure that the stay they had was the most comfortable, relaxed it could be for a cat being in a shelter.”

About the Author

Nancy Peterson is the former Community Cats Program Manager for the Humane Society of the United States.