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Technically, Becky Garcia is a receptionist at the Doña Ana County Government Center in New Mexico. But she recently described herself to a CBS News reporter as the “madam of the cathouse.”
Garcia is keeper of the government center’s Kitty Condo, which sparked international interest and its own “CBS Evening News” segment in June 2015.
Four years ago, the Doña Ana County Special Projects Office and the Animal Service Center of the Mesilla Valley partnered to end the euthanasia of healthy shelter animals within seven years.
Calling it the “zero in seven” campaign, they aimed to increase exposure for shelter cats by placing a Kitty Condo inside the government center. Government employees “check out” kittens for 20-minute intervals, bringing the cats into offices or cubes where they, admittedly, stifle productivity.
The enclosure has been significantly expanded since 2012, thanks to donations from Kitty Condo fans. It now includes a chair where potential adopters can get up close and personal with the kittens.
In 2015, the project captured the public’s imagination when a county employee posted a picture of the condo to Reddit, a link-sharing site, and it was featured as a “kitten lending library” on countless news outlets and blogs.
“You should be jealous of these workers in New Mexico,” stated Buzzfeed, while The Huffington Post U.K. breathlessly reported, “We’ve officially found the best thing since sliced bread. I mean, seriously, OMG.”
Jess Williams, Doña Ana County public information officer and president of the animal shelter board, is a little more matter-of-fact. “It helps socialize the cats,” he says, “and it makes for a fun work environment.”
Beyond the major cute factor, the program is saving lives: Many of the kittens are not weaned or are considered semi-feral, and two separate litters had FIV-positive mommas and had to be separated from other cats until they were old enough for testing. Williams says these time- and resource-intensive kittens would likely have been euthanized at the shelter but could receive socialization and care at the condo.
People with allergies need not fear—the condo is situated in the corner of the center’s large lobby, and all visitors must sanitize their hands before and after making a social call.
Most kittens stay overnight at the condo, but singleton kittens whose siblings have been adopted can go home overnight with approved volunteers for some extra TLC. Entire litters, plus mom, go home with volunteers during weekends and holidays.
Garcia initially had employees sign a waiver to host kitten sleepovers but found it redundant in a building of trusted employees and cat lovers. In fact, an informal Kitty Condo committee works with shelter veterinary staff to keep kittens happy and healthy, tend to the litter box and deep clean the condo between litters.
Doña Ana County employees mysteriously report higher job satisfaction since the addition of the kittens to their workdays. Since 2012, Doña Ana County has adopted out over 100 cats from the Kitty Condo—many to government employees who can’t resist falling in love with their tiny co-workers.