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Cats enjoy new room to roam

by LYNNETTE HINTZE/Daily Inter Lake
| June 17, 2009 12:00 AM

Cats have new digs at the Flathead County Animal Shelter, and they're loving it.

Using the same amount of space, the shelter staff and volunteers have revamped the cat room into two large sections - one for kittens and one for adult cats - where the felines can congregate and climb instead of being housed in individual cages.

"It's reconfigured, but not bigger," Shelter Director Kirsten Holland said. "We've already seen a huge improvement in cat health."

Living in group settings puts less stress on cats, she explained.

Accommodations have been improved for stray cats, too, who used to be kept in the laundry room but now have their own isolated quiet area. And the sick-cat room was moved to another area that's better suited to their needs, she said.

The renovations have cost upwards of $10,000, much of which has been defrayed by private donations, grants and help from Flathead Shelter Friends.

A few remaining metal cages will be replaced with fiberglass models that let in more light, Holland said.

The improvements to cat quarters are part of an ongoing effort to upgrade the county facility.

"People are so pleased with the direction the shelter is going," Holland said.

The City-County Health Department took over management of the shelter two years ago after a staffing shakeup threw the facility into a tailspin that was affecting the level of caregiving.

Maintaining a low-kill shelter remains a priority for the shelter and programs such as senior pet adoption are helping keep the census down. Holland hopes to kick off a special adoption package for older pets next month. The "golden oldies," as the older cats and dogs are called, would be fitted with special gold collars.

"We've always promoted a senior for a senior," Holland said. "They're really good matches."

Senior citizens often want a lower-energy pet, and "the amount of love from a senior pet is tenfold," she said.

The foster pet program also is gaining ground.

Many volunteers will care for cats or dogs if they're recovering from an injury or need some other special care until they can be adopted. The shelter also offers a foster-to-adopt program for prospective pet owners who want to make sure a pet will fit into their lifestyle before they officially adopt it.

All of these programs have helped the shelter maintain its low-kill philosophy, even during the recession when some pet owners have been forced to give up their pets for financial reasons. Holland credits more public awareness of the shelter and a staff and band of volunteers that will put in extra effort for homeless pets.

The facility's second open house is from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the shelter, 225 Cemetery Road south of Kalispell. There will be adoption specials and a vaccination clinic that offers vaccines and rabies shots at reduced prices.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by e-mail at lhintze@dailyinterlake.com