Published: Jul 17, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Jul 17, 2012 04:58 PM
CHAPEL HILL - Orange County Animal Services officials are giving shelter cats more space to live and play.
Shelter staff completed the first phase this year, moving larger metal cages to more heavily used areas in the rear of the building. They also opened more colony rooms outfitted with sleep and play towers that take advantage of vertical space.
Now, they are working with the shelter’s architect to build pass-through walls so individual cats can have the run of two “condos” at a time in the adoptable cat room. The flexible system will let shelter officials close the pass-throughs when they have more cats, usually in the spring and summer, said Animal Services director Bob Marotto said.
Although planned for last winter, budget issues have forced them to reschedule the work to later this year. The shelter has received a few hundred dollars in donations to help with the project.
The final phase, which is a few years away, involves connecting some of the metal cages in the holding areas to give more room to cats that are not yet ready for adoption, he said.
Some of the changes are being made in response to public criticism of whether the shelter is doing everything it can to save cats and to provide them with adequate housing.
Other changes “are much more what we had originally envisioned” but were delayed by budget issues, Marotto said. This year’s $1.7 million budget meets operating expenses for animal control services and the shelter, but has fallen slightly and remained stagnant for several years.
Both staff and critics agree the shelter has come a long way since moving to its new home on Eubanks Road three years ago. Marotto said they have implemented new procedures, opened an in-house sterilization suite and kicked off a campaign last year to fight pet overpopulation.
The Internet also has become a vital tool for involving the public, with online donations, registration and license renewals, and up-to-date Facebook and website information about adoptable cats.
Deanna Rowan and other critics applaud the improvements but would like to see the shelter add a colony room to give cats more time to be adopted.
Rowan recently told the Animal Services Advisory Board that adoptable cats could stay at the shelter longer if the smaller of two conference rooms was used as a “second chance” colony room.
“A lot of these animals, that’s the last place they’ll see before they’re euthanized, and I think everything should be done that could be done to make their lives there as nice as possible,” she said.
Marotto said it’s not practical or healthy. The room is farther from medical care areas and not part of the ventilation system, which controls infectious diseases and odors, he said.
Rowan said she and other critics understand the concerns, but said only cats that have been in shelter for a while, and had their checkups and immunizations, would go in the room. If they did happen to get sick, it wouldn’t affect other shelter cats because the room is isolated, she said.
The shelter’s adoptable cat room now has 24 6- to 7-square-foot “condos,” with an upper-level shelf and a litter cubby, and three 16-square-foot colony rooms with windows. Another three or four small rooms are used as colony rooms when the shelter is busy. In the rear intake, holding and quarantine areas, there are 63 metal cages.
Cats typically stay at the shelter about a month. Forty-five percent of the 1,426 cats at the shelter last year were adopted and 46 percent were euthanized.
As of June 30, 51 percent had been adopted this year and 32 percent euthanized. Only a few owners recovered lost cats; the rest died in-house or were fostered out to rescue groups.
Orange County has a goal of euthanizing 35 percent or less of its animals by 2015. State data show rates in neighboring counties are much higher, at 70 percent or more.