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Shelter’s ‘Year of the Cat’ aims to boost cat adoptions

An appealing pair of kittens are among the many felines waiting at the Hawk Creek Animal Shelter for someone to adopt them. The shelter is trying a variety of strategies to increase the public’s interest in cat adoptions. Tribune photo by Anne Polta

WILLMAR — It’s the Year of the Cat this year at Hawk Creek Animal Shelter and staff are redoubling their efforts to increase cat adoptions.

From reducing adoption fees to displaying the kittens front and center, different strategies are being tried in hopes of encouraging the public to choose a shelter cat as their new best friend.

“If they choose a dog, that’s wonderful. An animal gets a home,” said Sharon Mace, executive director of the Humane Society of Kandiyohi and Meeker Counties. “We just have to facilitate their interest in the cat community.”

The Year of the Cat is the latest chapter in an ongoing local campaign to help shelter cats find homes.

A grant last year from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals allowed the shelter to launch “Meet Your Match,” an adoption tool that uses personality profiles to help potential adopters find a good feline match.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to be able to get the word out,” said Bobbie Bauman, director of operations for the Hawk Creek Animal Shelter.

The project succeeded in getting cats placed more quickly, with fewer returns, she said. But overall adoption numbers didn’t increase as significantly as shelter staff and the board of directors had hoped, so new strategies have been added.

It’s an ongoing issue for shelters, where the deck is often stacked against cats. On average, their overall adoption rate is lower than that for dogs, they wait longer for someone to adopt them and they’re less likely to be claimed if they arrive at a shelter as a stray.

Why the inequities?

The seemingly lower status of felines can be traced to several factors, say shelter staff and volunteers.

Some of it is rooted in myths and misinformation, said Carol Nelson, a volunteer and self-described cat lady.

“I think there’s still that belief that cats aren’t as smart and intelligent as dogs,” she said.

Cats are often stereotyped as aloof, sneaky and unable or unwilling to be trained, she and Mace said.

But take the time to get acquainted with cats and a different picture emerges, they said.

Cats are just as affectionate as dogs, Nelson said. “They show it differently. When I get home, they don’t drool on me like my dogs do but they’re like, ‘Hey, where’ve you been?’”

They can be trained to walk on a leash and do tricks, she said. “Mine will stand up and beg for treats.”

And there’s this: “Dogs don’t purr,” said Mace.

To encourage more interaction between potential adopters and cats, Hawk Creek Animal Shelter has created a third colony room where the cats can eat, sleep and play in a free-roaming environment. The cages that house the shelter’s kittens were moved into the lobby earlier this year to make them more visible.

During Adopt a Shelter Cat Month in June, the adoption fees for selected cats are reduced two days a week for promotions dubbed “Tabby Tuesday” and “Purrsday Thursday.”

Efforts also are underway to promote the shelter to Meeker County residents and encourage them to come to Willmar to adopt a cat.

Spaying and neutering remains critical in keeping the cat population at a manageable level and reducing the number of unwanted cats who end up in shelters, Mace said. “If people would just do that, it would make life so much better.”

If popular culture is any indication, the fortunes of the cat species may be on the rise. Online cat photos and videos have exploded in popularity, turning Grumpy Cat, Lil Bub and the late Colonel Meow into Internet celebrities and suggesting that cat ownership is becoming a cool, hipster thing to do.

“They are also a companion as a dog is, but in a different way, just like humans are different,” Mace said. “We know they’re smart. We’ve got to convince the public.”

Nelson has a plea for anyone considering the addition of a pet to their home: “Walk through our doors and come into our colonies and see our cats. If you want to make a difference, adopt.”

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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