Murray • Stacked steel cages line the walls of the Humane Society of Utah's old cat adoption room, and an information card attached to each cage reveals the animal's name and the reason its owner gave it up.
The cryptic excuses include "moved, no time, having a baby, owner problem, destruction" and so on. Behind bars, the furry felines watch and wait.
"This is about as good as it got. If you were a cat and got in here, you were living large," said HSU Communications Director Carl Arky, referring to the old space where cats were taken for a chance at a new home.He said hundreds of cats wait in the shelter's receiving wing until space opens up in the adoption center where prospective owners can get a look at them.
Thanks to generous donors, that sad scenario is set to change dramatically this weekend. The organization will open its new Kitty City, a remodeled wing of rooms that contain "townhouses, condos and villas" that give the adoptable felines more freedom and opportunities to interact with each other and visiting humans.
HSU Executive Director Gene Baierschmidt hailed the advent of Kitty City as one of the most exciting and significant moments in the shelter's 52-year history.
"Instead of steel cages, our cats will now live in beautiful rooms and enclosures," Baierschmidt said in a statement, adding the animals now have a cozier place to "take cat naps, play with other cats and meet all the people who will want to come and experience Kitty City for themselves."
Between 60 to 70 cats occupy the old steel cages, while Kitty City will accommodate three times that many in surroundings where people can stroke their fur and get a feel for their personalities and behavior.
"We take in about 5,000 cats a year. In the animal welfare industry, it's always a matter of time and space," Arky said. "So you're having 'Sophie's Choice.' It's part of the industry. Those are the decisions that have to be made every day."
Unfortunately, only about three in five cats get adopted out. The remainder either go to rescue organizations, die on their own or are euthanized, Arky said.
"That's really why we're doing this, to get that (adoption) number to five in five," Arky said.
The Humane Society functions as an open-admissions shelter that takes mostly owner-relinquished animals, while strays generally end up in Salt Lake County's animal shelter.
"Our goal is to increase adoptions. It's a consumer-retail experience and this is our inventory," Arky said of the cats that will soon inhabit Kitty City.
The new wing occupies space that formerly housed HSU's administrative offices before receiving an extreme makeover. The area houses about 62 single-cat "townhomes" two-level cubicles that interconnect so that cats can curl up together or go back and forth.
The new area also has 16 multi-level "condos" that house four cats each, along with four large rooms called "villas," each containing a "kittyosk" that accommodates the needs of 10 felines.
While so much more comfortable and less confining than the old steel cages, Arky emphasizes that Kitty City is meant to be temporary housing, a place where cats can connect with humans who will take them home.
"We're working on becoming a no-kill shelter," Arky said, "but we're not there quite yet."
Saturday's grand opening "$9 for 9 Lives!" begins at 10 a.m. at 4242 S. 300 West. The Humane Society of Utah is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 4 p.m. Sundays.
How Kitty City came to be
1978 • Cat-lover Mary Miles Kleinman leaves a generous bequest to the Humane Society of Utah
17 years • The amount of time those funds were tied up in legal wrangling
December 2010 • The final settlement gives HSU almost $100,000 to help fund its new cat adoption wing
Other donors • Ronald and Darlene Boyce; Drs. George and Esther Gross; Robert, Teresa and Linzi Kay; Patrick Wiggins and others
May 1, 2011 • Groundbreaking for the $2 million upgrades
Feb. 25, 2012 • Roomy new clinic opens
April • Construction focus shifts to transforming administrative offices into comfy cat adoption center
Saturday • 10 a.m. grand opening of Kitty City at 4242 S. 300 West, Murray
Source • Humane Society of Utah