Tour a Japanese cat cafe
After an October proposal to ban feeding stray cats in Bellefonte flatlined, the borough is seeking a more humane solution to its cat overpopulation problems in the form of what Borough Manager Ralph Stewart is calling a “cat house.”
A cat house, said Stewart, is essentially a shelter for cats in a home setting, like a bed and breakfast, cafe, or house, that would be supported by community memberships.
“I thought it was a very unique and very interesting concept because it took something kind of negative ... and turned it into something positive,” he said in a phone conversation last week.
While visiting New Orleans, Stewart came across a brochure advertising the Crescent City Cat Club, which a local homeowner created as a place to shelter feral cats while helping to get them adopted.
For a Bellefonte cat house, Stewart said, the public could come visit and play with cats, with some members paying either a daily or monthly membership to support feeding and taking care of the felines. With enough interest, he said, a cat house could morph into a cat cafe or local attraction marketed to community members and visitors alike.
“If people passing through see that one of these places exists they might want to stop by for an hour or two,” he said. “There’s definitely an interest for people.”
Christine Faust, director of development at Centre County PAWS, said she thinks a house for cats is a great idea, but has concerns with cost.
“Even if it’s in somebody’s home, they still have litter, they still have to be fed, they are going to need basic vet care,” she said.
Many animal shelter and rescue groups have been working to control the cat population in Bellefonte for years, she said. Those groups are either actively practicing Trap, Neuter and Release or, like PAWS, educating people and providing vouchers for the procedures.
But “there are always going to be cats,” Faust said, so more space to care for them is not necessarily a bad thing.
Deb Warner, co-founder and manager of Pets Come First in Centre Hall, said the shelter is overwhelmed with stray cats.
“We have a 400 cat waiting list of people who want to surrender their cats (to us),” she said.
Pets Come First serves Centre County and its surrounding areas, often fielding calls from Juniata, Mifflin and Blair counties.
Even with the wide use of TNR programs in the area, Warner said, people still turn over animals to the shelter that have not been neutered or spayed. PCF partners with Allegheny Spay and Neuter Clinic and the Hundred Cat Foundation to offer low-cost spay and neuter clinics, she said. They also take animals to an Altoona clinic weekly to get them spayed and neutered.
“I wish I knew the answers,” she said. “... Putting another facility up, it’s going to fill up very quickly.”
Both PAWS and PCF are nonprofits and receive no money from state or local governments. They rely on adoption fees, fundraisers and donations.
PAWS recently announced it would expand its shelter capacity for cats, due to a donation from a community benefactor.
“It’ll give us the opportunity to help the community even more by giving us the ability to bring in more cats,” said Faust. She said Lisa Bahr, PAWS director of operations, estimates the shelter could take in 25-30 more cats annually with the space.
With more cats comes more need for volunteers and higher food and medical costs, she said. The spring and summer months are the most difficult for shelters, she said, because “all the rescues in this community ... get inundated with calls about people finding kittens and cats.”
Though the borough hasn’t found a person interested in running a cat house yet, Stewart said he is optimistic. If someone does step forward and offer their home or business, he said, the borough will work with them through laws and zoning issues that might arise.
“The community has wrestled with how to best address the feral cat issue,” he said. “I thought it was a very positive solution to a problem.”