The Cat Depot: a hub for cats and volunteers alike

all photos Corey Rodda/Catalyst

When I was five, my dad let me adopt a cat from the Buffalo City Animal Shelter. It’s a dreary place, full of cracked concrete flooring, barred fluorescent lights and anxious animals. I remember looking at all the cats, piled high in metal caging. I was hoping to adopt a tiny black kitten that was peeing on another kitten in its cage. The man who worked at the shelter, sensing my father’s dismay at this selection, steered me instead towards a gray cat with white markings that was alone in its cage and appeared sullen. We decided to get this cat, a veritable loner, and named him Sapphire.

Though he’s far from the affectionate cuddle-bunny I hoped to have as a pet, I’ve never regretted adopting Sapphire. He trots sideways down our halls because of his girth, coughs up hairballs in my room and harbors a special disdain for me — sometimes walking up to me just to hiss at me. This is particularly unpleasant because of his gingivitis. For this, I call him butt-face. Without Sapphire my childhood would not be the same — my dynamic with him is the closest thing I’ve come to experiencing sibling rivalry. But the sad truth is that without the intervention me and my dad, he might have been euthanized. The Cat Depot, located on 17th Street in Sarasota, gives cats like Sapphire a chance to be adopted instead of put down and provides local families like mine with cats to love.

The Cat Depot is a private, non-profit organization determined to rescue abandoned, stray or injured cats. It is a no-kill facility, meaning that it takes cats that it adopts out back if their owners are no longer able or willing to care for them. It’s affiliated with 13 veterinarians who administer care to the cats and has a small, dedicated staff of 15 people. “They believe in this place so they’re not just staff — they are a community,” said Alicia McBrantney, Volunteer Coordinator for the Cat Depot.

The Cat Depot opened its current facility a little more than a year ago. The building was designed to the organizations specifications for the cats’ wellbeing. It’s airy with tall ceilings, exposed ductwork and is divided into pods or enclosures that house 10 cats each. Each pod has cubbies for the cats to lounge in, cat scratchers and cat toys sprawled across its floor. Some pods, called suites, have their own outdoor space. Vents situated above the litter boxes pull air out of the building as fresh air is pumped into each pod.

“The air is recycled so that way it is very clean and they are getting fresh air all the time,” McBratney said.  She said that this helps prevent the cats from getting upper respiratory infections, a a fairly common malady among shelter cats. The pods allow the cats to be more active and social — giving them the chance to interact with each other and people who come to visit them.

“People come in and say, ‘Wow, what a cool place, but maybe you should have spent more money on the cats,’” volunteer Laura Headlee said. “But, it is for the cats. It’s a comfortable place for them to be while they are being adopted instead of being put in cages. You know it is for them. The cleanliness of the place — it is for them so that they don’t get diseases or catch something while they’re in here,”

“When people come in and visit they are welcome to come into the pods and actually spend some time with the animals,” McBrantney said. “I think our adoptions are increased because there is more comfort — they’re able to sort of get to know each other and owners can find who is the best match for them.”

The Cat Depot receives a lot of its money from private donors. It has a newsletter and a large donor list. “Donor memberships start at $25, so it’s very affordable,” McBrantney said. “A lot of people that come in like the facility and appreciate the mission and what we’re doing. And so they’ll come in and they’ll sign up to be a member. They’ll donate $25 and they’ll get a newsletter and start coming to our events. That’s a large part of how we’re able to stay open, keep the doors open and get these guys off the street. It’s huge, our donor base is huge — so we are very very lucky.”

The Cat Depot has a large volunteer network with around 200 or 300 active volunteers. “Volunteers are very important to us,” McBrantney said. “They allow us to do more than we would be able to do with our limited staff and of course budget, because we’re nonprofit.”  Volunteers can play with the cats, walk them, clean the facility in the morning, work behind the front desk, do data entry or help out at fundraising events. Would-be volunteers must fill out an application, sign a waiver and tell the center what they would like to do at the Depot. The Cat Depot offers its volunteers classes on a variety of topics including how to track cats, retrieve cats from bad situations or adopt cats out. Volunteers can drop in anytime during business hours to play and interact with the cats.

The Catalyst talked to volunteer Mary Budd, a student at Sarasota Military Academy, on her first day of volunteering. “I cleaned kids’ nose prints and fingerprints off from the windows near the cats and just went in and played with the cats to keep them company,” she described. “Lots of interaction helps them be more open to people and helps them get adopted.”

“Some of my friends have been over there and talked about how it was a great place and they could use help so I figured it would be a nice thing to do,” third-year Ian Hamilton said. He asked his fellow peers on the Forum if they would be interested in volunteering at the Cat Depot and said that 12 people have expressed interest in doing so. Hamilton plans to bike to the Cat Depot on March 9 to volunteer.

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