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Napans Celebrate Feline Friends at Adoption Reunion

October 28, 2013

Napa Valley

Nancy Clary first met her future feline friend Jan. 4 — by accident.

Although one of the Napa woman’s two cats had died four months earlier, she had walked into the Pet Food Express store in north Napa intending only to buy food and supplies for her remaining furry companion. 

“My husband and I had decided we’d let him (a 7-year-old Persian) be the only cat for a while. Well, the problem with this is, I shop here!” the 69-year-old Clary recalled, laughing about her introduction to Olivia, a Russian Blue who has become her household’s newest member.

The setting for that adoption and 121 others has been the Cat Adoption Center, a wall-high, glass-front “cat condominium” that the Oakland-based pet-supply chain opened at its Napa store in October 2012 to showcase animals previously housed at the Napa County animal shelter. On Sunday afternoon, the store invited those adopted parents to celebrate the program’s first year — a reunion for those who the shelter’s staff says have helped account for nearly a third of its cats’ new homes.

The reunion was a low-key part of the shop’s Halloween Extravaganza, which also featured a dog costume contest outside and a Napa Humane adoption drive. But among some of the owners and program helpers was a sense of quiet satisfaction — and surprise at the number of animals taken in.

“The unintentional adoptions, that’s been the biggest surprise,” said Kristen Loomer, manager of the Napa County Animal Shelter and Adoption Center. “We hear so many stories like, ‘We didn’t come to the store meaning to adopt a cat, but then we saw one and fell in love.’”

“We’ve had people coming daily, not necessarily customers, just to spend time with the cats,” said Sarah Eylerts, who became the Napa shop’s manager about a month after its cat condo opened. “Parents come here to show their kids the cats; I think that’s how we get all these adoptions people weren’t intending.”

The Cat Adoption Center is a joint effort of the county shelter, Napa Humane and Pet Food Express, which spent about $200,000 to remodel its Napa branch to house the custom-designed cages. Six stores in the chain feature adoption centers with two more to follow next year, according to Eylerts.

Though none of the program’s four-footed alumni were present — organizers said staff were concerned about the cats not getting along in a large group — a large display board showed off photographs of each feline that had spent time there before gaining a new owner.

Behind the display was what appeared at first glance to be 36 cages behind plate glass, but in fact was a built-in, row-house-like structure for only a dozen cats. Each pet napped languidly, nibbled from a food dish or stepped to the next berth up or down as the curious peered through the glass.

To the right of the cages is a carpeted, softly lit meet-and-greet room, where potential owners can spend time around the cats they hope to take in — and where the animals get to amble once a day even when no visitors come. A visitor who decides to bring a cat home is directed to the shelter to fill out a form with questions about one’s current and former pets, home ownership and other information before formally adopting the animal, according to Sara Beer, a volunteer for the adoption program.

“Instead of (staying in) the shelter, the cats get much more exposure,” said Ann Garrett, a cat behavior consultant who works with the Marin Humane Society. “Many more people go to a Pet Food Express than to a shelter. It’s well laid out, very easy to see the cats; they’re not stuck in their cage the way they would be at a shelter. And the staff members care for them — brushing them, socializing with them.”

While the cat-owning guests chatted amiably inside Pet Food Express, two 14-year-boys, Blake Jacques and Joseph Maurer, took long glances at the pet condo a few feet away. Might one of them talk his family into becoming new pet owners?

“Not right now, but I might talk them into it,” Blake said with a smile. “They’re so cute!”


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