Best paw forward: Humane society changes designed to promote adoption

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Tuesday, September 24, 2013

JANESVILLE—Hank is a hand-licker.

He's also a lap-sitter, a sun-lounger and an all-around great cat who now has the opportunity to really shine for visitors to the Rock County Humane Society.  

Over the past several months, the humane society, 222 Arch St., has undergone a facelift that has changed the way people see adoptable animals, especially cats.

The result?

“The cats really sell themselves,” said Jim Hurley, assistant executive director.

Areas that held stacks of individual cat cages have been transformed into “community rooms.” Each room has cat trees, shelves for the cats to sit and climb on and lots of places to curl up for naps. 

Each community room has windows to the outside, and window ledges and shelves allow cats to take naps in the morning sun or keep their eyes on the outside world.  Hurley said the humane society hopes to put up bird feeders outside the window—the feline version of cable television.

The cats like the new rooms, and so do visitors.

Executive Director Brett Frazier instituted the changes when he started in June.

“It's sort of selfish from our point of view,” Frazier said. “When people see the animals interact together and see how they get along, they're much more likely to take two animals rather than one.”

Perhaps more important, the enclosures allow people to interact with more than one animal at a time. The animals, too, are more relaxed because they're in a comfortable setting that gives them a chance to display their personalities.

Hank, a Maine coon mix, took advantage of his perch in a cat tree to reach out with his front paws like a child asking to be picked up. It was a hard move to resist, and a  visitor suddenly found herself with an arm full of purring feline. Hank then tried to seal the deal by gently licking the hands that were petting him.

Robinson, an orange and white cat with funny ears, often sits in the window and meows at visitors.

“He really wants to go home with somebody,” Frazier said.

Cats stay in the humane society an average of 40 days, and the goal is to make their stays as pleasant as possible.

Changes are in store for the dog runs, too, Hurley said.

The entrance of the humane society still contains cats in cages. Some of those cats will be transitioned into the community rooms, while some will stay in individual cages. Not all cats are willing to share their space.

Other building changes include new light bulbs that give the society's main area a brighter, more natural look.

The air handling system has been updated so more fresh air gets into the building and the cat rooms.

Finally, the walls have gone from Gobi-desert brown to a light tropical green and purple.

It might seem like window dressing, but Frazier believes atmosphere matters. 

Frazier and his staff are trying to create a positive, cheerful place.

People certainly need to understand that owning an animal involves responsibility, but it also can be a lot of fun, Frazier said.

Hank the cat proved his worth as an entertaining companion when the community rooms were being remodeled.

“He got right up on this guy's shoulder and just stayed there while he worked,” Frazier said.

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