CATS returns to the Straz Center Dec. 7. As a crowd-pleasing theatrical spectacle, CATS’ success is undeniable.
As a tutorial for first-time cat owners, it leaves something to be desired.
Potential first-time cat owners should note that cats rarely if ever perform choreographed dance moves. Nor do they break into song. Their speech is limited to variations of the word “Meow,” which almost always translates to “Feed me” or “Feed me now.” This pretty much guarantees you’ll never hear your cat recite any T.S. Eliot.
Fortunately, actual cats are much more compact than the human-sized CATS cats. Also, they don’t form tribes and rarely gather in groups to compete in death-rebirth championships.
They do, however, make themselves useful around the house, hunting and killing cockroaches and mice. They do their business in a litter box so housebreaking isn’t an issue. They’re good for your mental health (more on that later). They lessen your stress and anxiety, and even lower your blood pressure.
Adopting a cat is an excellent thing to do for yourself. In fact, it’s just an excellent thing to do, period, because lots of cats need homes.
Unfortunately, stray cats tend to be prolific breeders. That means generation after generation of kittens adding to the population of strays. Strays have it pretty rough, with no dependable shelter or consistent food source or medical care.
Some wind up in shelters but that’s no guarantee of security.
“Thousands and thousands of cats are euthanized every year,” says Jen Tate, vice president of Tampa’s St. Francis Society Animal Rescue. “So many deserving cats are being euthanized just for the reason that there aren’t enough homes for them.”
The volunteers of St. Francis help slow the stray population growth with a practice known as TNVR, for trap, neuter, vaccinate and return. Tate said St. Francis has TNVR’d 1,200 cats this year, a figure the group is justifiably proud of.
Unsocial strays, cats that haven’t been around humans, can’t be socialized enough for adoption. They are fixed, vaccinated and returned to the area in which they were captured. Kittens and friendly adult cats are placed in new homes or with one of St. Francis’ volunteer foster homes to await adoption.
Most of the people who adopt from St. Francis already are cat lovers, Tate says. The novice cat people, “who say they’ve never really been a cat person but they’d like to give it a try usually get back to me and say, ‘Wow, cats are amazing.’”
The feline curious who aren’t ready to make the commitment to adopt can observe cats in a home environment at Sunshine Kitty Catfe (yes, with a “t”) in downtown St. Petersburg.
The “Cat Lounge,” as it’s called on the café’s website, includes a main room with couches and chairs as well as plenty of cat trees, scratching posts and what looked like a kittie climbing wall. Cat-sized hammocks were suspended in the windows, ideal places to nap or just watch the world go by.
A hallway separates the main room from the chill-out room, dimly-lit and even more quiet and serene than the rest of the lounge.
Guests can pet cats or just watch. Toys, such as teaser wands (a cat toy or tassels on the end of a string on the end of a stick) are scattered throughout. Teaser wands bring out the cats’ hunting instinct – it’s not unusual for an idle cat to suddenly come alive at the site of a toy sweeping across the floor or dangling in the air.
The cats chilling in the Cat Lounge are available for adoption through St. Petersburg’s Friends of Strays.
Friends of Strays, which opened in 1978, is St. Petersburg’s oldest no-kill animal shelter. The Friends have had a record-breaking year, with 1,401 adoptions as of Nov. 29.
“We’re really proud to have broken our own record,” says Michael Manganello, who handles communications for Friends of Strays. “We passed the old number on Oct. 30, with two months to spare.” The previous record, set in 2020, was 1,276 adoptions.
Adoption, as opposed to buying a cat from a breeder or pet store, is vital, Manganello says, because “you’re saving a life. There are already more than enough cats in the world. Save one that already exists.”
The benefits are many, Manganello says. “They provide great companionship, and they can teach kids responsible pet ownership. Also, their purrs reduce your stress level.”
Oh yes, those health benefits. Academics who study cats point to studies showing having a cat around helps lower blood pressure, improve your mood and help you feel more calm and less stressed.
You’ve heard of meditating by watching a candle flame? Try watching a cat. There’s a reason stray cats are welcome at many Buddhist temples.
And yes, you also can adopt dogs at St. Francis and Friends of Strays.
St. Francis Society Animal Rescue can be reached at (813) 744-5660. Contact Friends of Strays at (727) 522-6566. Sunshine Kitty Catfe can be reached through its website, www.sunshinekittycatfe.com/.