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Cat Housing: San Francisco SPCA

The following is from the Summer 2010 issue of Protecting Animals, American Humane’s quarterly journal for animal welfare professionals. Used by permission. To learn more, visit

By Dori Villalon, Vice President of the SFSPCA of CA

The SFSPCA of California is known for our Maddie’s Adoption Center, a cageless environment where animals lounge in condos, either singularly or in pairs. Most of the condos come equipped with a television where bird and squirrel videos are shown. Cat trees are essential, as is comfortable and inviting bedding, such as a teepee or cozy bed. Condos have cat-related artwork on the walls and large windows that provide the stimulation of the outside world. Some condos have windows joining each room so cats can see each other and the goings-on of the shelter. Our spacious, quiet and soothing environment is vital for the successful transition of a shelter cat to a loving home. The larger rooms are ideal for housing multiple cats and kittens while still giving them the opportunity to showcase their individuality, while the smaller rooms allow a shy cat to blossom at its own pace.

Condos receive daily housekeeping, but we don’t disturb the cats with full cleaning. The condos are thoroughly disinfected when a cat is placed. The cats (and clients) love the Hide, Perch & Go boxes (which can be used in a cage and then converted to a cat carrier when the cat is adopted).

Cats are entertained with wine corks, pingpong balls and toothbrushes (cheap and easily sanitized, but watch your drains!). Volunteers make and sell a simple stick toy with rubber tubing hanging from one end (again, easily cleaned and protects hands from accidental scratches).

Our Shelter Medicine Department is made up of individual 6-foot-long, kennel-like condos for new arrivals and cats undergoing treatment prior to adoption. Because of disease control, this housing is more traditional, but cats enjoy their Hide, Perch & Go boxes and have access to an elevated shelf. The open-room quarantine is essential for cats that need the space to roam, especially if they’re being treated for an illness that may harbor longer if they do not have the enrichment and freedom to move. Cats that are under ringworm treatment are housed in steel kennels and cages with individual drainage and higher isolation protocols. They receive the same enrichment, only with tighter restrictions on laundry and cleaning.

Underage/undersocialized kittens are housed in double size laminate cages with a portal opening in the middle. We use a large dry-erase board to communicate with volunteers about which cats need extra TLC and to ensure that all cats get daily interactions. In all isolation and quarantine areas, we use a papiermache (compostable) litter box with clay or Good Mews litter, depending on the cat’s preference or medical needs. This eliminates the need for litter box scrubbing and the possibility of spreading disease.

Our kennel enrichment would not be complete without the loving attention of our volunteers. Our shelter care and adoption housing provide enough space and comfort for the volunteers to spend time with our cats. They provide a vital role in the enrichment and general comfort of our cats and make our shelter the closest thing to a real home.

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