St. Pete no-kill shelter opens new space for cats looking for forever home

St. Pete’s oldest no-kill animal shelter just had a housewarming party of sorts.

Friends of Strays moved its cats into a new, more comfortable space that’s just for them, and held a ribbon cutting Monday. The Cat Box is the shelter’s cat-centric adoption center.

"At the former shelter, they were bombarded with dog noises and with smells from community cats that would come in for spay and neuter surgery and just all the noise and everything," Dara Eckart, the shelter’s CEO said. "It was just not a great space for them. So, it makes it a little bit harder for them to be adopted," she said.

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Ever since they moved into The Cat Box though on Tuesday, Eckart said the cats are calmer. The Cat Box has five adult cat rooms and three are cage-free.

"We have two rooms that are called hair bnb rooms, and they're really for cats that don't get along in the shelter at all. Maybe they don't like other cats, or they just have a little bit more of a difficult time adjusting. This gives them a nice, safe space for them to be by themselves and get one on one attention from the public and staff," Eckart said.

The project, with a goal of creating a safe space for cats, has been in the works since 2020. 

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"It means so much to me because this has been my vision since I started working here. So, I've been here seven and a half years, and we went from a struggling organization that was adopting out about 500 cats a year and now we're adopting almost 2,000 animals a year," Eckart said. "It’s so exciting to me to be able to support not only this community, but the state of Florida. We have partnerships with 26 shelters, and we take animals from them when they're close to being euthanized. And so, it's really important for us to have this space where our animals can thrive while they're waiting for their homes," she said.

Eckart and the CEO of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce said The Cat Box means they’ll have even more of an impact.

"It's big for St. Pete and Pinellas County and now we have this. Now it's also like it's an economic development driver for our state. It becomes a state kind of leadership effort as well that this can work, that we've already, in just a short amount of time, seen the behavior of our kitties change," said Chris Steinocher, president and CEO of St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Cat Box is located at 3015 46th Avenue North in St. Pete. It’s one street south from Friends of Strays’ current facility where they’ll still house adoptable dogs and other life-saving programming, Eckart said.

The Schwartz Family donated $2 million to help with the project. Friends of Strays is also working on a new shelter for its dogs that will triple the space they currently have.