This story was corrected Oct. 2, 2011. An explanation follows the text.
Avery and Butterscotch’s room has scratching posts, carpeted cat trees and a three-tier hammock.
Avery, 3, likes to lounge on a tree near the window, watching people pass and curling his tail playfully.
After moving about a month ago, the feline pair and 12 other cats have made themselves at home.
The Animal Welfare League of Montgomery County, a nonprofit, no-kill cat shelter, has upgraded from a 12-cage, 600-square-foot building on Bonanza Way near Snouffer School Road to a mostly cageless, 2,100-square-foot, two-story townhouse on Park Avenue in Olde Towne Gaithersburg.
The shelter has six rooms and four bathrooms. Most cats either share a room with up to five other felines or are free to roam living areas. If they have had trouble adjusting or do not get along with other cats, they live in one of six cages. Sick cats are housed in an isolation room upstairs.
Colorful murals of paw prints and kittens brighten the walls. Litter boxes are hidden in corners, and a box of toys and balls overflows onto the hardwood floor.
The goal is to create a relaxed, roomy environment for up to about 30 cats and the humans who adopt them, so people can get to know the cats’ personalities in a home setting, said Pat Gagne, volunteer adoption coordinator at the shelter.
Gagne said she has seen the cats grow more relaxed since moving out of their 3-foot by 3-foot by 6-foot cages.
The welfare league works with the Montgomery County Humane Society and owners who no longer can care for their cats to take in “adoptable” cats — no trapped or feral animals, Gagne said.
This way, cats are adopted out of the shelter quicker, so more can be shown; the average stay is less than six months.
Since its founding in 2005, the welfare league has saved nearly 600 cats and kittens. Its old shelter began operations in 2007. The 2011 budget is $100,000, according to Maureen Williams, the organization’s presiden, funded mostly by grants and fundraising events.
The league runs the only no-kill shelter in the county; shelters that receive state funding must take all animals that need help, and therefore must euthanize, Williams said.
She believes it is also the only cage-free shelter in the county, although there are many in other states, she said.
Fourteen cats now live in the shelter, and 17 more are in short- or long-term foster homes.
The organization has more than 160 volunteers who visit for a few hours at a time, either in one of two cat crews that clean the shelter and make sure the cats have what they need or in an enrichment crew that plays with the cats and takes notes about their behavior. The cats have volunteer visitors three times a day every day except Sunday. Adoption hours are Wednesday nights, Saturdays and some Sundays.
In a den upstairs, people looking to adopt can sit on a recliner or couch and observe and play with a cat for as long as they want, Gagne said.
Most of the furniture in the house has been donated by private owners, some by organizations.
Volunteer counselors ask adopters questions, such as how often they are home, if they have children and if they want a playful cat or one that will curl up on a lap, she said. The counselors then point them to a cat that would fit best.
Sometimes, it doesn’t take long to spot a perfect match, Gagne said.
After only about 30 minutes on Sept. 10, Lorinda Potucek of Germantown walked out with Tigger.
The 6-year-old, 22-pound black and brown tabby jumped on her lap as soon as she sat down, she said.
“Immediately, we connected, and he just would not get out of my lap,” said Potucek, who was the first person to adopt a cat from the new shelter.
Another tie — Potucek has red hair, and Tigger’s belly is orange.
Potucek and Tigger qualified for the shelter’s Senior to Senior program, which allows people over 60 to adopt a cat that is 6 or older for a discounted rate of $75; the normal cost is $125, and pairs are $200. Each cat is spayed or neutered upon entering the shelter, has current rabies and distemper vaccinations and has been tested for feline immunodeficiency virus and feline leukemia virus.
As a grand-opening special, all cats will be $50 in October. The house’s official grand opening is Sunday.
The welfare league also offers a low-cost spay and neuter program for cats and dogs, hosts talks about animal care and runs a monthly pet food bank.
The organization will rent the shelter for at least five years from Mary and Gustavo Amaro, who have used the building for office space since buying it eight years ago.
When Mary Amaro, a cat-lover, heard the shelter wanted to move in, she thought it was great, she said.
The couple’s real estate agent cautioned them about the dangers of cats roaming all over the building, but they believe the welfare league is a good cause, she said.
The couple lowered the monthly rent from about $2,500 to about $2,000, because the building is being used for a good charity, she said.
Avery can scamper upstairs, over the the pipe cleaners his roommate Brewer loves to play with, then snuggle on a sofa with someone who might want to take him home.
“It is nice to have cats living in that environment — it is beautiful,” Amaro said. “They are able to look out the windows and see nature — the squirrels and the birds.”
The story was corrected to state that the league runs the only no-kill shelter in the county.