Volunteers in red polo shirts roam the pods, cuddling with kittens and cajoling older cats with dangling toys. Cat Depot is built on the “free-roaming” model, so most of the facility’s animals live in “pods,” expansive pens complete with cozy beds, climbing towers, flat-screen TVs and adjoining “cat porches” perfect for leisurely naps in the sun. Here you’ll meet Sonny, a russet-furred 11-year-old who first arrived with a host of medical problems but today is fully healthy and ready for adoption, preferring to live in Executive Director Shelley Thayer’s office to the group residences on the adoption floor. Yet one roadblock stands in the way of helping cats like Sonny: Cat Depot is running out of space. “We have the capacity to help more animals, and that’s the frustrating part,” says Thayer. “We have the staff, [and] the willingness of volunteers to help us. We have a need in the community, and yet we have a lack of space.” 

Since its inception in 2004, Cat Depot has undergone a series of physical expansions. In October 2009, the organization moved to its current location, a 10,000 square-foot facility on 17th Street. In 2010, an education and volunteer center was added to the upstairs part of the facility and 2011 saw the addition of Cat Depot’s surgery center, located in what was formerly a carport. The Rose Durham Community Cat Care Clinic, an on-site affordable veterinary clinic that opened in November 2014, sits on what used to be a garage for storage space. “That’s a great example of taking an additional space and making it into something useful that will help the community,” says Thayer of the surgery center. “We have proven that we can make things very functional in very small spaces.”

From 2009, Cat Depot’s staff has grown from 10 to 31, and the number of new feline arrivals steadily rose by about 200 additional animals each year. The increases in both feline and human occupants, combined with new offerings including dental care, the Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release initiative and educational programming for children and the community, have increased space demands on Cat Depot.

Lack of space has not compromised the level of care each animal receives at Cat Depot; the organization continues to uphold its commitment to never euthanize animals due to space constraints. That said, the currently tight quarters have led to some interesting configurations. In addition to the “office cats,” the onset of kitten season resulted in the education and volunteer center becoming an overflow area for young rescues and, most recently, the purchase of an X-ray machine necessitated the removal of a staff bathroom. “We said, ‘Do we lose a bathroom or our X-ray machine?’ We decided to lose the bathroom,” says Thayer. “These are the issues that we’re confronting as we look at machinery we could get that would help us generate even greater care and opportunities for animals.”

The space issue should soon be resolved: this year, Cat Depot purchased four lots across the street from its current location that, stitched together, increase the organization’s frontage fourfold. Though Thayer will not make a formal announcement until 2017, she shares that the expansion project is in planning stages and her team is moving quickly. Over the summer, Cat Depot worked with city officials to rezone land and demolish buildings formerly occupying the lots. The plan: To build an entirely new facility while maintaining the current building as a medical center and housing for cats with health issues, and to increase educational and community programming. The goal: To simultaneously decrease the number of homeless, free-roaming cats in Sarasota. “I really would like to see in my lifetime that that number of 30,000 [cats] start dwindling,” says Thayer. “The space will help us attain that.”