Keeping cats cool

Calico cat lying on a cat tree in the Benson Animal Shelter shed
Benson Animal Shelter in Arizona gets a new climate-controlled space for cats, plus much more, with collaborative program.
By Liz Finch

It’s summer, and for the southern Arizona community of Benson, that means daily temps are well into the triple digits — but not for the cats at Benson Animal Shelter (BAS). The kitties are cool and comfy in the new air-conditioned building (known as the shed) provided by Best Friends Animal Society and the Humane Society of Southern Arizona (HSSAZ) in Tucson. In fact, the very first residents of the building gave it a big purr of approval.

“We had no cats in the shelter when we first got the shed in late April, but two brother cats named Tom and Jerry came in just in time for the big opening,” says animal control officer Tammy Marble, who manages the tiny shelter located about 45 minutes south of Tucson. “The boys got to roam freely around the building, which meant they could plop down in the laps of potential adopters and get some well-deserved attention.”

That’s a huge improvement from how cats used to be housed at the shelter.

“Before we got the shed our cats were in an all-brick room with no windows that was right next to the barking dogs,” Tammy says. “People were unable to see their personalities due to the amount of stress from the noise. Now it’s a stress- and noise-free environment for them, and it’s wonderful to see them so relaxed.”

Networking for change in southern Arizona animal shelters

From the first time HSSAZ CEO Steve Farley visited the shelter 12 years ago, he knew it needed a lot of help. Back then, HSSAZ staff were focused on meeting the needs of their immediate community. But by 2020, they were ready to broaden their reach to improve the animal welfare scene in all of Cochise County.

“We knew we could make a huge difference and save thousands of lives if we engaged deeply to serve all of southern Arizona,” Steve says.

They began by transferring in pets from nearby Douglas Animal Shelter, working with that shelter’s animal services officers and connecting them with a network of rescue organizations. But they still wanted to help the Benson community, which made them a perfect partner for Best Friends’ Prince and Paws Shelter Collaborative Program. The shelter collaborative program assigns leading organizations in the industry as mentors to shelters that are not yet no-kill.

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“When we discovered the shelter collaborative program in 2022, it was a revelation to see that Best Friends had been thinking along the same lines,” Steve says. “We were honored and excited when we were selected to partner with them. Now we have been able to expand our lifesaving work to include shelters in Benson, Willcox, and Nogales.”

Giving the cats a new building at Benson Animal Shelter was a priority for them to expand their lifesaving.

“Funding the shed was a necessity,” says Sarah Quintanilla, national manager of the shelter collaborative program at Best Friends. “It was very stressful for the cats. Plus, some of the dog kennels were used to store pet food and supplies, reducing shelter capacity. They had few resources, staff, volunteers, or adopters. Things were not ideal, but they’re getting closer.”

Committed to saving more pets

Since the shed was installed this past spring, Tammy has made it “a really cool space with a couch so people can meet the cats and a window so the cats have passive entertainment watching the wildlife,” Sarah says. “She even mentioned putting bird feeders outside. She is focusing on everything she can to make things better.”

There are other improvements, too. Best Friends continues to provide consulting and support to staff at the Benson shelter while HSSAZ picks up and drives the shelter’s animals for spay/neuter at its clinic (in addition to funding the air conditioner and insulation in the shed). While the help of outside organizations is fundamental to progress, a successful collaboration needs devoted partners on both ends — which people in Benson most certainly are.

“From that first visit, I saw key people in key positions with good hearts who were doing their best,” Steve says. “Once they had some resources and mentoring, they embraced every part of this collaboration. Tammy is open to learning new, better ways of saving lives every day. She has recruited new volunteers, made the shelter more attractive, created new networks for rescue, and so much more. And when she needs help, she reaches out.”

“She is just rocking it,” Sarah agrees. “They're up against all odds, but Tammy is knocking it out of the park.”

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In fact, Tammy is already planning the next big project: a better play area for the dogs in the shelter.

“The hot desert sun makes it hard for outdoor playtime, so my goal is to get some type of shade covering, plus a few agility items they can climb on. This will also give the public a nice covered area where they can sit and socialize with the animals. Perhaps that will encourage more people to come visit.”

While it perhaps doesn’t seem like much in the scheme of things, Tammy is confident the new area for cats is going to make a difference in the shelter’s adoption rate. For the two cats lucky enough to break in all the cushy furniture, it already has.

“Being able to roam freely made them really so happy and cuddly,” she says. “They got adopted together. It makes a difference when people who come here can see the cats in a more natural environment. We’re so grateful to have this wonderful addition to our shelter.”

A cat lying on a bed in the Benson Animal Shelter shed, next to a cactus shaped cat tree
Photo courtesy of Benson Animal Shelter

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