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Cats find a home in Markham community centre

A “storefront” in the middle of Thornhill Community Centre is the first cat adoption centre in the GTA being run by a municipality.
Jan. 17, 2016
By Noor Javed

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Trumpet and Cello know how to put on a show.

The 7-month-old kittens jump around the black couch with little hesitation. They claw at the leather and peek out from underneath. They meow and vie to be petted by curious onlookers.

“I almost wish I could adopt these two,” says Valerie Burke, a Markham councillor and animal lover, as she cuddles the cats in the enclosed “Kitty Corner” in the city’s new cat adoption and education centre, which opened its doors to the public this month.

“I would go home with all of them if I could,” says Burke, who helped spearhead the unique city project.

The “storefront” in the middle of Thornhill Community Centre is the first adoption centre in the GTA to be run by a municipality. The city had outsourced most of its animal services to the OSPCA in years past, but officials said there was a demand for something more local.

“Our intent is to make adoption a lot more accessible,” said Martha Pettit, the deputy city clerk, who helped set up the centre. “Right now, if someone wants to adopt, they have to go all the way to the OSPCA in Newmarket,” she said.

Now a room that was once a spin studio is home to more than a dozen cats that will stay here for up to two weeks or until they find permanent homes.

The centre was chosen because it’s constantly buzzing with activity and is surrounded by animal lovers. “We have 1.2 million visitors here every year, and the most licensed pet owners in the city are in this area,” said Pettit, who adds that the centre is not a shelter, but can offer informational assistance for animals in need. Adoptions are open to anyone in the GTA.

The immediate goal is twofold: to adopt out 200 cats this year and to decrease the number of cat euthanasia cases at the OSPCA.

On opening day, there were two adoptions and a lot of curious visitors, many of whom had come to the centre for the library or gym. Some admitted they came specifically for the cats.

“Who wouldn’t love having cats in the building?” said Faiza Abullah, who works at the centre. At first there were some community members upset at the idea of losing exercise space to the animals. But on opening day, those hard feelings were long gone, she said.

“Now that it’s been set up, it’s a pretty good idea,” she said, adding she’d been waiting for the centre to open up so she could find a pet.

According to a city staff report, Markham is putting up $150,000 to build and pay operational costs for the centre and is seeking sponsorships to help offset the annual cost. The idea was modeled after facilities in Welland and Niagara Falls, where storefronts have seen hundreds of adoptions every year.

Pettit said the beauty of the project is that, while the cats wait for a home, they serve a purpose at the centre.

“This is really making this a whole community. It’s a community centre, and the truth is, pets are part of our community.”