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'It's heartbreaking': Cat lounges aim to curb kill rate in Polk County

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POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Hang out with cats, adopt cats and help curb Polk County’s infamous euthanasia rate. That is the stated mission of new cat lounges that are opening in the county this year.

“Animal control does the best they can to control the problem but unfortunately, because it’s such a huge issue, they have to put down a lot of them. It’s heartbreaking and I want to prevent that as much as I can,” said Janette DeLoach, who opened “Botany Cats” in February.

Of the 3,000 cats turned into Polk County Animal Control so far in 2022, approximately 50% have been euthanized, according to Polk County Animal Control administrator Marie Herbster. It’s an average of 146 euthanasias per month, according to the sheriff’s office.

“We’re in this business to try to change lives and try to help every animal. Everyone here is dedicated to life saving measures. We absolutely try our best and it’s absolutely heartbreaking,” said Herbster.

She said most cats are euthanized due to health or behavioral reasons, due to them being feral.

Courtesy – Janette DeLoach

Polk County Animal Control works with 160 rescue organizations to find animals a home, including SPCA Florida. The emerging cat lounges aim to treat cats before they end up at Animal Control.

“We get our cats from the community. We get probably three to four calls a week like, ‘I have cats in my backyard,’” said DeLoach.

Her “Botany Cats” lounge is mobile. Visitors can spend time with the cats and have the option to adopt them.

“We get them all vetted. So spayed, neutered, microchipped, tested for common diseases, vaccinated, of course, and flea prevention and de-wormed and then we bring them on the camper and get them adopted,” said DeLoach.

Former photojournalist Cindy Skop is taking a similar approach with her brick and mortar location called “Kitty Cat Lounge.”

The lounge is still in the works but will include a lounge area with coffee, food and WiFi – and the cat area in the back. An hour with the cats will cost $12 and adoptions are available.

Her cats will be provided through Saving Paws Rescue of Florida.

“If there’s others, we’re all doing the same thing. The idea is to still reduce that euthanasia rate and get cats into homes where people can feel like I do when I have my cat in my lap,” said Skop.

Skop hopes to have Kitty Cat Lounge open by the end of the summer.

Cat and dog adoptions at Polk County Animal Control are free every Saturday.

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