Friends of Strays, a no-kill animal shelter in St. Petersburg, will open a new facility next month dedicated solely to cat adoptions. 

The 2,500-square-foot building at 3015 46th Ave. N., to be called the “Cat Box,” is the first phase of a planned $6 million campus expansion by Friends of Strays. The new feline facility, located one street away from the current shelter, will improve living conditions for cats in their care by providing a calm, quiet space for those animals awaiting adoption, separate from the dog areas.

Friends of Strays CEO Dara Eckart said in their current facility, cats and dogs are housed together, causing additional stress to the animals which can lead to health issues and make it more difficult for them to be adopted. The Cat Box will have some rooms with traditional cages, cage-free rooms and individual rooms called “Hair B&Bs.”

“These are for cats that don’t really get along well in a shelter environment or might not like to be around other cats,” Eckart explained. “This gives them a really safe, comfortable space while they’re waiting for their new homes.”

Friends of Strays Animal Shelter, founded in 1978, bills itself as St. Petersburg’s oldest no-kill animal shelter. In 2023, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit shelter helped 1,832 animals get adopted and gave 2,962 cats vaccines and spay/neuter services.

“For more than 40 years, our staff and volunteers have done their very best with our current space,” said Friends of Strays Board Chair Mo Eppley in a prepared statement. “I think it speaks to their dedication to the well-being of the animals in our care, and to our reputation in the community, that we have been able to grow.”

Friends of Strays is partway through a $6M expansion to its St. Petersburg campus.

The Cat Box is the first of three phases in what will be the Schwartz Family Adoption Campus at Friends of Strays. The second phase includes renovations to the Milkey Bone Dog House, which are set to begin in 2025. The renovations will allow Friends of Strays to take in larger dogs and increase the shelter’s dog housing capacity from 12 to 40 animals. The shelter will also transition from a traditional kennel-style shelter to larger individual rooms for each dog, providing additional space and more comfortable conditions.

The Milkey Foundation, created by local philanthropists Jeanne and Kevin Milkey, is providing funding for the new dog adoption building’s naming rights. The $6 million campus expansion is also funded by a legacy gift from the Margie and Phil Schwartz Trust. Friends of Strays has raised nearly $4 million towards the expansion so far.

“Florida is in the bottom five in the United States for life-saving rates, and Pinellas County is in the bottom four within Florida, so we’re really trying to do our part to improve the life-saving rate,” Eckart said, adding that most shelter pet euthanasia is due to lack of space and resources, as opposed to complicated medical issues.

“We work very closely with Pinellas County Animal Services. We’re their number one transfer provider, so we’re looking at saving animals in our community first,” said Eckart. “Then we partner with other low-resource shelters throughout the State of Florida that are at or exceeding capacity and are having to make really hard decisions about euthanasia. We’re able to take a lot of these dogs and cats and save them.”

Once both adoption buildings are completed, the current shelter building at 2911 46th Ave. N. will be used for medical, intake, foster and TNVR (trap, neuter, vaccinate, return) program needs.

Friends of Strays will host a public ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Cat Box building July 1 at 10 a.m.

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