NEW PORT RICHEY — In the building next door to the dog kennel at the SPCA Suncoast, the cliques are as pronounced as the ones you'd find within the walls of the nearest high school.
But inside the five newly constructed colony rooms — think airy, toy-filled indoor sunrooms for cats — your temperament determines your placement in feline paradise.
Two kitten rooms keep the small cats away from the adult ones. They roam around, jumping to reach scratch posts and rolling colorful balls with the tips of their noses.
Teenage cats, aged four to six months, have their own turf. Some congregate, as teenagers do. Others keep to themselves.
Laid-back cats lounge in yet another room. They watch each other. Stare out the window. Slip around the room.
Anyone too shy or not ready to mingle hangs out in a fifth room.
"Other cats try to play, and they look out the window and think, 'I don't want to play. What are you doing?' " said Gail Armstrong, executive director of the SPCA Suncoast.
Before the remodel
Before the cat colony rooms were constructed in the house near the SPCA Suncoast's main office on Congress Street, individual metal cages housed about 50 domestic short-haired cats and purebreds who call the SPCA home until someone adopts them.
A few months back, a donor who wished to remain anonymous offered to give money to the shelter, and asked what improvements it needed.
Armstrong suggested colony rooms for the cats, a setup she'd heard about at other shelters. The donor cut a check for $15,000.
Armstrong found a remodeling company through someone on her organization's board of directors. That company had some outdoor sun room materials that weren't up to the latest hurricane codes — but they could still be used inside the cat house.
"Only place they could be installed was inside," Armstrong said. "It was perfect for our needs."
Construction began at the end of August, and within a few days, the cats moved into their new digs. The 1,600-square-foot house had always been a cat adoption area, but now, large window panels allowed visitors to observe the cats before deciding to adopt.
Cats are observed by SPCA staffers a few hours after arriving before it's determined what room they can fit in best.
Once inside, they can sit on window sills to watch for birds and squirrels. One room even has a fish-filled aquarium.
Some rooms have benches, where people considering adoption can sit and interact with the cats while they roam and play.
On a recent afternoon, two kitty residents of the cat colony house competed for a jingling ball at the top of a scratch post. A few napped in a tower. Others stood nearby, watching and waiting.
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4609.