Vickie Porter of Spring Hill was first drawn to the tabby kitten in the small cage because it was clinging to a stuffed animal.
"She was all alone,'' Porter said, noting she felt compelled to hold the tiny cat.
Soon after, the two bonded over a cuddle, and Porter was sure that she had found the perfect companion. That was only cemented when she learned later that the staff at Hernando County Animal Services called the kitten Abbie Cat, the nickname Porter had given her recently deceased cat, Abigail.
Now named Angel, the kitten went to its new home last week, where it will live an indoor kitty life with Porter and her husband, Steve.
"She is such a sweetie,'' Porter said after spending the first night with the kitten. "She never stops purring.''
Officials at Animal Services hope that a new feature at the county shelter will result in many more happy adoptions in the future. Several weeks ago, they began use of a cat interaction suite in the lobby of the Oliver Street shelter.
Instead of having to choose a new feline by peering into small cages and assessing which would make the best companion, visitors can view up to 10 kittens and cats in the two connected interaction rooms as they roam free among toys, scratching posts and cat trees.
Potential adopters can step inside to watch and interact with the cats in an environment that is less stressful to the animals and allows them to better show their feline personalities.
Another benefit is that more cats won't have to be left alone or parted from litter mates or house mates, which decreases stress, explained Lisa Centonze, managing veterinarian for the county shelter.
"They have more space to eat, play and sleep,'' Centonze said.
Stress, she noted, is a leading cause for a cat to be euthanized. Stress leads to illness, and ill cats are often euthanized.
As Centonze stroked the forehead of a sleek, black kitten perched in a cat tree in the interaction area last week, she noted that the staff originally had considered requiring everyone entering the interaction rooms to have already filled out a adoption application.
They dropped that plan, she said, because finding homes for abandoned pets is all about marketing. And she acknowledged that little sells as well as an adorable calico rubbing against someone's ankles or a tabby kitten purring and curling at a human's touch.
The interaction area came about as a result of one of the findings of a University of Florida study at the shelter two years ago. The study determined that the shelter had cat cages that were too small.
When Richard Silvani, executive director of the PetLuv Non-Profit Spay and Neuter Clinic, heard the shelter was going to cut the number of cages, he offered to pay more than $5,000 for the construction of the cat rooms.
For Centonze, the numbers speak loudly to the need for the interaction rooms. In April and May, 87 percent of the dogs at the shelter were either adopted, returned to owners or turned over to rescue organizations. For cats, the number was 67 percent, but Centonze said that is good for cats.
That's why the felines need the extra face time with the public.
"It increases the exposure for cats, and cats are often the second class citizens in a shelter,'' she said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.