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Valentine's Day gift for stray: a home

Cats will be available from Friends of Strays for reduced prices during February's "Open Your Heart to Strays" special.

A jogger on the Pinellas Trail found Cosby the cat near death, his claws wrapped in duct tape.

Without the use of his claws, Cosby could neither hunt nor defend himself. The Angora couldn't even scratch off the ear mites that ate away his ear drums and made him deaf.

The runner called the Friends of Strays after the discovery earlier this month. The shelter took in the homeless cat, which is being nursed back to health at one of the center's "foster homes" for cats. His rescuers guess that somebody may have taped his claws in an effort to stop him from scratching furniture.

Volunteers at the shelter believe that this year's cold weather would have killed Cosby had he not been discovered. Not all the cats at the shelter have a story as dramatic as Cosby's, but they all need homes. That is why for the second year in a row, Friends of Strays is beginning February with an "Open Your Heart to Strays" open house at their rescue center on 47th Avenue N.

The promotion is designed to find homes for adult cats. It will run for three weeks. (Cosby is still recovering and will not be available for this special.)

"This one is special (because) we want to move the adult cats before the kitten season starts. After the kitten season we (will be filled) with mother cats and kittens," said Jean Bomonti, chairman of the board and one of the co-founders.

Bomonti said that adopting an older cat can be a safer bet than taking home a kitten because the personality of the animal has emerged, the sometimes destructive playfulness of a young juvenile has passed and the cat is trained to use a litter box.

From Tuesday through Feb. 19, prospective cat owners can come to Friends of Strays and meet a host of calicos, tiger-stripped, sable or black and white felines. Friends of Strays provides an area for prospective owners to interact with a cat and decide if it is coy, outgoing, talkative or more the silent type.

Callie, Naomi, Nickalena, Cabernet and 28 other adult cats are available for the special $25 adoption fee. (The usual fee is $40.) All cats are already litter-trained, spayed or neutered and have had all shots and come up negative in screening for feline leukemia and feline AIDS.

The adoptees range from 6 months to more than 9 years old. Chong has been waiting to be adopted for nearly a year. Most of the other cats have been there fewer than six months.

The shelter does not destroy any healthy animal regardless of how long it takes to be adopted.

Last year, most of the available cats found homes. Maybelle was left behind because of digestive troubles, but she has since found a home. Seven dogs and 10 kittens also went home when some people fell in love with them while meeting and adopting older cats.

Last year, Debbie Towne, who also works for the center, adopted 5-year-old Jackson _ a brown-and-white tabby cat who has a way with women.

"He just really took a liking to me. He would jump on my lap and start kneading my chest. . . . I just fell in love with him, so I adopted him."

Towne enjoyed the perks of adding a more grown-up cat to her household.

"You don't have to go with that kitten phase," she said. "It's more like rooming with a roommate _ you learn their quirks (and) their own individual personalities. They play, but they're not as crazy as kittens are. And they appreciate the affection so much."

People wishing to adopt should be prepared to fill out a questionnaire assessing such things as the home environment, age of children in the family, a landlord's rules about pets and pet deposits and the ability of the family to handle the expenses a pet incurs. (Dog adoption includes a home inspection.)

Two things to note: This promotion is at the Friends of Strays shelter at 2911 47th Ave. N _ just south of the 28th Street Drive In. Their thrift store on 34th Street North will not have these cats.

Also, Friends of Strays can accept no cats dropped off without a proper intake. Even though the shelter has a "no kill" rule, Pinellas County ordinances demand that any animal without a health history for rabies must be surrendered to Animal Control.