Here is a very special Catification project that I’m excited to share with you. This project — along with others of its kind — is part of a growing movement to assist victims of domestic violence and their pets in times of crisis.

Quite often people experiencing domestic violence refuse to leave their abuser out of fear for what might happen to their beloved pet. Some domestic violence shelters are now offering pet-friendly facilities where families and individuals who are fleeing domestic violence can come with their pets to be in a safe and nurturing environment.

Sojourner Center in Phoenix, AZ has provided shelter and support services to adults and children affected by domestic violence since 1977. In 2015, they built a Pet Companion Shelter, which includes a dedicated cat area, a separate space for dogs, including outdoor dog runs, and a visitation room where families in the program can spend time with their pets. Sojourner Center contracts with local rescue Lost Our Home to provide daily care and training for pets in the program, while pet parents are also encouraged to come daily to care for and visit with their pets. It really is an outstanding program that is making a huge difference!

Sojourner Center contacted me to ask if I could give their cat room a facelift. When I learned about the impact this kind of program can have on so many lives — both human and feline — I was overwhelmed with a desire to help. I reached out to my friends at GreaterGood.org for some assistance. My Catification cohort Jackson Galaxy is now incorporating our Catification ideas into his work with them, so I figured they would be an excellent resource and wow, did they come through! This project was executed by the ultimate Catification dream team!

The outstanding team from GreaterGood.org‘s Safe Haven program arrived in Phoenix and we went to work furiously remodeling the Sojourner Center’s Pet Companion Shelter. In a little over a week we completely transformed the space into what is now a soothing spa-like retreat for humans and animals alike.

We started in the cat room by tearing down a wall to combine two small rooms into one larger, more open space. The goal in the cat room was to create areas where multiple cats can hangout and where cat parents can come and spend time with their cats. The cats stay in spacious kennels overnight and when they need to be separated, but now they have all kinds of places to climb, play and relax when they are out of the kennels.

Sojourner Center is currently undergoing a campus-wide makeover to incorporate soothing colors throughout their facility to support a trauma informed care model, so I picked a spa color palette of light sage green, soft beige and off white, which we carried through the entire space and into all the little details.

Sometimes cats that come from homes with domestic violence may have behavior issues themselves because they may have been abused, too. This can cause aggression in some cats and fear of humans in others. It was important to create lots of safe spaces where cats can hide without being trapped as well as places for them to climb and survey their territory.

The GreaterGood.org team built their signature cubby boxes and wall-mounted hexagon climbers to customize the space. The base cabinets for the cubbies house several litter boxes. All the cabinets and cubbies have hinged doors for easy cleaning. We extended shelving from the tops of the existing cabinets to create a fantastic superhighway that connects all the way around the room.

Suspended cat bridges extend across the windows, connecting the superhighway and giving the cats a view out the windows. Platforms at each end of the bridges attach securely to the walls and provide resting spots.

We cleared off the clutter from the top of the two large kennels to create additional lounging space and added a hidden staircase in the corner next to one of the kennels. This staircase also became an additional up/down point on the superhighway.

Little touches like throw pillows, scratchers donated by Pet Fusion, floor mats and soft green/beige carpet tiles make the space cat-friendly and really finish it off.

You may notice two cat doors under the windows. These doors lead outside to a brand new catio! We re-claimed a portion of the dog run, building a frame and attaching mesh so no cats can escape.

The catio has shelves and a giant wall-mounted hexagon climber. There is also an airlock at one end to make sure all the cats stay in when someone enters from the outside.

Two cat doors provide multiple entrances and exits from the catio, plus they can be locked when everyone needs to stay inside.

We also tackled the visitation room where families can spend time with their dog (or turtle, or lizard, or guinea pig…all animals are welcome in the program!) This room also houses the enrichment equipment for the dogs and the laundry area.

We extended the same color palette into the lounge area and rearranged things to make it a bit more useable. Lots of storage was added to help keep things organized.

The small office for the rescue staff was also brightened up a bit with the same spa-like feel, hopefully making it a pleasant place for them to do this important work.

This project was only possible because we had an incredible team of volunteers from Sojourner Center, GreaterGood.org and Red Rover, a non-profit organization that focuses on bringing animals out of crisis and strengthening the human-animal bond through emergency sheltering, disaster relief services, financial assistance and humane education. Thanks to this incredible team, our vision came to life and we were able to create a beautiful space that will hopefully make a difference in the lives of countless people and the pets they love.

Photos by Kate Benjamin and Corey Specht, all rights reserved.