WESTBY, Wis. - A cat adoption center in Westby is being shut down by the city, but thousands of people signed an online petition to keep it open.
The Cat Lounge Adoption Room has been helping connect cats with families in the Treasures on Main Resale and Antiques store in Westby for about two years.
A resale store in the small city of Westby isn't the first place you'd expect a cat adoption center, but Erika Wilson of Gays Mills and her daughter Paige couldn't imagine it elsewhere.
"This is our cat Zoe, this is why we came to Cat Lounge,” Wilson said. “Its' been my daughter's favorite place on earth to visit."
Wilson said it's the lounge's somewhat unusual location that gets the cats attention they wouldn't otherwise get.
"They have been in shelters most of their adult life. They've been forgotten about,” she said. “Now, they're getting the exposure they deserve, and they're great cats."
Owner of Treasures on Main Joanne Kjome works with Crawford Area Shelter for Animals, which doesn't have it's own facility.
"There's nowhere else to go with these animals,” she said. “It's what I need to do."
Kjome says easily accessible shelter where cats feel comfortable is a big help in finding them homes.
"Since it really took off this year, I've had over 50 adoptions from this room,” she said.
But it's the cat lounge's location -- which Kjome says provides so many benefits -- that is now getting it shut down.
"It's not that anyone's against having an animal shelter, it just needs to be put in a properly zoned area,” Westby Mayor Danny Helgerson said.
In a tied vote earlier this year, Helgerson cast the deciding vote to close the cat lounge, citing zoning ordinances that can't permit an animal shelter in that particular segment of downtown.
"It's for any compact, confined area where you have high pedestrian traffic door to door, business to business, and you have a list of allowable businesses and this, just an animal shelter, is not one that's allowed," Helgerson said.
Wilson started an online petition gaining over 19,000 signatures, and brought them and about a dozen supporters with her to Tuesday night's council meeting.
But Helgerson wasn't so convinced by the petition -- he pointed out 90 percent of the signatures are from people living outside Wisconsin.
"There hasn't been anyone who contacted City Hall from city of Westby, so I know it's a big thing on the internet, it just doesn't seem to have the same weight here in town,” he said.
At the meeting, Helgerson explained the cat lounge just can’t be permitted under current zoning ordinances, which he said are similar in many other cities around us. The council said tonight they're not going to change those ordinances.
Helgerson said he'd be happy to discuss a cat adoption center elsewhere in the city, but Kjome was hoping to stay where she and the cats feel at home.
"If I move, it'll be out of Westby,” she said.
The Cat Lounge Adoption Room has until the end of February to find places for the about dozen cats that are currently there.
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