Friends of Strays and MEOW Now team up to save cats • St Pete Catalyst

The non-profit group Friends of Strays, a no-kill animal shelter in St. Pete, is partnering with MEOW Now to rescue more free-roaming cats.

On October 1, the two nonprofits will join together to expand their efforts and resources to humanely reduce the breeding of homeless/outdoor cats in the community, according to an announcement from Friends of Strays this week. MEOW Now will also have a physical space on the Friends of Strays campus by next year.

Although this formal partnership is new, the two groups have established a strong relationship over the years through the TNVR (Trapping, Neutering, Vaccinating and Returning) program. The program helps control the cat population, which reduces the number of euthanized cats and improves their overall well-being.

“We’ve been quite integrated and have been in talks for almost a year to join forces,” said Dara Eckart, CEO of Friends of Strays. St. Pete Catalyst. “There are so many feral and outdoor cats that are routinely euthanized that we want to achieve an 80-90% safety rate.”

MEOW Now has been TNVR for community cats since 2015, and Friends of Strays is a supportive shelter for spaying surgeries and vaccinations. Eckart said the Friends of Strays surgeon, who has a strong background in shelter medicine, performs 20 to 30 surgeries a week.

An image of one of the cats from Friends of Strays.

In 2021, Friends of Strays vaccinated and modified over 2,700 community cats, including cats trapped by MEOW Now.

Since its inception, MEOW Now has brought in nearly 10,500 cats through its TNVR program and well over 1,000 kittens through its adoption program, preventing approximately 40 million kittens from being born on the streets of Pinellas County.

“After establishing the first TNVR organization in Pinellas County and bringing it to where it is today, we are so excited to combine our efforts for cats and community caregivers with our trusted partner, Friends of Strays, where we know the mission will be protected and preserved,” MEOW Now president and co-founder Dan Hester said in a statement.

The partnership comes as Friends of Strays accepts animals from struggling shelters that have reached capacity and plans to increase its physical footprint.

Friends of Strays recently purchased two buildings which it will begin renovating in January. One of the buildings will be called the Cat Box, and will be dedicated solely to housing adoptable cats and services.

Eckart said MEOW Now is currently renting space outside the Friends of Strays campus, but plans to move into the Cat Box.

“MEOW Now has made a huge difference and financially, we see it as a huge benefit for them to have access to our resources – funding, in-house veterinary services and our network of volunteers and hosts,” Eckart said.

The second building, the Dog House, would be dedicated to dogs. The buildings should be finished next year.

Additionally, MEOW Now’s third co-founder and board member, Cathy Unruh, will join the Friends of Strays board.

Friends of Strays will host their annual Wags and Whiskers event at Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg on October 15. This year’s theme is “Jurassic Bark”.