Grand opening held for Rescue Me! cat shelter at Harford Mall

If you want to get to Rescue Me! at Harford Mall, head to the area between Visionworks and Men's Wearhouse, near the Sears anchor store, or, just follow the paw prints on the mall corridor floors.

Rescue Me! is the latest of many efforts by the Humane Society of Harford County to get more of the adoptable animals that come to its Fallston shelter into homes.

Cats are the focus of Rescue Me!, which is in the Bel Air mall's former arcade.

A grand opening event, which included a ribbon-cutting ceremony, was held Saturday for Rescue Me!

Visitors could see the available cats, and purchase pet items provided by Baron's K-9 Country Store.

Baron's operates its main store on Pritt Lane in Bel Air, and is also sharing space at the mall with the Humane Society for Rescue Me!

"We felt that their business model of proving healthy options... made sense for us to partner with," Dave Fang, president of the Humane Society's Board of Directors, said Saturday.

 The establishment's "soft opening" was Sept. 11, and Humane Society Executive Director Mary Leavens said 11 cats had been adopted as of Saturday.

"The cats are ready to go here," she said. "You look at them, you adopt them and you go."

Visitors could view adoptable cats and kittens in wooden cases with glass fronts, structures nearly floor-to-ceiling that Humane Society staff had dubbed "cat condos" or "cat town houses."

"I equate them to people sitting on the boardwalk in Ocean City, watching the people go by," Leavens said of the cats.

The cats' litter boxes were in a bottom drawer of the condos, out of public view.

Fang showed the elaborate pipes and vents that had been installed to remove the odor of litter and ultimately push it out through the roof of the mall.

He said Rescue Me! was inspired by a visit he made to Buffalo, N.Y., four years ago.

He said Erie County's animal rescue organization had established a cat adoption location in a local mall, and he proposed a similar operation in Harford County.

He said the board ultimately stepped outside its "comfort zone" and supported the concept of Rescue Me!, which drew support from the mall, Baron's and local construction businesses which donated materials.

The cats slept through much of Saturday's event, although they immediately perked up and became playful when a potential adopter came to the window; cats put out their paws or rolled over as children peered through the glass at them.

People could socialize with the cats in a small fenced-off play area and decide if they wanted to take them home, although Fang noted it was really the cats that decided on the people.

"You don't get to pick the cat," he said. "The cat gets to pick you."

Leavens said that the Humane Society takes in about 4,500 animals a year.

The nonprofit organization took in more than 3,000 cats and kittens last year, according to a press release.

Local residents can foster animals, and Leavens said the Humane Society has 150 cats, including 111 kittens, in foster homes.

 "I think this is an absolutely wonderful idea," Diann Yuhas of Bel Air said. "It's a shame that we have more cats than dogs that need to be adopted."

Yuhas came to Rescue Me! Saturday with her 3-year-old grandson, Nicholas, who lives in Forest Hill.

Nicholas peeked through the window at a precocious kitty named Buff, a 3-month-old domestic shorthair mix.

Buff showed off for Nicholas, and the other children who peeked through the window at him. He rolled on his back, put his paws out and stretched to his full height to be at eye level with little Nicholas.

Buff also captured the attention of 5-year-old twins Julia and Teddy Parkinson of Fallston.

Their mother, Meredith, said her family had adopted their dog and cat at home from the Humane Society.

"I think it's wonderful," she said of Rescue Me! "I think it's very open; I like that the cats have a lot of space."

While Buff did not go home with Nicholas or the Parkinson twins Saturday, one of his condo neighbors, Smokey, a 3-month-old female domestic longhair, left with 5-year-old Jazmyne Jordan of Bel Air, and her mother, Tina Link.

Jazmyne took the squirmy gray kitty from Humane Society staffer Katie Addison and held her up proudly for photographs for The Aegis before Smokey was placed in a cardboard carrier.

Jackie Hammaker, an adoption counselor for the Humane Society, said Sunday afternoon that Buff had been adopted as well, later on Saturday, by a woman and her teenage son.

They took Buff, along with his condo roommate, Cherokee, a 4-month-old male, Hammaker said.

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