Meowmaste: Yoga with cats at city shelter takes Miami by storm

June 22, 2017

Back off, downward dog. Yoga’s a cat’s world now — at least, that’s how it is at Challenge shelter Miami-Dade Animal Services.

The Million Cat Challenge recently spoke with Miami-Dade’s Lorna Mejia, Chief of Shelter Services and Live Release Programs, and Director Alex Muñoz about  the “Meowmaste: Yoga with Cats” program.

First thing on our minds: How did the program, and its wonderful name, come about in the first place?

“The Director of the Construction Department for Miami-Dade is working on her yoga certification, and she had to do a community project,” said Muñoz. “She works very closely with us, she knows our facilities, knows we’d built the space to facilitate community activities. We did that to give exposoure to the animals to people we normally don’t see in the shelter, and this seemed like exactly what we had in mind.

“As to the name, we started out calling it Yoga with Cats, but then internally people started referring as ‘Meowmaste,’ so we kept it.”

“We learned about the general idea from other shelters, but we’re not aware of it happening in South Florida before this,” said Mejia.

The response from the community and local media has been more invigorating than a sun salutation, particularly after they successfully pitched the story to the high-profile Miami Herald.

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Something like this offers the opportunity to change public perception of what a shelter does, Mejia said. “A lot of people shared their delight about the program,” said Mejia. “Many of the participants had not yet been into our new shelter. We had one person who signed up to be a foster because of it!”

The shelter saw an increase in cat adoptions after the publicity as well. “Right now we’re in the middle of kitten season, so we have a higher percentage of cats and kittens in the shelter,” said Mejia. “One of the better parts of the article was the fact that the shelter is a resource for the community. Many participants weren’t aware we had a robust volunteer and foster program, and offered more than just adoption. They didn’t know we had rescue and transport programs, either. This gave us an opportunity to share all the things we do for the community beyond adoption.”

Muñoz agreed. “It’s amazing the amount of support we’ve gotten for our cat programs. The supporters are out there! Shelters are positioned to try new things to raise awareness and find new ways to bring people in.”

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Does the Miami -Dade team have advice for other organizations looking to implement a similar program?

“My advice would be to try it,” said Mejia. “There’s no harm in trying an idea to see if works out!”

Muñoz added, “It’s no longer okay just to be an animal shelter. We need to be a place where people meet, attend events. We’ve gotten all kinds of outreach from local businesses just because we have a new building. Even though we’re doing the same work and the same passion, the perception has changed because of the building, and the community events we have in it. Programs like this providing all types of opportunity for exposure is what the new era of sheltering is all about.”

Photos courtesy Miami-Dade Animal Services

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