Oakland Park's Beyond Nine Cat Rescue was forced to close with little notice on Sunday, June 16, leaving the rescue organization scrambling to find homes for 50 cats in its care. Founder Sharon Fornes says the organization's landlord never informed volunteers the city had rezoned the area several years ago to make room for a culinary arts district.
"The area was rezoned quite a while ago, and we were not aware we couldn't be here," Fornes tells New Times. "We got notice last Thursday that [the landlord] is terminating the lease and we had to move out."
Opened in 2015, Beyond Nine Cat Rescue, located at 3501 N. Dixie Hwy., is a volunteer organization dedicated to rescuing cats and helping them find safe permanent homes.
"I would guess hundreds of cats have been saved from wandering the streets and contributing to the feral cat population," says Beyond Nine volunteer Michael Roth.
Fornes says the property's landlord was being fined for keeping Beyond Nine since April 23 as he tried to get a variance. When the city denied the request, he was forced to terminate the lease with the shelter to stop accruing fines.
"The deadline passed and the city started fining him," Fornes says. "We were not aware of the deadline and thought we could stay here based on the fact he said he would get a variance on the zoning. We just kept talking to him and all of a sudden, a few days ago, he said, 'I am very sorry you must vacate the property immediately.'"
Despite the sudden notice, the shelter has been successful in finding the cats temporary homes.
"People are adopting, taking them in as fosters, and a lot of people are lined up to get the place fixed up to turn it back over," Fornes says. "The main concern is for the cats. We want to make the move as easy as possible."
Although they can be sent to different rescues, the best case scenario for each cat is a foster home. But even if there are not enough foster homes available, Fornes insists no cats will end up on the street.
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She says one veterinarian volunteered to take ten cats to St. Petersburg, offering them a dedicated space away from other unfamiliar cats to avoid stressing them out after the move.
"If we can get them into foster homes, that would be the ideal situation," Fornes says. "We'd rather not have them go to other rescues because it's difficult for them to be in a new space with unfamiliar cats. Cats don't take to that really well. They sometimes shut down, quit eating, and die. We are not going to do anything to harm them."
After the shelter announced it would close, many in the Oakland Park community expressed anger on social media sites. But Fornes says the city is working to help find the organization a new home that will meet its needs.
"People who are up in arms on Facebook don't realize we are working with the city and the city is working with us to find a new space for us. They are very easy to deal with," she says. "This is a typical Facebook situation with people threatening to burn down City Hall or boycott the restaurants in Oakland Park, but those are the people who won't help in any way and just get mad at one another — we don't need any more of that."