Months had passed since Square Paws first created the “Feline Fantasies Project” at the Brevard South Animal Care Center, and it seemed to move at a glacial pace: fund-raising efforts had fallen woefully short of their goals; team members had to drop out of the project for various reasons of their own; and Mario felt himself wanting to throw in the towel, too.
It gnawed at him, though, that the striped red-and-white lighthouse he had built and installed in October sat in the room surrounded by older cat towers that had well outlived their usefulness. With all the time, energy and love that he put in to that lighthouse, he couldn’t stand the idea of his work against the beige walls with no “harbor” context around it. Mario also couldn’t bear the idea of the hard work that others had put in to the entire project with no tangible end result.
So, he called in the favors for free paint from the Sherwin-Williams store in Viera that Rose had garnered, obtained materials at wholesale cost from Lowe’s in Rockledge, completed the dock that Gregory had begun, and set off to finish what he’d started.
In the span of two weeks, the plan came together. Although Mario’s vision involved adding a smooth surface to the walls for an elaborate mural to be painted, they decided to work with the existing beige finishes in spots, and painted a bright blue sky with a deep blue ocean intended to appear as if it extends beyond the room. Nancy from Brevard ASAP (the non-profit behind the project) early on donated a series of nautical items from a friend of hers…a cat lady who had passed away. Among the items were two boat-shaped bookcases. Mario decided to upcycle them as “vanishing point” boats to further the illusion of extended space. He added a scratching-post “mast” to the sailboat and wrapped the boats in carpet.
As he painted the room (with his father’s assistance), the other cat items in the room began to come to mind. He’d planned to utilize a prototype for cat wall-shelves that he had designed in the shape of clouds, as well as a concept for an airplane wall-shelf. But, as is often the case, problems arise that need to be noodled over to find the best solution.
Thus, when the “mast” proved shaky, the solution was a stabilizing element. Not having installed the plane yet, Mario came up with the idea of having a trailing banner attached to the plane, as one would see while lying on the beach. From there he could fasten the mast through the back of the banner and could create a series of cat perches within the depth of that banner. The idea was that the shelter could rent that space out to a local business, creating a revenue stream for the shelter and publicity for the business (Hopefully, this will come to fruition!).
Though Mario was growing physically and mentally weary of the project’s construction, he knew he couldn’t stop until it felt “full and complete”.
Onward he plowed, creating a kitty wall-shelf with a dolphin fascia (because one can often find dolphins near docks at dusk in Florida). And what Space Coast beach scene is without its share of pelicans? So, a pelican wall-shelf followed, along with a PVC picket fence remnant that the Sheriff’s Office had found in their storage shed.
While the project could’ve stopped there, Mario had told Nancy during the build-out process how he would love to build a feline-scale surfboard for the room. (Brevard County is where Kelly Slater is from, after all!) Nancy’s gleeful reaction was all the encouragement he needed.
Of course, cats don’t typically perch on wood surfaces, so what would the surfboard truly serve as? Plus, it couldn’t just be tacked to the wall: a surfboard exists to be among the waves.
With some Sonotube, some plywood and some bendable MDF Mario created the blue-carpeted “wave” at the back corner of the room.
Nancy had located several cat fishing-wand toys for mounting on the dock (a seminal idea for the room since Day One), Joe, Aleta and Kurt made the installation of a vision panel in the door happen, and, like that! the Harbor Room came together.
Mario’s wish now is that more people come to visit the animal shelter, that they enjoy the Harbor Room, play with the cats, visit the dogs in the kennel, and leave with their new best friend or friends, plural!
Hang ten, baby! (paw pads, that is).