By Shaun Ryan
Purrt City may be the most unusual place a traveler can spend the night.
Outwardly, it’s a kind of campground with tents to rent. But what differentiates Purrt City—the lodging portion of the Purradise Springs property near Fort White in Columbia County—from other outdoor accommodations are the year-round residents and occasional “tenmates.”
In other words, cats.
Lots of them. Community cats, disabled cats, cats that are at-risk or simply have nowhere else to go. Because Purradise Springs is first and foremost a feline sanctuary, which rents out the tents to raise money for its related nonprofit, Purrapy Inc.
Purrt City’s uniqueness is the main reason travelers stay there. True, about 10% of the guests have found it an affordable place to stay while visiting nearby Ichetucknee and Ginnie springs. But most are seeking a chance to cuddle with the resident cats at the end of a long day. In fact, some guests grow so attached to their furry acquaintances that they adopt them.
Owners Denise and Thom Howard started down this path after losing a pair of cats they’d had for 11 years. To fill that empty spot in their lives, the Howards quickly adopted two kittens. At the same time they began to feed and care for a bunch of cats migrating from the house of a neighbor who had died.
Denise Howard discovered a passion for this type of work. She and her husband began to do trap-neuter-release to help control the feral population in Jacksonville. But they wanted to do more. They wanted to create a sanctuary for the cats away from places where they might be poisoned or forced out due to construction.
They found a piece of property at 166 SW Lola Court, northwest of Fort White. A former mobile home park, it was large (nine acres) and secluded. It also had water, septic tanks and electricity, so the Howards considered having an RV camp on the site as a fundraiser.
But the town passed an ordinance that made that impossible, and fans of the nonprofit said they didn’t own any RVs. In addition, there was a danger that the cats would scratch up a $150,000 vehicle.
At the suggestion of Denise Howard’s sister, they elected to switch to tent camping: glamping. They have five tents, actually yurts — or in Purradise Springs lingo, “purrts.” At least one is air-conditioned, the others are fan-cooled. And a lodge building nearby offers guests a place to go to warm up, cool off or hang out with kittens.
The Howards moved in last January. They opened on the fourth weekend of July and were fully booked.
“We’ve been booking pretty steady,” said Denise Howard.
The Howards are planning to convert existing buildings on the property for use by the sanctuary. They are also working with other small rescuers to form a cooperative and hope to enlist the help of area veterinarians.
Anyone looking to spend the night in one of the purrts and perhaps some quality time with the cats of Purradise Springs can learn more at purrapyinc.com.