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I'll take my coffee with a cat

Coffee with a calico? Tea with a tabby? Or just want to unwind with a feline?

Enter the “cat café.”

It’s an idea that apparently started in Asia and then spread to Europe. Now it’s come to the United States as an engaging way to find permanent homes for cats and kittens.

The first cat café in the U.S. was a temporary one in New York—a four-day collaboration that took place last April between North Shore Animal League America and Purina ONE. Cat lovers had the chance to sip complimentary "cat'achinos" while visiting with 16 cats up for adoption. Fourteen of the cats were adopted by the end of the event with the remaining 2 finding homes within the month.

Now permanent cat cafés are opening, working with health code laws by keeping food preparation areas separate from the cat areas.

The first permanent U.S. cat café, Cat Town Café at 2869 Broadway in Oakland, Calif., opened in October. It’s an expansion of the work of Cat Town, a nonprofit cat rescue, to find homes for cats being held by Oakland Animal Services.

Adam Myatt, known as the “Cat Man of West Oakland” because of his feral cat calendars, opened the café with Cat Town founder and friend Ann Dunn. Split into a café and cat zone to work with health code laws regarding food preparation areas, Cat Town Café allows 14 people every hour to observe and play with cats.

The limit on the number of people, says Myatt, is to prevent stressing the cats who might face up to 154 people per day, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., five days per week.

Near the end of the first month of operation, 30 cats had already found new homes, says Myatt.

“[Cat Town Café is] doing pretty well,” he noted. “It’s been a process to see which cats are going to do best in this space. A cat café is not for every cat. It has to be one that can handle meeting hundreds of people.”

The hardest part, he says, is curbing people’s expectations. Cat activity varies, as cat lovers know, he says.

“Cats sleep a lot and don’t always want to play, so some people might be disappointed. But if visitors really want to interact, we recommend that they reserve a time in the morning when the cats are super playful, ready to go crazy, or around 5 or 6 p.m. when they start getting active again.

“We don’t have Wi-Fi or a ton of seating. Most of the space is the cat zone. It’s not a café you would try to work in or bring your laptop to. But we do have great coffee and bagels and sell T-shirts, and we’re really trying to make this a super-fun, magical space for cats.”

In San Francisco, cat enthusiasts Courtney Hatt, David Braginksy, and Benjamin Stingle are getting ready to open KitTea, part gourmet tea house, part cat and human oasis, at 96 Gough Street in late March.  

“It’s been a lot of work after starting with a complete blank slate. There was a lot of construction and customization to cover, as well as permits, the cost of San Francisco, very busy contractors in a fast-growing city, and trying to dot all of the i's and cross all of the t's,” says Hatt. 

How will it work when it opens?

“You will enter KitTea through a vestibule that keeps the tea and cats separate and be greeted by a friendly host/hostess who will take your order. From there you will walk into the cat/human oasis and be alerted once your tea and/or snacks are available for pickup at the hostess desk. Due to strict health regulations, no employee of KitTea can serve you tea or snacks in the space due to the risk of cross contamination in the two spaces.”

“If you choose to only come to KitTea for the tea,” says Hatt, “you can take a seat in our tea space. There you can view all the happenings in the cat area through a glass partition while you relax and learn about Japanese tea service.”

KitTea is working with Give Me Shelter Cat Rescue, providing a space where the rescue can house its adoptable cats and thus make more room for rescuing other cats in California and across the U.S.

How do these operations help adopt cats?

At shelters, Hatt explains, “cats who are scared will often come off as aggressive, aloof, and, in general, completely different from who they really are.”

In these cafés, she says, “the cats are going to be far less stressed than they would be in a shelter situation.”  

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