I usually scoff at dog people who want to take their dogs everywhere: into stores, to the park, on vacation, even into restaurants. The last thing I want is a dog under my table or pet hair in the food.
So what could be kookier than a café with cats? Believe it or not, this cat lover’s nirvana is happening in Oakland, California. It’s the first in the United States, too. What is already a hip trend in Japan and elsewhere around the world is now on our very doorstep.
You can’t take your own cat for a half-caf double foamy latte, however. The idea is to showcase adoptable cats along with some tasty coffee and treats. The two spaces do not comingle – you can take your coffee with you to visit the cats in the Cat Zone, but kitties never set paw into the café. A double-door corridor sets the two apart. So don’t worry about cat hair in your scone. By the way, in adorable style, the café menu lists “wet food” and “dry food.” Purr!
Adam Myatt and Ann Dunn, co-founders of Cat Town, had been noodling on an idea to help cats for some time; Myatt’s trip to Japan last year included several visits to cat cafés, and their plans advanced. Finding the right location and getting ready to open a café, which neither had ever done, were challenging, but they accomplished both.
Cat Town is sleek and artsy on the café side, with original cat art (of cats, not by cats), greeting cards and calendars. One may purchase treats for the kitties from gumball-style coin-op machines. For now, the café offers pour-over coffees featuring beans from Bicycle Coffee in medium, dark and decaf; Guatemalan and Honduran beans in particular. “It’s a really good way to get a really good cup of coffee,” says Myatt. Later, they hope to add espresso and other styles of coffee. The café also offers a variety of teas, including catnip. For realz! Purr!
You can watch the cats frolic or sleep through windows into the Cat Zone, but you’ll need a reservation to get in there. When it’s your turn to visit the gatos, you swipe your hands with antibacterial gel, then leave the café through a glass door, through a short corridor, and then another glass door. This prevents kitties from escaping, and provides a good buffer zone, of which the health department fully approves. You can take your beverage with you, but don’t feed the felines. People food is not cat food, and vice versa. Growl!
Inside the Cat Zone, a handful of cats lounge while others claw, climb, leap, chase toys and curl up with whomever is sitting nearby. Colorful murals feature local scenes and, of course, cats, making the space a cheerful place to drink your beverage and pet a passing puss. Children are not allowed unaccompanied by an adult; gentle play is encouraged and so is petting and chin-scratching. Purr!
In the café’s first weekend, six of the nine cats in the space were adopted; two were taken out to a foster home because they did not enjoy the space with as many people in it. Other cats came in and Myatt and Dunn hope for a steady stream of adoptions henceforth. One thing is certain: “Nobody is ever going back to the shelter,” according to Myatt. They “always have a place to go.”
All of the cats have been neutered, vaccinated and microchipped. Volunteers from Oakland Animal Shelter ensure that the people/cat interaction is safe and healthy for both parties. On the cat side of things, they vet the cats, so to speak, to see who will play well with others; for health reasons, very young kittens, with their underdeveloped immune systems and no vaccinations yet, will not take part in the fun at Cat Town. Look instead for “tweenagers,” cats of six months to two years of age. Much older than that, and cats are more territorial and less suited for the multi-cat space of Cat Town.
Potential adoptive families fill out a questionnaire from the web site and have a friendly chat with a cat adoption counselor. “We try to operate from a place of trust,” says Myatt. There’s a fee of $50 for one cat or $75 for two; cats with special needs can receive grant money from Maddie’s Fund to pay for their treatment, meds, special food or ongoing assistance. “We try to keep siblings or bonded pairs together if possible,” Myatt says.
So much thought has gone into the concept that the realization of this dream must be a little overwhelming. Grand opening weekend in October was “incredible, insane” Myatt says. Visits with kitties in the Cat Zone were booked up and “we had to turn away” many interested visitors, he says, but they were happy to wait.
“Cats are this unifier,” he says. After speaking eloquently about his passion for cats and this project, Myatt confesses, “They call me the Cat Man of West Oakland. I’m one of the few crazy cat men out there.” Purr!
For now, weekends are busy at the café and reservations for the Cat Zone are highly encouraged. Visit the web site to reserve time with the felines; you can watch through the windows any time. Café hours are Wednesday-Sunday from 8am-7pm; the Cat Zone is open from 10am-7pm.
Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, blogger, and author. Her new chicklit novel, Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop, comes out Nov. 12. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. She’s also a crazy cat lady. #meow