OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA —
Most people go to coffee bars to get their daily dose of caffeine, but at a café in California, it’s all about getting a feline fix.
Cat cafés — where customers can relax, sip tea or coffee, and mingle with cats — first opened in Asia in the 1990s, and are now found across Asia and Europe. But they didn't reach the United States until last year, when Cat Town Café opened in Oakland.
The Cat Zone
The café features cat-themed pastries to go with its beverages; twenty cats are in a room next door. The cat zone has colorful, eye-catching murals on the walls, comfortable chairs and cushions, and huge painted wooden play structures.
Part of the decorations at Cat Town Cafe in Oakland, CA. (JoAnn Mar for VOA)
Most of the cats are sleeping in the sun or relaxing in front of big picture windows that overlook a busy street. For a small admission fee, customers spend an hour with the cats — playing with them, petting them, or just watching them.
The customers have many reasons for visiting Oakland's Cat Town Café. Alan brought his son, because, he explained, "Caleb enjoys cats."
"I thought it would be a fun place to stop and say 'hello.' Where we live, we can't have cats," he said. "We have not had any pets for him. So this is a nice opportunity for him to come see animals."
Mike Deluca was looking to adopt a cat for his girlfriend's son, Michael. On their second visit to Cat Town Café, they found Juniper, a young gray tabby.
Juniper is a young gray tabby recently adopted by Mike Deluca. (JoAnn Mar for VOA)
"We just fell in love with the cats they had there," he said. " They had a great assortment of cats, kittens, adult kittens. And the staff was amazing. And we decided to get a cat for her son. And it's been going great ever since."
Adopting, not just admiring
Cat Town Café differs from most of the establishments in Asia and Europe, where the cats are permanent residents of the cafes.
Adam Myatt, who co-founded Cat Town with Ann Dunn in October, said they saw cat cafés as an opportunity to bring attention to the plight of stray cats.
Dunn had started a rescue center four years ago and since then, fostered and adopted out hundreds of homeless cats.
"Could we just do this like an adoption center?" Myatt wondered. "Could we just tack this coffee thing on top of it and bring more people to meet these cats?"
So matching pet owners with the right cat became part of Cat Town Café's mission.
Customers interact with cats at Oakland's Cat Town Cafe in California. (JoAnn Mar for VOA)
Millions of dogs and cats are euthanized every year in U.S. animal shelters. In Oakland, the cat euthanasia rate was 40 percent four years ago. Thanks to Cat Town and other rescue centers as well as aggressive spay/neuter campaigns, the number of cats killed at Oakland shelters has now dropped to 20 percent.
Dunn said the hundreds of volunteers who help out at the café and provide foster homes have made a big difference. She added that the "measure of our success is how many cats are being adopted and we've more than doubled our adoption rate as an organization since we opened."
"So it's succeeding and it's an exciting thing for the city of Oakland to have the nation's first cat café," she said. "We're drawing people who are coming, not just from getting in their cars and coming here, to Oakland, but people who are getting on planes and coming here."
Americans needing a cat fix no longer have to fly to Oakland. Cat cafés are quickly spreading to other cities nationwide. Since Cat Town opened, cafés have started in New York, Denver, San Diego, and Portland, Oregon.