Want a Kitten With Your Latte? Cat Cafes Coming to Oakland, San Francisco

This pop-up installation was a preview of what Oakland's Cat Town Cafe might look like when it opens later in 2014. (Adam Myatt/Cat Town Cafe) Cafe co-founders Adam Myatt of Hoodcats and Ann Dunn of Cat Town rescue. (Nina Thorsen/KQED) This pop-up installation was a preview of what Oakland's Cat Town Cafe might look like when it opens later in 2014. The custom-built cat bed/play structure pays homage to the Port of Oakland's iconic cranes.  (Adam Myatt/Cat Town Cafe)
Owen and Davey were brought to Oakland Animal Services when they were baby kittens. After spending some time in a Cat Town foster home, they were adopted at the popup event by Cameron and Momo McKee of Bicycle Coffee. (Adam Myatt/Cat Town Cafe) Cats take over Oakland in a mural by Megan Kott and Justin Devine.  (Adam Myatt/Cat Town Cafe) This pop-up installation was a preview of what Oakland's Cat Town Cafe might look like when it opens later in 2014.  (Adam Myatt/Cat Town Cafe)
A custom-made cat bed pays homage to the Port of Oakland's iconic cranes.  (Adam Myatt/Cat Town Cafe) Kittens Owen and Davey were adopted by the popup's coffee vendor. (Nina Thorsen/KQED) This pop-up installation was a preview of what Oakland's Cat Town Cafe might look like when it opens later in 2014.  (Adam Myatt/Cat Town Cafe)

After more than a decade of success in Asian countries, particularly Japan, the adorable phenomenon of cat cafes, where you can enjoy coffee and a snack while watching frolicking kittens, is finally coming to the United States.

And the first one is likely to be either Oakland’s Cat Town Cafe or San Francisco’s KitTea — both of which are closing in on locations and should open by the end of the year, according to their organizers. Both are affiliated with rescue organizations, and both have used crowd funding to cover a substantial part of their startup costs.

Cat Town Cafe celebrated the end of its first fundraising drive on Saturday with a pop-up version of the concept. About 400 people filed in and out of the Naming Gallery, waiting for their turn to interact with a pair of orange tabby kittens named Owen and Davey.

Caitlyn Kilgore had already contributed to the Cat Town Cafe’s Indiegogo fundraising campaign, but dropped by to check out the kittens. “My partner’s allergic, so we can’t have cats at home,” she said, “So I want to get in some play time when I can.”

Surprisingly, her partner, Collin Sullivan, was also interacting with Owen and Davey.

“I suppose if I were snuggling with them a lot and getting their dander or fur or whatever on my clothes, then that would be bad,” he explained. “But hanging out with them and watching them play around while I have some coffee — I think that would be just fine.”

Allergy issues were mentioned by several of the wannabe cat cafe patrons as reasons why they’d like the chance to spend time with cats but don’t live with any. Other reasons: uncooperative landlords, a lack of space, a nomadic lifestyle, other pets.

But Ann Dunn, founder of the Cat Town rescue and a longtime volunteer at Oakland Animal Services, hopes that at least some of their clients will be cat lovers who are in a position to become cat owners.

“The only reason we’re doing this is to get cats out of cages and get them adopted quickly,” she said. “You couldn’t choose a worse environment for a cat than a shelter.  So many cats have a cage reaction, and you have no idea what the cat is really like. All you see is their fear.”

The experience at the cafe will be very different. For health reasons, the food service and preparation areas will be completely separate.

If the pop-up is any guide, Cat Town Cafe’s adoption mission should be a success.

Cameron McKee of Bicycle Coffee had agreed to be the coffee provider for the day. “And then I got here this morning and saw these cats,” he said, “and I knew that we were going to be taking them home. I got in an argument with my wife last night, so I figured if I called and told her I was bringing home two kittens, that would help work things out.”

“And it did,” said Momo McKee. She might have been the only person at the pop-up who’s been to a working cat cafe — several of them, in fact, in her native Japan. “They’re all over Tokyo, even in small towns. I think it’ll be great here, because as you can see at today’s event, people are so nice, so happy, so peaceful, when they’re with the cats.”

The cafe is a joint effort of the Cat Town rescue and Hoodcats, started by musician and photographer Adam Myatt.  “There’s a ton of feral cats in West Oakland. I just started taking pictures of them, then I Kickstarted a calendar, then the East Bay Express interviewed me — they gave me the ‘Cat Man of West Oakland’ name. I had a vision of trying to make a cat sanctuary or something in West Oakland that would help ferals.

“Then as a result of that article, I met Ann (Dunn). She’s helped me get five kittens adopted, two Hoodcats adults adopted, three others in foster care to potentially get adopted. To go from just taking pictures of cats to working with rescues and meeting all these people who are helping ferals … and now we’re starting a cat cafe.”

The Cat Man himself doesn’t have a cat. “My roommate is allergic, so I don’t get to bring any cats inside, which is kind of a bummer. But I have one cat who lives out in my backyard, I made a little house for him, and he’s totally content to be the king of our backyard.”

Myatt came up with the idea for a cat bed that’s a replica of a cargo crane, like you see at the Port of Oakland, and two of his friends designed and built it. “For the actual cat cafe, we’re going to get some bigger, meatier, metal cranes — they’re even talking about having them be functional, they’ll go up and down, which would be awesome. But this initial crane, I’ve had a ton of people ask when they could get one – I didn’t even think about that, but that’s a great idea!

“Ann and Cat Town already have three years of experience of being a rescue, on top of the years of experience working with Oakland Animal Services. So I feel like we have the rescue thing locked down. So, if we have a kitten who’s having a problem adjusting at the cafe, we have so many foster homes standing by who can take over.

“It’s just bringing all of these Oakland people together to collaborate from the ground up. And all for the good of cats! Everybody’s so excited by that.”

Ann Dunn says: “The cafe part is going to be completely self-contained within the larger property. So you’ll walk in, get your goodies, then leave that area and go in to the cat zone. And the cat zone, we’re planning to have one space for the adult cats and a separate place for kittens.

“Our mission right now at Cat Town is (to focus on) cats that are really under-socialized, or shy, cats that aren’t confident. Cats that are getting euthanized at the shelter because they’re so stressed there.

“For the cafe, we’re going in a completely different direction, so we’re focusing on cats that are very confident, very flexible. We’ll know they’re good with other cats. We’re hoping we can get groups of cats that already know each other and come in to the shelter together. But that’s going to be the biggest challenge — not just identifying the cats, but making sure they have a proper period to get acclimated. We’re working with cat behaviorists.”

“So you imagine if you went to a friend’s house that had cats. Sometimes the cats are going to hide under the bed, sometimes the cats are going to come out and rub up against your legs.  Everything (is) on the cats’ terms. If they want to play, you can play with them. If they want to sleep, you can watch them sleep. It’s going to be what the cats choose to do with you.”

Dunn and Myatt are closing in on a space for the permanent cafe. And Myatt is setting off shortly on a research trip to Japan — to visit the established cat cafes and study their best purractices.

Related

  • http://lambright.com/ wayne lambright

    I love this idea.

  • Frightened

    Must refer to Steve Martin’s immortal words here:

    I see trouble

  • Pamela Rosen

    I have issues, oh, do I have issues. First, I’m all for adoption and all that, but what happens when the kittens grow up to be cats? Who’s monitoring the cats’ welfare? How do they know the cats are going to good homes? Why are they encouraging impulse adoptions when this is a 20 year commitment? Why would they let a guy take two kittens as a peace offering to his wife? (Try flowers, dude.) This sounds incredibly irresponsible unless it’s closely monitored. ALL the time.

    • Matt Chambers

      Xanax Pam, Xanax.

    • jasminetokuda

      So the people who give kittens and puppies away at the Flea market or in front of a supermarket or on Craigslist are doing a better job of screening?….The trauma my formerly feral cat went through at the Stockton Pound is only now showing signs of abating, and after 4 years of conscious work with her….She desperately needed socializing and was a full assault kitty when I first got her….I think giving formerly feral cats an opportunity to socialize and for prospective owners to get to know a cat in a more relaxed setting over time would be a benefit for everyone… Please reread the following:
      “The cafe is a joint effort of the Cat Town rescue and Hoodcats, started by musician and photographer Adam Myatt. “There’s a ton of feral cats in West Oakland. I just started taking pictures of them, then I Kickstarted a calendar, then the East Bay Express interviewed me — they gave me the ‘Cat Man of West Oakland’ name. I had a vision of trying to make a cat sanctuary or something in West Oakland that would help ferals.
      “Then as a result of that article, I met Ann (Dunn). She’s helped me get five kittens adopted, two Hoodcats adults adopted, three others in foster care to potentially get adopted. To go from just taking pictures of cats to working with rescues and meeting all these people who are helping ferals … and now we’re starting a cat cafe.”

      Pamela Rosen, would these cats be better off remaining feral in West Oakland?…If you have issues, maybe there’s something you can personally do to help with the problem of feral cats in urban environments…….

      • Pamela Rosen

        I don’t understand the leap in logic that says if people are giving away kittens in flea markets, then it must be okay to do it in an upscale cafe…because the risk of them being abandoned, abused, or used as fight dog bait is …the same? Don’t get me wrong, if this cafe is screening applicants and being responsible about adoptions, then I’m all for it. If not, then they’re no better than the flea market guys. It’s a noble effort, but I’m questioning whether the long term is being taken into consideration. The perfect example is the man who brought his wife two kittens as a peace offering.. Suppose she didn’t want the kittens? Suppose the novelty wore off when the cats grew up? At the risk of being tossed a Xanax, I don’t want to go into further possible scenarios, anyone who follows animal rescue pages on Facebook gets the horror stories thrown at them every day. My point is…what are the long term successes here? There is a Japanese model from which to gather data.

    • Eileen Onme

      Just because the article didn’t make it clear doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. If they are working with shelters I’m sure that there will be screenings and fees for people who want to adopt. I don’t know about California but up here in Oregon all the shelters will frequently bring adoptable pets to Petsmart for a day and people can visit with the pets, talk to the shelter workers etc. and when it comes time to adopt, they fill out the same paperwork and pay the same fee as if you’d gone to the shelter.

  • TOM TOM

    I’m allergic to cats….hate ‘em.

  • Kevin Charchenko

    Audio available? I remember hearing the great sound bite of the cats purring on the radio.

  • bfg

    The article doesn’t make it clear that this is primarily a pet adoption strategy for feral kittens. I think it’s a great idea.

Author

Nina Thorsen

Nina Thorsen is a radio producer and director, and frequently reports on sports issues.  Previously, she produced and co-created KQED's "Pacific Time" and was the deputy foreign editor for "Marketplace". Thorsen began her public radio career while a student at the University of Minnesota, as a ticket taker for "A Prairie Home Companion".

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