Cat Town Café, nation’s first cat café opens, matchmaking cats and cat lovers

on October 28, 2014

The grand opening of the first cat café in the country drew dozens of cat lovers and spectators to Downtown Oakland on Saturday—or rather, Caturday. Cat Town Café, founded by Ann Dunn and Adam Myatt, better known as the “Cat Man of West Oakland,” is a café and adoption center meant to speed up the adoption process for cats in Oakland shelters.

“The main thing that we focus on is matchmaking,” Dunn said. “We start with what people are looking for in the relationship and try to find a cat who’s going to be a good match.”

The brightly lit café, at the corner of Broadway and 29th Street, is full of cat pictures and paintings. The space is separated into two large rooms: the “Cat Zone,” where people can meet and adopt a cat, and the actual café, where the cats are not allowed. In the Cat Zone, the cats spend their days in a mini Oakland cat city that they can climb all over, decorated with replicas of the city’s most iconic structures, including the Port of Oakland cranes that read “Port of Cat Town,” the Oakland Tribune tower and the twin federal towers. The interior is filled with brightly colored wall murals that feature images of the port, the Bay Bridge and known a few Internet cat celebrities—Lil Bub, popular for her perma-kitten appearance and because her tongue permanently sticks out, and Tartar Sauce, better known as “Grumpy Cat.”

Over at the café, cat-themed art adorns the walls, including watercolor paintings of cats by artist Megan Lynn Kott, with quirky message like, “So. You’re telling me I’m adopted?” or “No dogs, no masters” or “I own the Internet” — a joke referring to the massive popularity of online cat videos. There’s also a large painting of Godzilla-sized cats climbing historical downtown buildings: one cat walking on the skyway between the federal towers and another hugging City Hall. There are no tables or chairs in the café side, but customers can buy coffee, bagels and cat-shaped cookies.

A corridor with double doors divides the two rooms to meet health and safety codes and to control influx of people visiting the Cat Zone, where the felines roam freely and where folks who are looking to adopt or simply pet the furry friends can sit and sip on their coffee—in closed paper cups, of course. Visitors who want to spend time with the cats in the Cat Zone can make a reservation online and pay a $10 donation to secure a one-hour spot Wednesdays through Sundays. If there are empty spots, walk-ins are welcome to spend time with the cats for free.

Cat lovers from different parts of the Bay Area came prepared to celebrate the opening wearing cat paraphernalia and accessories: cat earrings, cat ears, cat back-packs, cat print shoes, hats and skirts, catchy cat t-shirts with messages like “Cats are people too.” Some parents dressed their children in homemade furry cat costumes too. Passersby smiled as they peeked through the glass windows to catch a glimpse of the cats.

Some of the seven cats up for adoption at the opening were Tiny, a black cat with a white mustache and paws; Cooper, a red striped cat; Pyramid, a black cat; and Fifa, a tiger stripped cat. Many of the cats are of unknown or mixed breeds. “We went to the shelter to choose our first batch of cats,” Dunn said. “We look for cats that will do well in this environment.”

During the opening, some cats took naps on laps, others rubbed their bodies against the legs of visitors, many played with cat toys, and Tiny threw up—but the team of caring Cat Town volunteers were quick to make sure Tiny was just fine and cleaned up after his accident.

“Cats can be so awesome,” said Alexis Davidson, an Oakland resident who was unable to reserve a spot in the Cat Zone because of the high demand. “The café is great for cats who are in shelters to show off their personalities. It really helps get them get adopted.”

The opening is “terribly exciting,” said Samantha Pollak a Cat Zone adoption counselor, as she sat in the Cat Zone wearing a Cat Town t-shirt, answering questions from visitors and keeping an eye on the cats. As a Cat Zone lead, Pollak is a matchmaker. She is familiar with the personalities of the cats and helps pair them up with the right person. “A lot of these cats have been in a shelter for a long time,” Pollak said. “It’s just really great to see them flourish and see them get out of a cage and have so much space to roam and play and interact with people.”

Both founders of the café have a history of caring for Oakland’s cats in need. Dunn is the founder and president of Cat Town, a non-profit organization that works with Oakland Animal Services to place cats in foster or permanent homes, and she also helps run outreach campaigns.

Myatt is cat photographer and Cat Town volunteer who is known as the “Cat Man” for his photographs of street cats in West Oakland. He publishes pictures on his website Hoodcats (hwww.oaklandhoodcats.com) and also produces a Hoodcats calendar. Myatt’s photographs hang on the café section, like the one of a cat peacefully sitting on top of a parked car in Oakland.

Cat cafes have been particularly popular in Japan. In the US, only temporary cat Cafes have popped up in cities like New York and Los Angeles. But Cat Town Café is here to stay in Oakland.

The opening drew dozens of people, and adoptions began to take off. “We just know more cats are going to be adopted,” Dunn said.

For more information on Cat Town Café or to make a reservation to enter the Cat Zone, visit www.cattowncafe.com.

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