Felicity dozes on a shelf-like basket attached to a wall. The one-eyed gray cat isn't dead to the world — her head remains upright and vigilant. Her remaining eye is closed, though, and her belly moves slowly up and down, Even as kittens zigzag around the room, popping their heads from underneath chairs and tables, she's the picture of serenity.
We're living in stressful times, and for humans, animals are a natural de-stressor. According to the National Institute of Health, interacting with animals can help to decrease stress and even lower blood pressure. But owning a furry, four-legged friend isn't an option for everyone.
That's where the Cat's Meow Café on Miami's Upper Eastside, comes in. At the Cat's Meow, you can spend one hour with a roomful of cats and kittens for $17. Guests are free to engage with the cats or just chill and watch them play with chew toys, feathers on sticks, and other cat-friendly accoutrements.
This past Saturday, the Cat's Meow held its official grand opening — more than three months behind schedule. The café had been slated to open in March, but the novel coronavirus put an end to that only a few days after the soft launch.
A group of masked teens sits on the couch in the cat lounge, each relaxing with a small kitten. Ashley Dejeu, 19, says she persuaded her boyfriend and her best friend to attend the grand opening with her after she learned about the Cat's Meow online.
"I have about four cats at home, so we're just hanging out today," Dejeu says. "I definitely want to adopt more cats in the future. I love their personalities and how independent they are."
Elizabeth Gallardo, owner of the Cat's Meow, says cats are the underdogs of the animal shelter.
"Cats tend to be misunderstood," Gallardo says. "And we want to change that. We want to not only provide the space for the cats to transition into their new home, but also educate the community in proper cat care and cat advocacy, and inform of volunteer opportunities with the animal shelter."
Thanks to a partnership with Miami-Dade County Animal Services Department, all the cats at the café are available for adoption. Guests who wish to adopt are able to interact with the residents before choosing their forever friend.
Gallardo, who's 33, says the partnership with the county came about organically. A former volunteer herself, she had friends at the shelter who facilitated a meeting with department management.
"I knew Animal Services would be a great partner," she says. "There is a big need to get cats adopted, and at the Cat's Meow Café, we can provide the animals with a different type of environment to eventually get adopted."
Gallardo mentions a recent adoptee, an older cat named Cherry, who was afraid of people when she arrived at the Cat's Meow.
"It was so rewarding to see Cherry's progress and see her come out of her shell and eventually connect with her adopter. That's what we're here for," Gallardo says.
The café houses an average of 15 cats at a time and has facilitated 61 adoptions to date. On its first day open to the community, six felines were adopted.
There's no age discrimination at the café, either. "We take anything," Gallardo says. "We're here to help any cat."
The café complies with county and municipal COVID-19 guidelines. Markers on the floor indicate six-foot-separation distances, guests and employees alike must wear masks, and the cat lounge is limited to eight guests at a time. Surfaces are wiped down continuously, and as people finish playing with a cat toy or flipping through the adoption binder, an employee immediately tends to it with a disinfecting wipe.
Unlike cat cafés in Asia, the cats at the Cat's Meow are confined to a secure room. As for the café side, Gallardo has opted to keep the snack options vegan and locally sourced. Options include cold brew from Panther Coffee and cookies from Courtney's Cookies.
"Not only are we helping the cats, but we're helping the community [by offering a place] to come in and de-stress," Gallardo sums up. "It's a very calming environment for everyone."
The Cat's Meow Cafe. 7541 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-901-0436; catsmeowmia.com. Open Tue.–Sun. from noon to 7 p.m.
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