Meet Oakland’s Cat Whisperers
An unlikely duo is changing the way the Bay Area adopts cats and drinks coffee. Since opening America’s first cat cafe in Oakland last October, owners Ann Dunn and Adam Myatt have found themselves living in a real-world Internet meme: herding cats, commissioning sprawling Catzilla murals, and getting cat tattoos. But they aren’t your typical crazy cat people. Dunn and Myatt founded Cat Town Café, an adoption center, cafe, and art gallery, to raise awareness about rescue cats and make the adoption
process a little more fun. Writer Jenna Scatena caught up with the two to talk about their new venture.
What’s your background with cats?
Dunn: In 2009, I began volunteering at an Oakland animal shelter and saw how its lack of resources made it difficult for cats to find homes. Cats’ real personalities often don’t show when they’re in the stressful environment of shelter cages, and people find it equally depressing to see, so they tend to avoid shelters. I worked in public housing redevelopment policy for more than 20 years and realized I could apply my background to finding a more creative solution for cat adoption. Myatt: I was a musician in West Oakland who saw a need to help the feral cats in my neighborhood. I went to Japan, the cat-cafe world capital, and toured a dozen cat cafes and two feral cat islands. Then I got in touch with Ann and when she told me her idea, I said, ‘If you get the cats, I’ll figure out the cafe.’
So was Cat Town Café modeled after the ones in Japan?
Myatt: Not really. The cat cafes in Japan are for-profit, where the cats live at the cafe and aren’t usually for adoption. The cats are basically a schtick to get people in the door to buy coffee. With Cat Town Café, the schtick is the coffee and the cat-themed art, but the rest is a rescue center to find cats homes.
How does it work—can people just drop in?
Dunn: We have an online reservation system that we recommend people use to ensure a spot. We tend to book up days in advance. It’s a $10 donation for one hour in the Cat Zone. Otherwise, the cafe is open to anyone during business hours, and you can watch the cats play through the large observation window that separates the cafe from the Cat Zone.
Describe the Cat Zone.
Myatt: It’s the section where all the cats hang out, usually around a dozen, and up to 14 people can play with them at a time. We designed it as a small-scale replica of Oakland, so the play structures are miniature models of the Tribune Tower, City Hall, the federal buildings, and even a “Port of Cat Town” corner with cat toy shipping cranes. There’s something fun about seeing cats climbing all over your city’s buildings, like a Catzilla scene.
Tell us about the nonfeline components.
Myatt: We serve Bicycle Coffee, bagels from Authentic Bagel Company, and cat-shaped cookies from Rolling Sloane’s Bakery. Then there’s an art gallery where we show different local artists’ work, which rotates every six weeks. Of course, the art has to be cat-themed too. An illustrator designed a cat coloring book for kids, and we have a sticker vending machine and cat calendars.
How many cats are finding homes?
Dunn: Within just four months, we got 144 cats adopted—that’s more than one cat per day finding a home. I can’t tell you how good that feels. Myatt: We got so excited that when our 100th cat got adopted, Ann and I got cat tattoos.
Any plans to expand?
Dunn: We’ve talked about taking on a short-term lease for the space next door as a trialrun for a second Cat Zone that would cater to cats with special needs. Mostly shy and timid cats whose personalities aren’t compatible with the social atmosphere of the main Cat Zone.