Bobbi Jo and Morgan Forte are what you would call dedicated cat people. Actually, Bobbi Jo’s commitment spans nearly 20 years of work in animal rescue, including ten during which she has focused on the thousands of abandoned or feral kittens and cats around the Village of Red Hook. She founded Morgan’s Cat Café, named after her daughter Morgan, as a not-for-profit organization to address the problems of unwanted cats.
Forte became a dog rescuer in Arizona as a result of having purchased a purebred dog from a breeder and then learning about what was happening with dogs abandoned in animal shelters. “After moving here, I recognized that there was an epidemic of feral cats in crisis – not as many dogs running the streets here as in Phoenix, Mesa and Scottsdale,” she explains. “There is an epidemic of suffering in the hidden colonies of cats that live in every rural town in this country.
“So I switched gears: I focused on local farms. People have this mistaken idea that if you don’t want a cat, you just drop it at a farm and it will be fine. Farmers don’t want them. They wreak havoc and spread disease. It’s become the norm for people to drop and go. When you have the merging of feral cats with domestic cats that have been abandoned, it’s not a good scene. The abandoned cats have no chance against the true ferals. It’s ‘survival of the fittest,’ and typically the ones that are dumped don’t survive. They walk around literally starving to death. It’s very hard to unsee it all and not help.”
Forte was working as a web developer when she went into business with a partner to start the retail boutique next door. For a few years, she ran a kitten-adoption gig out of the new store. After enduring a major health crisis herself, she considered, “What can I do with this passion and with the daughter I have? Creating this legacy project seemed to fuel my fire and give me drive. It made me feel very connected to Morgan and to healing.
“Morgan has been helping me since she was three years old. She has a gift. We take a lot of struggling kittens home and bottle-feed them every hour, 24 hours a day. We do everything we can to give them the ability to survive and thrive. I’ve always been like a mommy to my animals. Knowing that I will hand that kitten off to a family is the icing on the cake.” When asked about failures to save kittens that have been exposed to viral infections or have zero immunity, she says, “If there’s nothing in this world we can give them besides end-of-life comfort, we hold them. That’s the hard part.”
“We incorporated as a nonprofit and went after – begging – contractors and electricians and plumbers and the local hardware store, and got all the construction donated, all the electrical work and plumbing, got our materials at cost. We saved a good 30 to 40 thousand dollars in the build out. We raised about $80,000, and it went up pretty quickly. We started fundraising in November of 2015 and opened the doors in July of 2016.”
She thinks that the community responded so positively partly because she had been around for years taking care of cats. “I don’t really care for the term ‘crazy cat lady,’ because I don’t know there’s anything crazy about compassion and empathy and the willingness to sacrifice and suffer for creatures that don’t have a way to end it themselves, and who are a by-product of people’s mistakes and bad choices. In this environment, I wanted to create joy. It’s especially good for children to come in here and sit, relaxed.”
The small café, located on West Market Street in Red Hook, offers luncheon items – burgers, salads, cold noodles – along with smoothies, tea, baked goods and a fun time with a bevy of adoptable kittens and cats. Patrons can sit with their entrées and drinks and witness a roomful of felines as they play, eat, groom, nap.
The animals housed here are not kept in cages; rather, they have free run of a glass-enclosed space where they can simply be cats: wandering around at will, climbing custom-built cat trees, beds and other fun furnishings, even posing on a counter-level shelf to stare back at the humans staring at them. For a small donation, you can enter the cat enclosure to hold and pet the kitties: a therapeutic treat for children and adults alike. And the cats, of course, love the attention.
When visitors do go in to hang out with the cats, they have to remove their shoes and wash their hands, and wash again before coming back into the eatery. To comply with local Health Department codes, two doors separate the enclosure from Café patrons. All the cats have been vetted through a health exam that includes testing for AIDS/leukemia, deworming, vaccinations and spaying or neutering.
In addition to holding events, classes, cat rescue training (how about a cat-lover singles’ night?), all adoption applications are reviewed by a Cat Care manager, who responds to hopeful adopters within five working days, placing the felines in good homes based upon their individual needs. The adoption fee of $150 and all other tax-deductible donations go to cover the healthcare costs and feeding of the animals, along with general maintenance of the facility.
Morgan’s Cat Café relies heavily on volunteers for daily cat care, running the Café, fostering and fundraising. Forte is always on the lookout to recruit new volunteers who love animals.
Morgan’s Cat Café, Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 35 West Market Street, Suite 1, Red Hook; (845) 250-2272, (845) 475-2619, www.morganscatcafe.org.