Shopping to adopt a pet cat is a bit like shopping to buy a house that will need to be mortgaged, it turns out: It’s best if you come in prequalified when you start looking. Otherwise, you might fall instantly in love, only to lose your prospect to someone else who already has their paperwork in order.
That’s one of the things we learned when HV1 paid a visit, on Opening Day last Friday, to Beans Cat Café in New Paltz. There’s a lot of kitty love here to win your heart, with 15 cats currently in residence, ranging in age from three months to ten years. We would’ve had difficulty choosing among Pamela, an affectionate three-year-old tortie, or boisterous Moony, a five-year-old tuxedo with black patches on his white feet, or Dash, an inquisitive tabby kitten. But you can’t simply waltz out with your favorite(s) on a whim.
“All our animals are from Hudson Valley Animal Rescue in Poughkeepsie,” explains Jessica Strika, proprietor with her husband Justin of the new Cat Café as well as their flagship shop in Beacon, established in November 2020. Already the couple have adopted out more than 350 cats, every one of them spayed/neutered, microchipped, dewormed, defleaed, vaccinated and FELV/FIV-tested per Hudson Valley Animal Rescue & Sanctuary (HVARS) protocols. But prospective adopters also have to be (ahem) vetted as responsible cat-parents.
The concept of cat cafés partnering with animal rescue charities, as places to get acquainted with a prospective pet before taking the plunge, is primarily an American phenomenon. While the first-ever cat café is said to have opened in Vienna in 1912, with the exiled Vladimir Lenin a regular visitor, it only stayed in business for about two years. The modern trend got launched in 1998 with Cat Flower Garden in Taipei. It then caught fire in Japan, where many renters of small apartments are not allowed to keep pets. The country now reportedly is home to more than 150 “neko cafés,” some of which specialize in particular colors, breeds or even fatness of cat.
Cat cafés vary in style, content and rules around the world. There’s a cat pub in Bristol, England, called The Bag of Nails; the Blue Cat Cafe in Austin, Texas features live music. The early Asian model typically involved a permanent resident cat community, and a single shared space where cats wandered freely among customers. This inevitably led to a few cafés being shut down due to sanitation issues. In most places in the US today, health codes mandate that the “kitty lounge” be physically segregated from the part of the building where food and beverages are prepared, dispensed and sold. There may even be strict rules requiring HEPA filters to be used for air circulation between the spaces.
That’s the case with the two Beans Cat Cafés: You purchase your refreshments at the counter, with more than 30 types of coffees, teas, chais and lattes available hot or iced. Some drinks even have cat-themed names, such at Russian Blue and Orange Tabby. The menu of baked goods, supplied by Baker’s Tale in Highland, includes muffins, chocolate and almond croissants, sprinkle cookies and turnovers. Especially irresistible are the “Meow-carons,” which come in lemon, almond, raspberry and chocolate flavors and have kitty faces hand-drawn on them with edible markers.
At the New Paltz Beans – located at 11 Church Street, in the space that used to host the Lagusta’s Luscious Commissary – the café room itself doesn’t even have chairs or tables yet (though it does feature a charming cat mural by Lianna Maley). The whole point is to take your goodies with you into the well-appointed Cat Lounge, where you have a variety of choices of places to sit and enjoy your snack in air-conditioned comfort while watching the kitties at play.
You are also free to interact with them…within certain limits. Picking the cats up is strictly forbidden. Petting is encouraged within the parameters of what the cats themselves opt to tolerate (they’ll let you know). They have plenty of nooks and crannies in which to hide when they don’t want company, along with structures to climb on and every kitty toy imaginable. We were particularly taken with the brilliance of the cat pool table, which plays to the irresistible feline compulsion to swat objects off the edges of raised surfaces. You can tease them with “fishing rods” dangling feathers or feed them treats from a vintage coin-operated dispenser of the sort that used to be common in zoos.
Children are admitted to Beans, if over age 12 or accompanied by an adult. They should be coached beforehand about the rules, however. Anyone who yells, manhandles or overstimulates the cats will be unceremoniously asked to leave the space. “Kids tend to get a little overexcited,” notes Justin Strika. But he previously worked at the Anderson Center for Autism and is familiar with the therapeutic effect that time spent with animals can have, especially on people with PTSD. “It’s a great way to decompress,” he says. The Cat Lounge can be booked for animal therapy sessions for children or adults, and there is a wheelchair-accessible entrance on Academy Street. “A lot of people with disabilities come in,” says Jessica.
Now that the Open House phase is over, visitors must pay for the time they spend in the Cat Lounge, at $7 per person for 30 minutes or $12.50 per person for 60 minutes. Human capacity is limited to eight at a time, and groups of up to eight can rent the room for a specific time slot. Customers are generally urged to make appointments for their visits, but on opening weekend, the online booking software was glitchy, so the New Paltz Cat Café was accepting walk-ins. We recommend checking with the website at www.beanscatcafe.com first, but if you’re in the neighborhood, they’re open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
If your mission is not merely to hang out with cuddly company, but to scope out a potential forever friend, check out HVARS’ rules and regulations at www.hvars.org/adoptions and fill out the application form at https://form.jotform.com/212735106718050. Adoption fees are $75 for senior (7+ years) cats, $125 for adult cats, $175 for kittens under one year of age and $300 for a pair of kittens who can’t bear to be parted.