I wasn’t quite sure what to expect stepping into a cat café for the first time, but owner Catalina Esteves welcomes human visitors to her feline utopia with open paws.
Santa Barbara’s recently opened Cat Therapy, located inside Victoria Court on State Street, offers a unique feline experience where human visitors can escape from the stresses of everyday life.
At the beginning of the visit, Esteves takes orders for coffee, tea, or açaí bowls she orders and picks up from the neighboring Brasil Arts Café. The idea, she explains, is that visitors can relax with a cup of tea, read a book, or play a game from the cafe’s bookshelf with an adoptable feline companion.
She explains the house rules: Cats can be identified by their collar (blue for boys, pink for girls); be gentle and friendly with the cats; don’t pick them up and don’t wake them up if they are in a slumber; and take as many pictures as you want, just without the flash, which hurts the cats’ eyes.
My 2:45 p.m. appointment fell in the middle of nap time, but Esteves kept things lively with an Ed Sheeran playlist to create a calm yet upbeat environment.
The “catti-fied” interior, decorated with help from her mother, Marta Dachena, is the perfect balance of California chic, ambiance, and function - all completely cat-proofed to prevent the kitties from getting into the typical kitten shenanigans.
The idea came to Esteves from a BuzzFeed video, she says. “When I heard about cat cafes, I was like, ‘This is my calling,’” says Estevez.
Her business partner and husband, Marek Nold, helps with the business side of things while Esteves considers herself the creative side of operations. A self-described “cat lady,” Esteves certainly has a penchant for the business of cat cafes. She acts like a foster mother to the adult cats, helping introduce them to visitors and highlighting their distinct personality traits.
Dan, the handsome orange tabby, loves to be pet and will graze his face against your palm for attention. Wickett’s big, blue playful eyes reveal a loving kitten who will play any game you set in front of him, while Inky, a fat black cat, sat on a beanie chair the entire visit but let me pet his chin like a dog would. And let’s not forget Tootie, the tiny calico who stole everyone’s heart with her baby face, or Willow, the nervous cat with a fluffy coat who never left her cube.
Estevez limits the number of visitors each session to never exceed the number of cats, currently at 12 but potentially 15, so that each visitor can pet, play, and interact with each cat.
Estevez partners with the Animal Shelter Assistance Program, Santa Ynez Valley Humane Society, and a shelter in Ventura but hopes to expand her network so more cats can find a permanent home. The cat recruitment process, she says, is thorough; cats must be vaccinated and neutered or spayed, and they must get along well with other cats.
When she proposed the business to the city health department, Esteves said they were excited but that it was difficult because there is no clear classification for this type of business. She and her staff make every effort to meet the health code, constantly vacuuming and wiping the tables free of cat hair. The work, however, can add up, and she hopes to set up a volunteer program for people who can’t commit to a shelter or aren’t allowed pets in their apartment.
Esteves hopes the community will utilize the space for events, study groups, and a place to destress. Visitors can make appointments online or in-store, where there’s a fun selection of cat-related merchandise for sale.
When humans and cats interact in a home-like setting, Esteves explains, it fosters a more organic bond and allows for the cats to be adopted faster. Those interested in adopting simply fill out a form at the store and, upon review from the shelter, can pick up their new cat companions in-store on Tuesday, the one day out of the week the cafe is closed.
Every city should have its own cat cafe, argues Esteves. A visit to Cat Therapy can help humans de-stress, be more productive, and make new friends. My group showed a clear interest in felines: People shared pictures of their cats (one girl even FaceTimed a friend’s cat) and donned eccentric cat accessories.
Regardless of whether you consider yourself a dog or cat person, most anyone will enjoy a visit to Cat Therapy, even those with mild allergies.
Cat Therapy is located at 1213 State St., Ste. L, and can be reached at 560-1996 or cattherapysb.com.