Jenni Barrett, then working as a probation officer, was supervising a program when a tomcat sauntered into a room of men waiting to get checked in. Passing from one to another, the furry guest left nothing but smiles in its wake, stealing a head scratch from each man in line.
“Some of these guys, you know, they have really rough lives, and maybe some of them did some not-so-Kosher things, not-so-good things, and this tomcat would walk in and their faces would just light up,” Barrett says. “That said something to me.”
An understanding of the mutually beneficial relationship between humans and animals, coupled with a passion for animal rescue, serves as the backbone of Barrett’s and boyfriend Ken Molnar’s venture: Kitty Brew Cat Café, where customers can sip on a latte while cuddling up to adorable — not to mention adoptable — cats. Located at 6011 Tylersville Road in Mason, the café is expected to open as early as late February.
Making a reservation and paying a small cover fee will gain customers entrance to Kitty Brew’s cat lounge, a nearly 1,900-square-foot space featuring cat furniture, a sitting area for humans and 12 cats ready to find their forever homes.
The space is separated into two sections: a café and a cat lounge. The café side will be entirely sealed off from the lounge by a windowed wall, per health code requirements. Once a customer’s beverage has been prepared in the café, however, they are welcome to venture into the lounge to consume it in the company of Kitty Brew’s furry residents.
On the menu are a selection of coffee beverages and an assortment of baked goods and snacks. A designated worker will be present in the lounge to take orders via iPad.
The cats themselves are supplied in partnership with Animal Friends Humane Society, a nonprofit adoption agency in Butler County. Animal Friends will determine which of its cats would be best suited for life at Kitty Brew by assessing factors like temperament and medical needs. As an off-site adoption partner, the café will house the cats while the agency oversees their care, medical needs and adoptions.
Adoption applications are available inside the cat lounge. After a form is filled out, it is scanned to Animal Friends and will be approved or denied in 24 hours are less. If the potential adopter’s application is approved, a café employee will call the customer and have them pick up their new pet.
As soon as a cat is adopted out, Animal Friends will transport a new cat or kitten to the lounge. There is no time restraint for the cats in the lounge to be adopted; Barrett says the cats are welcome to stay at Kitty Brew indefinitely, barring any medical needs or behavioral issues.
The decision to partner with Kitty Brew was due to several factors, says Animal Friends executive director Meg Stephenson.
“(Barrett) has been a huge advocate for the cat communities in our area,” she says. “Her concept was right in line with what our mission is and what we’re looking to do. We know the benefits of animals being homed elsewhere and not within a facility.”
The ability for cats to have open space where they are free to hide, socialize or merely lay in the sun allows for a stress-free environment, without which could mean serious implications for an animal.
“Ultimately, when a cat is stressed, their immune system begins to not function properly and they subsequently show signs of sickness,” Stephenson says. “Typically that is the pattern within animal shelters.”
While some cats may be more timid or fearful in the shelter setting, the opportunity to meander and meet people on their own terms in a comfortable environment will help them thrive and show off their attributes, according to Stephenson.
And for people who find animal shelters intimidating, Barrett hopes Kitty Brew changes the way they view adoption in Hamilton County.
“A lot of people don’t go to the shelter, in any county. I think they feel like it’s sad or depressing with the Sarah McLachlan music in the background,” she says. “We don’t want people to adopt because they feel sorry, we want them to adopt because they see a cat that’s having fun and frisky or just kind of relaxing and they’re like, ‘That’s the kind of pet I want in my home.’ ”
For some customers, a visit to Kitty Brew could mean much more than playtime.
Improvements in mood, stress and anxiety are well-documented affects of human-animal interactions, according to a Frontiers in Psychology article in which 69 original studies on human-animal interactions were reviewed.
At Therapy Pets of Greater Cincinnati, these affects are seen first-hand in the many community centers, hospitals and schools where their pet volunteers make visits. Currently, there are about five cats in the volunteer program.
Seeing the change in behavior from people they visit is “tremendous,” according to Therapy Pets executive director Glenna Mockbee — and she can see the café having the same impact. “That cat café, it could possibly — if they go in there with the animal and sit there and stroke it and love on it — I think it’d help the human feel much better,” she says.
It’s a sentiment mirrored by Barrett.
“If people can have an hour or two where they’re focused on a kitten that’s just being a kitten or a cat that’s giving them some attention, I think that maybe they’ll forget, for a moment, about the craziness and the world we live in these days,” she says. “Being able to take your mind off of something, I think that’s really helpful.”
KITTY BREW CAT CAFÉ is scheduled to open in late February or early March at 6011 Tylersville Road, Mason. Updates/more info: facebook.com/kittybrewcafe.