Get your cat therapy - only $5

Stray Hearts Animal Shelter opens cat café and resale store

By Doug Cantwell
dcantwell@taosnews.com
Posted 12/12/19

It's tough to avoid cat puns when talking about a solution as purrfect as this one.

"We've been struggling to come up with ideas for a permanent revenue stream for the shelter for a long time," said Stray Hearts Animal Shelter lead volunteer coordinator Pam Oestreicher.

You have exceeded your story limit for this 30-day period.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Get your cat therapy - only $5

Stray Hearts Animal Shelter opens cat café and resale store

Posted

It's tough to avoid cat puns when talking about a solution as purrfect as this one.

"We've been struggling to come up with ideas for a permanent revenue stream for the shelter for a long time," said Stray Hearts Animal Shelter lead volunteer coordinator Pam Oestreicher.

The struggle finally bore fruit on Saturday (Dec. 7) when Stray Hearts held its grand opening of ReTails, a cat café and resale store at 1204 Paseo del Pueblo Norte in El Prado.

You can come in any time Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., pay a $5 donation and spend as much time as you like communing with adoptable cats of all sizes, colors and personalities.

If you compare that to therapists' or psychiatrists' hourly rates, it's the best deal in town. Stray Hearts even throws in coffee or tea and Wi-Fi.

Within 15 minutes of opening on Saturday, one of the seven felines had adopted his new human. Brisco, a large but very gentle black shorthair mix with white tuxedo and mittens, bonded almost instantly with Rebecca Lenzini. "I spend half my time here, the other half in Denver," said Lenzini, "so I hope Brisco will be okay with traveling back and forth."

Splayed regally atop one of the play structures, Brisco seemed unperturbed.

Among the remaining six were a brother act, Buster and Keaton, 6-month-old black tabbies who had arrived at the shelter Dec. 2. "Buster was shy and skittish when he first came in, wouldn't allow himself to be petted," said Karen Yates, Stray Hearts board member who has managed the ReTails project from day one. "But look at him now, five days later." Buster was approaching almost every visitor, even jumping into laps.

Yates, who has a deep background in retail, came up with the budget, the plan, the process and the donation sources - even the sales system. "Karen has done everything to make this happen," said Oestreicher. Alyssa LaBella will manage the store's day-to-day operations, and volunteers will oversee the café side to ensure that no one mistreats the kitties.

For cats that may have trouble adjusting to all this attention, there's a cat exit built into the human door at the rear of the café that lets them escape into a private lounging area. They can also retreat into tunnels and other hideouts scattered throughout the café.

As the Stray Hearts board brainstormed the idea, someone pointed out that there were enough second-hand stores in Taos already. "They decided they'd just have to make this one different,'" said Oestreicher. It was Sarah Parr, Stray Hearts treasurer, who first suggested a cat café.

Sound like a wacky idea? Maybe so, but it's become a hugely popular one. Once the first cat café opened in Taipei, Taiwan, in 1998, they spread rapidly throughout the Pacific Rim and Southeast Asia, then caught on in Europe and the United States. Typically, cat cafés serve food rather than used furniture, although public health regulations in most areas stipulate a firm separation of food preparation/consumption areas from the cat visitation space.

Stray Hearts, a no-kill shelter, is the only such institution serving Taos County, saving over 1,800 lives a year. (Taos Feral Felines rescues and rehomes feral cats and Four Corners Animal League helps rescue abused and abandoned animals.. Both the town and the county have contracts with the shelter, but the funding does not cover all of the shelter's costs. The town increased the amount to $100,000 this year.

While they definitely help, the several annual benefit events have not been keeping Stray Hearts afloat financially, either.

According to Oestreicher, this has been a particularly tough year for unwanted pets. "Our puppy and kitten season never ended," said Oestreicher. "Usually it lasts just through the spring, but the new litters have kept on coming this year."

As a result, the shelter currently houses 40 more dogs than it has adequate facilities for and twice as many cats - roughly 120 - as it can comfortably house. The plan is to rotate seven or eight of the cats into the café during any given week.

Each cat brings its records from the shelter, so prospective adoptees (the humans, that is) can have instant access to information on the feline's age, spay/neuter status, clawed/declawed condition and any pertinent background, such as how and when it arrived at the shelter.

The board looked far and wide for a suitable space that could be divided neatly into a café and furniture display room. The rent most landlords were asking discouraged them - until three months ago, when this space opened up in the El Prado Plaza. "We couldn't believe it," said Yates. "The landlord was asking about half of what the others wanted." She said they'd had to do some serious work on the electrical, the bathroom and the office space, but everything had come together in time for their scheduled opening.

Stray Hearts currently has 192 volunteers on its roster, but they never turn away newcomers. They do, however, require you to take volunteer training, which is offered every first Saturday of the month at 1 p.m. at the shelter, 1200 St. Francis Lane. To register, visit their website at strayhearts.org.

To donate furniture or furnishings, drop them off at the resale store between noon and 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

Comments


Private mode detected!

In order to read our site, please exit private/incognito mode or log in to continue.