The Naughty Cat Cafe in Chattanooga recently reached a major milestone: its 1,000th adoption.
Heath Hanson and Whitney Sickels mortgaged their home to launch Naughty Cat, Chattanooga’s first and only cat cafe, in 2019.
“The only reason we started this is because when we moved to Hamilton County they were euthanizing healthy, adoptable adult animals, and we were blown away that this concept didn’t exist in a community. so touristy and love animals so much,” Hanson said in an interview.
The café serves as a foster home and adoption platform for up to 40 cats at a time. All of the cats there have been abused, neglected, hoarded, in a shelter for over a year or adopted and returned to the shelter multiple times.
“It’s basically the shelter animals that weren’t thriving there,” Hanson said, adding that the cats stay at the cafe for an average of two weeks before being adopted.
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The cafe adopted all of the Humane Educational Society cats 47 times in the cafe’s first year, he said.
Hanson and Sickels have no employees or volunteers, and they don’t get paid for the work they do at the cafe.
Hamilton County health regulations limit coffee offerings to self-serve coffee and tea, prepackaged baked goods, and bottled and canned beverages.
The sale of these products does not generate any revenue, so the only revenue from the cafe comes from the $15 per person entrance fee, which includes a soft drink, and the markup from the logo merchandise, said Hanson. The entry fee pays for the care of the cats.
The health department allows the cafe to admit up to 52 people at a time, but Hanson and Sickels choose to limit the number of people in the cat lounge to 15 at a time. This keeps cats and people from getting overwhelmed, he said.
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The cafe has two lounges with a variety of furniture for cats and people. There is also a closed area for shy cats. This area creates an intimate space for potential adopters to get to know these animals.
“Ironically enough, the shy are often adopted first,” Hanson said.
Despite the self-imposed human capacity limit, the cafe has the highest number of guests — about 40,000 a year — of all the roughly 300 cat cafes in the United States, he said.
Reservations are recommended on weekends, as it usually sells out every hour. When the cafe isn’t busy, people can stay as long as they want.
The cost to adopt a cat from the café is $100, all of which goes to the shelter the cat came from. Residents of the cafe come from the Humane Educational Society, the Pet Placement Center, and Scratch Inc.
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With over 1,000 adoptions to date, the cafe has generated over $100,000 for shelters through adoptions that would not have generated money if the cats had been adopted from the shelters themselves. The idea is for the shelter to use the money generated from adoptions to vaccinate, spay, spay, neuter and microchip the next batch of cats the shelter sends to the cafe, Hanson said.
And cafe owners donate more to shelters than the money they receive from adoption fees. The Chattanooga Police Department was involved in a recent stunt in which the cafe’s ‘mean cat’ mascot was ‘arrested’, and the cafe used its huge social network to raise $4,000 in ‘bail’ which were donated to their partner shelters, Hanson said.
Hanson and Sickels aren’t just cat lovers who started a business on a whim. Sickels previously ran an animal shelter in Hawaii, so she has experience supervising the care of dozens of animals.
Of more than 1,000 cats adopted out of the cafe, the number that was returned is in the single digits, and those cats were all returned for unpredictable reasons, Hanson said.
Hanson and Sickels check what adopters put in their paperwork, call out their character references, and check their social media accounts to make sure the cats are going to good homes.
“We’re not trying to fail these cats,” Hanson said. “Unfortunately, the shelter does not have the resources or the time to do this thorough check.”
Not everyone comes to the café to adopt, but the entrance fee they pay is reinvested into the establishment, and the time and attention they give to the cats makes them more socialized and adoptable for future ones. locals who come to use the cafe as a platform for adoption, he says.
The owners didn’t open a cat cafe to make a profit, Hanson said. They wanted to do something they love and create a self-sustaining adoption platform, and they just signed a 15-year lease.
Virindra Mosaphir said he and his brother-in-law, Mario Nalini, walked past the Naughty Cat Cafe several times before deciding to enter on Thursday.
“I love how they’re so cool with everyone; they’re not aloof,” Nalini said of the cats. “They’re used to human contact. That’s good.” He’s an actor who was passing through Chattanooga from Nashville on his way to Memphis. Mosaphir lives on Raccoon Mountain.
“I think it’s really, really cool,” Nalini said, pointing to openings in the wall painted to look like mailboxes, which cats pass through to access litter boxes in the room on the other side. “It’s a good idea.”
The coffee is surprisingly odorless, considering how many cats live and produce litter in the same place.
“The way he stands is like a statue,” Mosaphir said of a tuxedo cat perched on a pedestal, then turned and pointed to an approaching gray tabby cat on the floor . “This one, he likes to play. He likes to explore everything.”
Contact Emily Crisman at [email protected] or 423-757-6508. Follow her on Twitter @emcrisman.
If you are going to:
Where: 3742 Tennessee Avenue, Suite 100
Cost: $15 per person, non-alcoholic drinks included.
Restrictions: Open to ages 11 and up. 11-13 year olds must be accompanied by an adult.