Cats are one of America’s most popular companion animals, and we have probably all laughed out loud at a viral cat video. So, it is surprising to learn that cats are more likely to be surrendered to a shelter by their owners than dogs are. Over 3.2 million cats enter shelters in the U.S. every year. This places a large burden on animal shelters across the country that need foster homes to temporarily house homeless cats.
One local couple is helping to provide a safe and fun place for adoptable cats in the area to thrive while they wait for their forever home. Fueling their desire to help cats find their forever homes and educate the public on the importance of spay and neuter, Whitney Sickles and Heath Hanson opened Chattanooga’s first and only cat cafe. The Naughty Cat Café on Tennessee Avenue in St. Elmo houses up to 30 adoptable cats from the Humane Educational Society and Pet Placement Center at any given time.
The pair has plenty of experience in animal husbandry. Together, they have fostered over 80 kittens, keeping them healthy and happy until they found their forever homes. Whitney’s love of cats first began when the couple lived in Amsterdam. While Heath was sailing around the globe as a ship’s captain for Greenpeace, Whitney began volunteering for De Poezenboot (Dutch for “The Catboat”), which is the world’s only floating animal sanctuary. De Poezenboot hosts around 50 stray and abandoned cats, several of which are permanent residents.
Heath’s career with Greenpeace also took the couple to Hawaii, where Whitney followed her passion for helping animals by volunteering for the Hawaii Island Humane Society. Soon hired full-time, she worked in every capacity, from kennel technician, dispatcher and adoption counselor to social media coordinator and development director. When he wasn’t working on a pineapple farm, Heath was a full time foster dad to cats and kittens from the Hawaii Island Humane Society.
After a harrowing experience with a volcanic eruption, the couple decided to leave Hawaii. However, Whitney and Heath were determined to advance their work with cats in need. They continued to foster cats and considered buying a trailer so they could help even more, but instead decided to share their passion with the community. Whitney and Heath began visiting cat cafes around the globe. Each location gave them new ideas on how to create an ideal foster facility for cats and a unique place for customers to gather and relax. From there, the nation’s second largest cat café was born, right here in St. Elmo.
Heath and Whitney’s goal is for Naughty Cat Cafe to be a place the whole family can enjoy, while keeping local shelter cats comfortable and relaxed. “Our rubric for measuring success has always been the number of adoptions and not the bottom line,” said Heath. The couple also wants to use the cat café as an opportunity to educate the community. “This space is not only a foster facility … when you come here, people are having conversations and being introduced to all kinds of new ideas. They’re learning about spay and neuter and appropriate animal husbandry. We’re helping parents understand how to facilitate better interactions with the animal so when they do take the animal home, there is a higher success of it being a quality adoption,” Heath said.
The Naughty Cat Café has more cat adoptions than days in business. “The Cat Cafe has tremendously impacted the number of cats we are able to help by expanding the amount of space we have available to intake cats. Most importantly, they have refocused people’s attention to the advantages of adoption and have overall increased the number of adopted cats. Cats that have been overlooked for long periods of time in our shelter are getting fresh attention and finding their forever homes,” said Kristin Stanford, executive director of Pet Placement Center. The Humane Educational Society has also seen a large increase in adoptions, thanks to the Naughty Cat café. One couple visiting Chattanooga from Missouri happened upon the Naughty Cat Café and fell in love with a cat in the café’s care. The couple used the café’s wifi to book pet-friendly hotels for the rest of their trip and took the lucky cat to its new home after a lovely vacation.
Beyond adoptions, the Naughty Cat Café offers shelter cats an opportunity to become familiarized with life in a home and interaction with people. It’s a calm and quiet place, where cats can just be cats. “I was ecstatic to hear that Chattanooga was getting a cat cafe and even more so when I heard it would be incorporating local shelter cats into the plan! Besides being a great place to hang out and enjoy some time with cats, these lucky cats get to spend their days in a home environment, getting tons of exposure to the public while they wait to be adopted. Naughty Cat Cafe has been an amazing bridge between the community and the Humane Educational Society, and so many cats have found their forever home because of them!” says Humane Educational Society volunteer, Evelyn Greter. Cats from the Humane Educational Society and Pet Placement Center that get to go to Naughty Café can stay there indefinitely or until they are adopted.
Those who want to visit the cats at Naughty Cat Café are encouraged to schedule an appointment. However, walk-ins are welcome. There is a $13 cost for a one-hour visit. Booking includes a complimentary non-alcoholic beverage. In keeping with its mission to improve upon and be an integral part of our community, Naughty Cat Café serves beer, coffee, snacks and more from local Chattanooga companies. Visitors can enjoy Mama Crunk’s Pies, Mad Priest coffee, cupcakes from Cupcake Kitchen, locally brewed beer and more while they relax with the purrrfect cat companion. Go to naughtycatcafe.com for information on daily events like yoga with cats, trivia with cats, live harpist and wine night with cats and more. If you’re looking to adopt, right meow is a great time to check out the Naughty Cat Café!