Many yoga students are familiar with the downward-facing dog. But in a twist on the popular practice, on a spring night the students lower into the position alongside feline friends.
As the students switch to a supine pose, a female cat begins licking a student’s ear. The quiet room erupts into giggles. “She’s very motherly,” says volunteer director Deanne Iovan.
Thursday Night Yoga at the Catfé Lounge is one of several community programs hosted by the cafe/adoption shelter in support of the Ferndale Cat Shelter, Michigan’s first permanent cat cafe.
Here, patrons sip their coffee, practice yoga, and, of course, meet the cats.
Iovan serves as the cat cafe’s volunteer director, tending to the cats a minimum of six days a week. She knows each cat by name and can cite each of their origin stories. She takes breaks between talking to patrons to fill water dishes, wipe noses, and distribute medications.
When Iovan’s car arrives in the morning, the cafe’s residents line up along the window, lending the facility a sense of family — despite its function as an adoption shelter.
The Catfé Lounge is the first brick-and-mortar adoption facility for the Ferndale Cat Shelter. The organization was founded in May 2014 by self-described cat lover Benjamin Long. Previously, the organization was primarily a home-based operation, relying on families who would keep foster cats at home and show them to potential adopters.
It was a time-consuming process, so Long took the leap of opening the cat cafe, while also establishing his law firm, the Detroit Business Lawyers.
The initial goal was simply to open a traditional shelter to facilitate cat adoptions. However, in partnership with Iovan, Long was inspired to open a cat cafe, a concept popularized in Asia. Long believed the idea would translate well in Oakland County.
“It seemed like something the community would embrace,” Long says.
He was right. After a successful IndieGoGo campaign that raised $8,329 — far more than the original goal of $2,500 — the cafe opened last November.
Today, the “cafe” portion of the facility is playing a secondary role to the organization’s other forms of community service. The DIY coffee bar, free WiFi, and ample seating make it a weekday sanctuary for humans and felines alike.
The space hosts yoga sessions, “purrlates” (a pun on pilates), and meditation sessions that encourage guests to take “paws” and reflect. Other programs include fundraisers, private recovery and therapy sessions, and the “Paws and Tiny Tales” preschool reading program, a collaboration with the Ferndale Library. All donations raised from the cafe or its classes support the Ferndale Cat Shelter.
While the majority of the shelter’s various activities are designed to appeal to human visitors, the cats seem to enjoy the programming, too.
“Most of them just love attention,” Iovan says.
But for cats that are less-than-amused with human interaction the walls are lined with high, kitty-sized runways, safely out of human reach.
The Catfé Lounge has already outgrown its small storefront. Iovan and Long are hoping to find a larger space, including a full-fledged coffee shop, by the end of this year.
For Long, the increased business is welcome, but it’s the cats that have truly benefited thus far.
“I knew it would do well financially, in terms of being able to provide us with increased funds so we could help more animals,” Long says. “But what has surprised me is the number of adoptions.”
At press time, the cafe has facilitated about 65 adoptions since opening. No doubt, the rate of adoption is due in part to the cafe’s open space, which provides the cats with the ability to interact comfortably and, unlike traditional adoption facilities, demonstrate their personalities to potential adopters.
“It’s a really nice space for people to come in, and if they’re thinking about adopting a cat, but don’t really know what they’re looking for, they can sort of window shop,” Long says.
There is still a constant need for local cats to find their forever homes. Iovan says she receives emails every day from individuals unable to keep their cats, asking if they can surrender them to the organization.
But with more cats comes more responsibility, and as the Catfé Lounge seeks to expand, the push for dedicated volunteers is on.
Those interested in volunteering with the Ferndale Cat Shelter or the Catfé Lounge can find more information at ferndalecatshelter.org