PEABODY — What started as a pet project is now a full blown pet nonprofit in Peabody that caters to cat lovers and kitties in need.
The Kitty Cat Cafe and Adoption Lounge at 108 Newbury St. is the first of its kind on the North Shore. Since opening in November, it’s given locals a relaxing place to work, unwind and hang out with cats of all kinds, including elderly cats and those with medical issues.
“Everyone deserves to have a pet in their life — even if they can’t have one,” said co-founder Uri Harel. “A lot of the people we’re getting have lost a cat and aren’t ready for another one, or they’re just going through a hard time. We’re finding that it’s very therapeutic.”
Harel and his wife Cora Ducolon have been dreaming of opening a cat cafe for years. As longtime cat owners themselves, they sought out these special cafes on vacations and hoped to start one of their own once they retired.
The Newburyport couple began fleshing out their idea after losing their beloved cat during the pandemic. They officially applied to start a nonprofit last year and have since worked with other cat cafes around the country and local shelters to get up and running.
While other communities turned them down, Peabody was supportive of the idea from the start.
“From the animal control officer to the Fire Department, they all helped us out,” Harel said. “They all guided us. They all took a risk on us. It’s really, really cool.”
The cafe is open by appointment only Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and houses about eight to 10 cats at a time. They’re all up for adoption and come from PAWS Wakefield and PALS Animal Life Savers in Salem.
Some are shy like tabby cat Cheez-it, who volunteers have been working patiently with to bring out of his fluffy shell. He was watching visitors closely Thursday morning while crouched under a couch. Others, like Piper, will greet visitors with a rub against their legs when they walk through the door.
A white shorthair named Ice was a bit aggressive from his time in shelters when he came to the cafe. Now he’s friendly and well-adjusted to being around people, even if he’s still a bit mischievous. He recently broke into a locked cabinet and ripped open a bag of food to share with his friends, Harel said.
Three cats have already found homes since the cafe opened. It’s a multi-week process to adopt a feline friend from Harel and his team of volunteers. They like potential owners to visit the cat several times to get to know them, and only bring in a few new cats at a time so that the others can better adjust.
“We’d rather go a little slower and keep a good cat community here,” Harel said.
Sandy Plourde, of Peabody, visited the cafe for the first time Thursday. She started off sitting with Charlie, an elderly tuxedo cat who donned a red sweater while lounging on one of the cafe’s couches, then played with Rask and Ice using a sweatshirt string.
She was glad to see cats able to run and play instead of being locked up in a cage for most of the day.
“It’s very heart wrenching for me to think about the stories that these cats have,” Plourde said. “Charlie was on the streets and in survival mode, and now he’s here and feels loved. I mean, that’s amazing.”
That only scratches the surface of what the cafe can do, Plourde said.
Since her own cat passed away, it’s been hard to imagine bringing a new one home. But the cafe gives her a place to give love — and get love back — from cats.
“Their unconditional love is like no other,” Plourde said. “If I was having a bad day like when my mom was sick, my cat would do something silly to make me laugh. Or if I was sad, my cat would show me love like she was telling me I wasn’t alone.”
The cafe is registered as a nonprofit shelter with the state. It follows the same sanitation standards and keeps a tidy home for the cats. Its litter box room has its own ventilation system, and toys, bedding and boxes are regularly cleaned and replaced. There’s also a quarantine room if any of the cats get sick.
It’s a community effort to keep the cafe going, Harel said. All food, litter and other supplies are donated by supporters, and everyone who works with the cats is a volunteer.
Adam Frick, a computer programmer from Cambridge, has volunteered at the cafe since it opened. He was setting up a room for shy cats Thursday.
“There’s just something about cats,” Frick said. “They are independent and will seek attention from you on their own time, unlike dogs where it can be sensory overload all of the time. You have to give a lot to cats, but you get a lot of attention in return.”
To sign up for a slot to visit the cafe, donate or learn how to get involved, visit www.kittycatcafema.com/.