At Ferndale’s Catfe Lounge, owner Deanne Iovan has a kind word and a gentle pet for every cat she meets — even the ill-tempered, mangy ones.
The Catfe, which opened in November last year, is a volunteer-driven lounge where patrons can hang with cats in a cozy setting for a small donation. Any income helps subsidize the work of the Ferndale Cat Shelter, where Iovan serves as executive director.
As the shelter does not have a permanent space, but instead operates through a network of foster homes, the Catfe greatly increases the number of cats it can accept. Since opening, the Catfe has helped facilitate 40 cat adoptions. These cats were homeless, abandoned, or whose owner could no longer care for them.
While Iovan is proud of that number, there’s always more. “The demand never ends,” she says. “We are constantly bombarded with requests from someone who rescued a cat, or someone is moving, or somebody died. There’s several every day.”
Iovan tries to help everyone who reaches out, but capacity is limited so she selects cases where the likelihood is greatest for a cat to successfully re-home. But Iovan loves all cats, and doesn’t turn away typically less-desirable cats, be they moody or older. That’s why the Catfe welcomes a wide assortment of cat personalities.
The community response to the Catfe was immediate. The day it opened, there was a line out the door. New people come every weekend, some from as far away as Grand Rapids, Ohio, and Canada. There are also regulars — cat-lovers that come for their fix. On any given day you might see a hipster couple hoping to add a cat to their one-dog home, a young mom and toddler who visit weekly to play with the cats, and a curious passerby who simply wants to see what’s up.
Most cat cafes in the United States are for-profit operations that partner with a rescue. Ferndale’s Catfe Lounge, the only cat cafe in the state of Michigan, is a nonprofit with all proceeds, either from donations or membership dues, benefiting cats.
Along with bridging needy cats to welcoming homesteads, the Catfe has also become a community hub. A Girl Scout troop made and donated cat toys. The Catfe recently partnered with Gilda’s Club to facilitate a therapy program (many consider cat interaction therapeutic). Among the other offerings are Kitty Cat Yoga, Purrlates: Pilates with Cats, and Paws and Tiny Tails preschool story time (in collaboration with the Ferndale Area District Library). The space can also been rented for children’s birthday parties.
“We connect the activity to homeless cats in the community,” says Iovan. “It brings awareness to cat homelessness.”
Money, steady volunteers, and the blending of cat personalities in one space are some of the demands of running the Catfe Lounge and Ferndale Cat Shelter.
“But the biggest challenge,” says Iovan, “is finding a place for every cat that needs a home.”