The last thing my wife said to me before I left to go visit the Playful Paws Cat Café was, "Don't bring a cat home."
Don't get it wrong, we are both cat people, even though we've been "empty nesters" since the first week of February, when we had to say goodbye to our 19-year-old Hicoo. A year before that we bid farewell to 21-year-old Gallup. Both were rescues. We agreed to take a break from cats, though it's still a sad and strange sensation for us to come home to an empty house.
My wife's concern was not completely unfounded, though that's not the way it works; no one can just pick out a cat and take it home from the Playful Paws Cat Café, which just opened in Bend. Prospective adopters have to go through a complete application process through one of the adoption agencies with whom Playful Paws currently works — including the Humane Society of Central Oregon and the Cascade Canine Rescue East and West, based in Tumalo. (Despite its name, the latter nonprofit also works on cat adoptions.) The café's owner said she hopes to add BrightSide Animal Center in Redmond to the café's register soon.
April and husband Matt Ferguson moved to Bend from North Carolina in 2020 with their children, Caitlin and Nathan, for Matt's job. April had worked as a corporate event manager, but was ready for a change. At home, the Fergusons have two dogs and one cat, who, according to April, identifies as a dog.
April Ferguson thought it might be fun to be her own boss running a coffee shop or food cart, until realizing that Bend had no cat cafe. She already had visited cat cafes in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, as well as Austin, Texas.
The concept of cat cafes began in Asia, but the U.S. has developed the adoption model, April says, adding that there are about 150 cat cafes across the nation.
"It's a great place for people to come together for a purpose," she said. "We wanted to give back [to the community], and what better way to do that than to play with kittens."
Playful Paws is split in half, with the cafe on one side and the cat lounge on the other side, separated by large windows. There are two doors to enter the cat lounge, to deter any "runners," April says.
It's free to watch through the glass, but online appointments must be made to gain entrance to the cat lounge; 50 minutes and a cold drink costs $20. "Anybody can look, but you have to pay to play," Ferguson told the Source Weekly.
This model has other benefits, too. "You can be allergic to cats and still look at them," she says. The cafe, which opened Aug. 4, currently offers a wide variety of cold soft drinks, and will eventually have a beer and wine license.
At any given time, there may be seven to eight cats on site, Ferguson says. Also, visitors must be at least 8 years old to enter the cat lounge, which she says is a safety issue for cats and humans, "so that no one gets scratched or gets their tail pulled."
If someone does bond with a particular cat or cats, the application process begins through the rescue partner.
"The goal is to not have them [cats] come back, so we want to make sure it's a good fit," she says. The cat cafe offers a more relaxed setting for possible adoptions, since the cats have the freedom to roam and pick out their prospective humans. "Keeping cats in cages is stressful for them and they might not show their best selves," April says. "Hopefully, it brings out their personalities more."
During my visit last week, there were four kittens from the same litter and two "teenagers" (1-year-olds) who were a bonded pair. The two teens, Ferguson says, were instantly elated in their new, spacious digs. "They ran laps for an hour," she said.
When we entered the lounge, all the cats were napping, but came to life to check out the visitors as soon as we sat down. One of the kittens, Tanner, came over and started climbing on me immediately, in a gentle manner. Another kitten, Valdez, was equally friendly, but not as careful with its sharp claws and nicked a small scratch on my forearm.
No harm, no foul.
And they all wanted to play and/or get some lovin.