Concept of ‘Cat Cafes’ May Be Helping More Felines Find Forever Homes

Dec 19, 2019

Every year for Christmas, cats are often given as gifts. But many end up in animal shelters. In fact, 3.2 million cats enter animal shelters every year in the United States, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

And every year, about 860,000 are euthanized in shelters. But places like “cat cafes” may be helping more cats find forever homes.

Give Purrs A Chance

At a two-story, Victorian-style house in downtown Berkeley Springs, Morgan County, about 50 cats and kittens are roaming freely. All have been spayed or neutered, defleaed, dewormed, socialized and are up to date on their shots.

Give Purrs A Chance opened in May 2017. For an $8 admission fee, visitors have access to Purrs and its feline residents for an entire day. They can come cuddle kitties for an hour or two, walk down the street for a bite to eat or a cup of coffee, and then return for more cuddles. 

If you want to take one home, it’s a $100 adoption fee.

A kitten at “Give Purrs A Chance.”
Credit Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Purrs is a nonprofit cat adoption agency that was created by local resident George Farnham. He got the idea from cat cafes that have been popping up in the U.S. since 2014.

“I’ve just been an animal lover all my life,” Farnham said. “When I first heard about the concept of cat cafes in the United States, it just seemed to be the way of the future -- how adoptions are handled -- and so, I just wanted to be a part of that.”

Farnham calls Purrs a cat cafe, but it doesn’t serve food or drink. Farnham said to do that, the West Virginia Health Department required a closed off area for food prep and a separate entrance, so he opted not to serve food. But the nonprofit does offer free-ranging cuddle buddies, which is a staple of cat cafes, so he hung onto the term.

“Give Purrs A Chance” has found homes for more than 700 cats since opening in 2017, according to founder George Farnham.
Credit Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The house has hardwood floors, colorful walls, cat-themed artwork, bean bag chairs, and plenty of toys. There are places for cats to lounge, hide or climb. There’s a room just for kittens, and there’s a space just for cats on the shy side.

There’s also a little shop inside the house called the Catique Boutique that features local artists’ work for sale and accounts for about 10 percent of the overall income of the nonprofit.

The cats mainly come from four nearby rescues and shelters in the Eastern Panhandle and from across the border in Hagerstown, Maryland.

Farnham is a volunteer at Purrs, but there are eight part-time employees who keep the place running, including Brianne VanScoy. VanScoy said what she loves about the concept of a cat café is it can help someone better connect with a potential pet.

A photo of every cat that’s ever been adopted from “Purrs” is posted on the walls in the house.
Credit Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

“I think it’s easier for people to adopt a cat here because there’s less pressure, and they can spend more time getting to know an animal,” VanScoy said. “And that gives them a lot of opportunities to get to know an older cat as opposed to a kitten.” 

According to the ASPCA, more than 1.6 million cats are adopted every year from shelters. Since 2014, cat cafes have popped up around the country, and most are adoption focused. But some animal welfare organizations are concerned cat cafes may not be the best environments for the felines – that they create stressful environments that are constantly changing as people come and go.

But for Farnham, Purrs has been successful. Since they opened two-and-half-years ago, they’ve had more than 15,000 visitors, some international, from places like Ireland and France, and more than 700 adoptions. 

Two kitties hanging out on a table by a window in “Give Purrs A Chance.”
Credit Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

“We think we have a tremendously positive image for West Virginia, that we’ve attracted so many people from so many states that come specifically just to play with some of the cats here,” Farnham said.

In an emailed statement from the ASPCA, the organization said places like cat cafes and kitten pop-ups “increase the visibility of cats in need” and “generally help to reduce the time it takes for an animal to find a loving home.”

And for the cats themselves, Farnham said he believes having a free range environment gives cats the ability to live freely and happily until they find their forever home.