All week long we've been playing this sound, and asking you to guess what exactly it is and where exactly in the Bay Area we recorded it.
This auditory guessing game is part of our project, Audiograph, a crowd-sourced collaborative radio project mapping the sonic signature of each of the Bay Area’s nine counties. By using the sounds of voices, nature, industry, and music, Audiograph tells the story of where you live, and the people who live there with you. Every Thursday, we reveal the origins of that week's sound on Crosscurrents, and here in weekly blog posts.
This winter, when you stop by your local cafe to warm up with a pumpkin latte, you may have an unexpected furry friend to keep you warm. Cat cafes -- coffee shops filled with cats -- are starting to open around the country. They’ve been a phenomenon in Japan, where apartment-dwellers often can’t have their own cats, and have spread across Europe. Here in the U.S., cat cafes have opened in Denver, Manhattan, San Diego and are poised to open in cities across the country. But Oakland was first.
Welcome to Cat Town Cafe, the very first cat cafe in America. It's one half coffee shop, and one half cat adoption center. As you enter, you can smell the coffee being ground. But if you think there will be a Siamese lounging on the biscotti, think again. After getting a warm beverage you can stop by a little station. Adam Myatt, one of the owners, is checking people in.
“Here is your 10 o’clock sticker and if you don't mind using a bit of hand sanitizer and looking over the rules before you go in, then you can go play with cats.”
For the health of us humans (and the kitties too) the cats and the cafe are separated from each other by a small hallway. An air lock. Or as they call it: a “hairlock.”
Once through, you enter the Cat Zone.
The walls are covered in murals of famous cats like the cheshire cat, and internet celebrity cats: Grumpy Cat and Nyan Cat. There are iconic Oakland buildings, all cat-tree sized.
They’ve got the Tribune Tower, Port of Oakland cargo cranes, and even the Dellums Federal Building (complete with a kitty bridge.) Then, there are the stars themselves: cats lounging on pillows, cats playing with cat toys, and cats perched on the buildings watching the action.
Sarah Pritchard sips a pour-over coffee while she stalks the room looking for the perfect cat.
“It seems like cat paradise. There's like so many toys and structures for them to climb, I think my house will be a downgrade," says Pritchard. "I like that one over there, the tabby. It felt like we had a connection.”
The room is spotless and there are no kitty smells. Founder Ann Dunne explains:
“Everyday we deep clean before we open. I would love to have someone come video us with 15 cats underfoot. You wipe a surface and there's a cat sitting right on top of it.”
This is a slick operation, but Cat Town Cafe isn’t really about the coffee.
“For me this is cat rescue first and foremost and this is super mission driven,” says Dunne. “So, the measure for me is how many cats are getting adopted.”
Cat Town makes makes it their mission to find homes for cats that aren’t getting adopted at the shelter. They started as a group of volunteers. Before the cafe, they had more than three years of experience finding homes for cats.
“Cage free,” Dunne explains, “this hopefully will become a model. Put them in an environment where they’ll thrive and they’ll get adopted more quickly. And every time a cat gets adopted it means we go to the shelter and get another cat out of a cage."
The cats come from Oakland Animal Services, the municipal animal shelter. Vickie Bell is the volunteer coordinator and rescue liaison. She says they can easily adopt out kittens. Adult cats? Much harder. And that’s where Cat Town steps in. She mentions one specific cat:
“Anchor was a brownish tabby. Cat Town pulled him, and they got him in through their foster program into the cafe. ... He was adopted there within two hours. Having a nice warm cup of coffee and having a cat nearby, like you can see yourself with this animal, and it's hard to say 'no.'”
Before the cafe opened, Cat Town adopted out around a dozen felines a month. Now? That number is up to around 30. To date they’ve found homes for 87 cats. Wait, make that 88.
“We're getting a cat!” Sarah Pritchard just made a friend: Guthrie. “There in the little bed right now, with the yellow eyes.”
So, watch out. The next time you grab a cappuccino, you might leave with a new family member.
Congratulations to Jane Perry, you're this week's winner. We'll have a new sound for you to guess and another chance to win next week.
In the meantime, is there a sound from your life that should be featured on Audiograph? Call at 415-264-7106 and tell us about the sound of where you live.