State Street sanctuary brings felines and people together
Imagine a place where you can go to spend time with 20 to 25 free-roaming cats, petting them, playing with them and simply enjoying each other’s company.
As many Santa Barbara residents already know, such a place exists, right on State Street. What they might not know is that it’s been five years since Cat Therapy opened its door to felines and folks, to just spend time together or, as both cats and founder Catalina Esteves hope, make a lifetime of it through adoption.
“It’s been quite the journey,” Ms. Esteves told the News-Press. “We opened with a new idea for this town, an experiment to see if they feel the same way we do about visiting cats who are out of their cages.”
And they did — in droves.
Since 2017, Cat Therapy has fostered more than 800 adult cats, resulting in 757 adoptions to date.
Cat Therapy is a cat sanctuary that doubles as a social space for animal lovers, located at 1213 State St., Suite L. The sanctuary fosters between 20 and 25 cats at a time so they can live in a cage-free safe environment until they are adopted.
Locals and visitors to the Santa Barbara area can come in and visit the cats for a really fun and heartwarming experience. Regardless of a guest’s ability to adopt, just stopping by and visiting with the cats helps to get them ready for the day that an adopter takes them home.
Cat Therapy is open every day except Tuesdays. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, they’re open from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, they are open 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Cat Therapy started out as a cat cafe, where people could eat while co-mingling with the cats. Since COVID-19 struck, however, the eating option is out. But cat lovers can still bring coffee purchased at nearby cafes when they visit, either for 15 minutes or an hour at a time.
“Cats and coffee are a great combination,” Ms. Esteves said.
The cats apparently love the human-cat interaction whether food is served or not, she said. “They enjoy hanging with people and sharing space with them.”
Ms. Esteves came up with the idea while working with a local rescue group. She noticed it was easy getting kittens adopted, even if they were in cages, while the caged adult cats were not adopted, even if they, too, needed a forever home.
“I got the idea to create a space that focuses on rescue adult cats that was comfortable and free-roaming” she said. “A lot of people love cats, but don’t have the ability to adopt so I created it as a space where they could visit and potentially adopt.”
When it came to the cafe part of the operation, the sanctuary had to cope with the city’s health regulations concerning serving food while interacting with animals, she said.
After COVID, Cat Therapy decided to stop bringing in food and drinks and “simplified the operation.”
Cat Therapy usually adopts out two cats at a time within a week or two, and when the number drops low enough, the sanctuary brings in another group to take their place.
“Every other week, we have between four new cats transition into our space,” Ms. Esteves said.
All the cats available for adoption come from a rescue group based in Los Angeles, who find the felines living on the street or in overcrowded animal shelters that euthanize them if they get too full. Shelters in Santa Barbara have adopted a no-kill policy.
One hundred percent of the adoption fees go back to Cat Therapy’s rescue partner.
Cat Therapy accepts donations, but it is funded mostly by people who pay an entry fee which they can prepay online at the sanctuary’s website, CatTherapySB.com. To visit for an hour, it costs $22 weekdays and $24 on weekends. For 15 minutes, it costs $12 weekdays and $14 weekends. And walk-ins are welcome to “pop in for a quick look.”
The sanctuary can accommodate about 10 people at a time.
People can also buy a “visit package” online at a discount if they plan to stop by frequently “and really get to know the cats before taking them home,” Ms. Esteves said. “They have to consider the best personality to match their lifestyle.”
The gathering spot also features a little store where they sell “some really fun” cat products and cat-themed merchandise, which are also available on the sanctuary’s website and can be purchased without having to pay for an actual visit with the cats.
Despite its ongoing popularity and high adoption rate, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the sanctuary over the last five years.
For one thing, Cat Therapy had to evacuate the cats after the Thomas Fire and ash blanketed Santa Barbara, as well as after the mudslides that followed. Even after the sanctuary reopened, it had “compromised” business hours.
“People were leaving town, and we were not getting visitors,” Ms. Esteves said. “And we had trouble bringing cats into our space. It was traumatic.”
And then, with the COVID pandemic, Cat Therapy had to fully close their doors during the mandatory shutdown, surviving through donations, their online store and an online fundraiser. People also bought gift cards to use later after Cat Therapy re-opened.
“We raised enough funds to survive a month or two” while staff continued to take care of the cats they had and offer them up for adoption without being open to the public, Ms. Esteves said.
The staff did that with “a lot” of video calls with people who were ready to adopt.
“As far as the natural disasters and pandemic, what truly got us were the people in this town who believe in what we do,” she said. “It’s been a really cool five years.”