Shabu the cat was the first to greet me. He was waiting for me at the door. His quizzical eyes looked up at me as I crossed the threshold into the cat section of Catmosphere Laguna, a cat café in Laguna Beach.
I had had never experienced a cat café prior to my interview and imagined them as places where people came to sit, drink coffee and pet cats. But petting cats and drinking coffee hardly describes what a cat café really is, on both a practical level and an experiential level. Catmosphere functions as a cat shelter with the main goal of finding wonderful homes for adoptable cats like Shabu and others I met at my visit, including Kit Kat, Matilda, and Thelma and Louise.
Catmosphere consists of two sections – the café and a separate area for people to visit and hopefully bond with the cats. The cat section is a colorful space with various perches and hideouts and cat beds and pillows for the cats. It features an amazing cat super highway made of surfboards, running along the top of the walls, for the cats to travel on, a giant wheel for cats to run on and the largest cat tree I have ever seen. A small door designed to look like the front of a cute home, sits in the wood paneled wall, allowing the cats an entry point to retire to their condos behind the wall.
I didn’t realize that a cat café could be as relaxing as what I experienced. When I entered the cat section, I heard music that the founder later told me was music for cats with subliminal purring. But during my visit to Catmosphere Laguna, I quickly learned that it wasn’t just the friendly and curious cats or the beautiful space that made this cat café so welcoming and inviting—it’s Gail Landau the founder.
If you met Gail on the street, you could tell she is an animal-lover. Catmosphere has a creative yet Zen quality to it but it is clear that environment originates with Gail, who exudes an artistic charm and a notable calmness.
What motivated you to open a cat café?
I walked in and had an epiphany. I was in Charleston, South Carolina for a family graduation. My sister-in-law told me about a cat café in the area and that I should check it out because I’m a cat person. So I went to the cat café before my flight back to Orange County and fell in love with the concept. The moment I stepped foot in the café I knew this is what I needed to do—I should open a cat café. The flight home was like a blur. I spent the entire time drafting a business plan. As a lawyer, I realized how much work was ahead of me.
My business is a 501(c)3, a non-profit, because it functions as a cat shelter. Since I opened in August 2018, I have had 31 successful cat adoptions. We are the first cat cafe in the area and that was my dream, to open the first cat cafe in Orange County.
Did you grow-up with animals?
Growing up there were always animals in the house. Whether it was birds, dogs or cats, our house had them. My mother was the original rescue lady. If there was an abandoned and/or hurt animal my mom would take it in and care for it. I’m from Northwest Illinois, and where we lived there was a lot of open space. This was before the suburbs. My love and care for animals is deeply connected to my mother and where I grew-up.
How do you ensure that the cats get along with each other?
I rarely have a problem. The cats are well vetted. They are put through an intensive process to determine their friendliness and sociability. I only allow up to fourteen cats at a time. The cats have places to go if they want to hide out. Also, I have a back area that is closed off to the public. In the back are cat condos modeled after the ones that U.C. Davis has for its vet school.
What do you hope to bring to the community?
As humans it is our duty to be the guardians of animals. I hope to share my love of animals with the community. I want to enable people to see that cats are sentient beings and that there’s something quite other worldly and Zen-like about felines. Loving all animals is how I grew-up. I wanted to create a place where people can come and relax with felines. Just recently someone sat in the cat section to study for their final exams. Because this is a cat shelter, Girl Scouts are able to earn a badge here for their volunteer work. For me it’s tikkun olam. We are the people of the tent. I welcome everyone.
SUZETTE ZAZUETA IS A CONTRIBUTING WRITER TO JLIFE MAGAZINE.