BY M. BRIANNA STALLINGS
Calling me a cat magnet is a huge understatement. My ability to consistently summon unseen felines from their yards has even earned me the nickname “The Cat Whisperer.”
It’s disheartening for animal lovers like me to hear the grim statistics on shelter animals. The ASPCA estimates that approximately 3.4 million cats enter shelters nationwide each year. Of those, 1.4 million are euthanized; most, if not all, were healthy, adoptable critters.
Before jumping to conclusions, cats are not on the menu.
Aside from spaying and neutering to reduce population and adoption to provide loving homes for those that remain, another option is the cat café. Before jumping to conclusions, cats are not on the menu. A cat café is a themed space offering cats a place to play, eat and snooze and people a chance to interact with cats in a relaxed, public environment.
These cafés originated in Taiwan but really took off in Japan, where population constraints and housing policies prevent people from keeping companion animals in their homes. The cafés came stateside in 2014. Many North American cat cafés operate on an adoption model, where guests can take home a kitty they make a special connection with.
Launched by local entrepreneur Julia Grueskin, Gatos y Galletas, a.k.a. Cats and Cookies (located at 412 and 414 Central SE) is Albuquerque’s first cat café with adoption options. As the proprietor of Gatos y Galletas, 26-year-old Grueskin is friendly and approachable, with a wide smile and an air of laid-back professionalism.
Many moments during our in-person interview—conducted as Grueskin and I sat cross-legged on the floor of the cat room—were interrupted by little whiskers and noses poking in to see what the fuss was about. You can, too, at Gatos y Galletas’ grand opening, tentatively scheduled for at 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 9.
Facebook fans of GyG are asked to choose an hour-long window for a session with the kitties. This method gives everyone a chance to visit, while also ensuring a safe, calm space for the cats. Participants pay a $3 fee to spend time in the cat room.
Patrons can dine in the café next door or have their food packaged up to enjoy in the cat room. There will also be $10 cat yoga sessions, wherein guests can do down dog while a curious cat crawls between their legs.
ABQ Free Press: Why start a cat café? Given your professional background as a chef and a yoga instructor, it seems like a drastic transition.
Julie Grueskin: I started hearing about cat cafés when they first came to the states. Part of me wanted to be the first person to do it in New Mexico, and I thought it could benefit the community. I’ve always loved cats. I wanted to be a veterinarian for most of my childhood, but I became a chef and yoga instructor instead. So when I heard of the idea of a cat café, I thought, “Oh, this is perfect! I can bring together my love for animals with my love for healthy cooking and yoga.”
All the cats are from FAT Katz, a local nonprofit no-kill cat shelter and foster service. How did that arrangement happen?
FAT Katz reached out to me. I think it works out well, because they don’t have their own brick-and-mortar shelter like Animal Humane New Mexico. They have a network of foster volunteers who take care of over 100 cats; some of those volunteers will foster six to 10 cats at a time in their own houses, then bring them to PetCo for weekend adoption events. So I thought it would work for me to have Gatos y Galletas act as a foster home for some of their cats and that people could adopt them from here as well.
At the moment, you’ve got all young cats here. I know it’s hard to find homes for older cats, since they may have a history of trauma or difficulty. Will you have a wider age range of cats in the future?
I will, yes. These are the ones that were selected for our first group, but that’s definitely something I’ve had in mind, because I totally agree; it’s often harder for them to get adopted, and I’d like to give them a better chance.
What about the cats’ safety? Are you taking special precautions since your business is located right on Central?
We’re going to put some material in the windows that has holes in it that are small enough for the cats not to be able to get through and then some extra signage to make sure the outside door, and the doors to the cat room and the café all stay properly closed.
Tell me about the menu you plan to serve at the café.
It’ll change based on seasonal availability. I want to get a lot of the produce from local farms. The food will be all vegetarian cuisine, with a lot of vegan and gluten-free options, as well. We’ll have kale salad, quinoa salad, curry, spring rolls and sushi rolls, buffalo cauliflower, squash soup . . . things like that. We’ll also have espresso drinks with regular or nondairy milk, raw and baked desserts, fresh juices and smoothies, and I think at some point we even might try to get a beer and wine license.
M. Brianna Stallings writes so you don’t have to.