By Carey Sweet, Special for The Republic | AZCentral.com
The world needs more cat cafes, Melissa Pruitt believes, her vision inspired by the phenomenon that began in Taiwan in 1988 and recently spread to U.S. cities like Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver and so many others that there is now an official North American Cat Cafe Embassy.
Add downtown Scottsdale to the list.
Pruitt hopes to open La Gattara Cat Cafe by the end of this year. La Gattara, naturally, is Italian for “cat lady.”
The idea makes purr-fect sense to cat lovers. Customers enjoy tea and nibbles in what essentially is a fancy cat adoption center. Pruitt plans to have about 15 cats in residence at any time, and guests are encouraged to make a love connection and take a kitty home.
“Cats have had my heart since I was born,” said Pruitt, 38, noting her father was an Illinois police officer known for keeping cat food in his patrol car to feed needy alley cats. “Sometimes, if I think too much about all the homeless cats and dogs, I can get overwhelmed. So I just began helping as many as I can, concentrating on my motto of ‘saving one at a time.’ Over the past 15 years, I’ve probably rescued more than 300 cats and kittens and found them good homes.”
What had been a whim came to reality when Pruitt visited Adam Myatt of Hoodcats and the Cat Town Cafe and Adoption Center in downtown Oakland.
“I went to see him and decided, yep, I’m in, this is what I am meant to do,” the Phoenix entrepreneur said.
Working with guidelines set by the Arizona Department of Health Services, Pruitt is laying out a cafe design that will include a designated living area for the cats and a lounge for coffee, tea and baked goods (maybe a wine bar, too). All food will be catered by a local vendor or restaurant, and on Sundays, guests can enjoy Meowmosas.
The cats will come from local animal shelters and rescue groups.
While patrons sip drinks and stroke kitties, they can learn about sustainable programs such as low-cost or free spaying and neutering, plus the trap-neuter-return philosophy of keeping feral cats feral, but without making more kittens.
Beyond a business and philanthropy idea, La Gattara will be an extension of Pruitt’s lifestyle. She currently has four rescue cats of her own, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Janis Joplin and Grace Kelley, sisters that Pruitt found at a few days old in the middle of the street in Mesa during the hot summer.
“I waited for the mom to come back, she never did, so I bottle-fed them for about six weeks, then just couldn’t let them go,” she said.
The fourth kitty is Fonzie, the huge orange fellow starring in Pruitt’s fledgling marketing campaign.
Pruitt also went to CatCon in June, held in Los Angeles to showcase products and ideas in art and design, pop culture and attitude, as it all relates to cats.
“It was amazing,” Pruitt said. “You would think it was a bunch of crazy cat ladies walking around, but it was really cool. Art, books, toys, clothes, rescue groups and cat adoptions.”
The exact location of her cafe is still being finalized, and Pruitt plans to launch a fundraising campaign in September. But the strategy is solid in her mind.
“The main focus is to bring the cats out of the shelter environment and get them into a free roaming space that’s less stressful,” she said. “Then, they can find great ‘furr-ever’ homes.”
Details: lagattaracatcafe.com. Search “LaGattara Cat Cafe-Phoenix” on Facebook.