For all Cornell students desiring a pet in college without having to undertake a lifetime commitment, look no further — the Alley Cat Cafe allows students and Ithaca community members to foster cats while they wait to be adopted into a forever home.
Located just off the Ithaca Commons, the Alley Cat Cafe offers its customers both coffee drinks with cat-inspired names — among them, the “Meowcchiato” or the “Catnap Latte” — and the unique opportunity to spend time with adoptable cats in various cat rooms situated throughout the shop. For only $5, patrons can reserve 30 minutes of cat play time in either the high- or low-energy cat rooms.
But the hallmark of this eccentric eatery is not its witty coffee drinks or cat playrooms — rather, the cafe houses an adoption center for Browncoat Cat Rescue, an organization that focuses on saving and rehabilitating feral and abandoned cats.
These cats are often found on the side of the road, in trailer parks, barns and even in Collegetown. Most are trapped, neutered and returned back to the wild, but others receive medical attention and second chances by being put up for adoption.
Launched in 2012, Browncoat Cat Rescue is currently directed by Alley Cat Cafe owner Kristin O., who asked to use only her first name due to past harassment. Dubbing herself the “captain” of Browncoat Cat Rescue, Kristin has helmed the effort to rescue all the cats found in the cafe.
As Browncoat currently has no official shelter space to house the available cats, it primarily runs through a series of foster homes, where willing individuals open their homes to cats until they are socialized to live with humans.
According to Kristin, this fostering can range from two weeks to a year, depending on the cat’s needs. From there, the cat is either adopted through the Browncoat website or brought to the cafe, where patrons can spend time with them in the cat rooms before adopting them.
“Alley Cat Cafe serves as a community space,” Kristin told The Sun. “We didn’t want it to be a sterile adoption center — we wanted it to be a very homey environment where people can come and play with the cats.”
Browncoat Cat Rescue has particularly appealed to students from Cornell and Ithaca College, eager to be involved in the program, Kristin told The Sun. Currently, two Cornell graduate students and one Ithaca College student participate in the program, with one cat each. Between the three students and the Ithaca community, the program currently cares for 15 felines.
Foster volunteers receive a cat that works best for them and their schedule. For example, a student taking a full course load and one who is rarely home may not be best suited for a kitten, which requires constant care, but might be a better match for a relatively more self-sufficient older cat.
One of those current foster parents is Ithaca College junior Jamie Duncan. After volunteering at the cafe for some time, they are currently fostering their second cat, a two-year-old Russian Blue, Persian mix named Sonni.
According to Duncan, the best part of fostering is seeing the cats come out of their shell after receiving proper medical care, attention and love.
“He’s really making remarkable progress and he’s not aggressive at all,” Duncan said regarding Sonni’s transition from a stray.
Balancing schoolwork and a cat isn’t always easy, especially for someone not used to taking care of cats. However, having lived with felines their whole life, Duncan told The Sun that a two-year-old Sonni is much easier to manage due to his independence as an older cat who can remain alone at home.
After spending two weeks with Duncan, Sonni is set to be adopted sometime this week — a difficult goodbye, Duncan told The Sun.
“You really do get attached, because you see these cats come in that have gone through things and you can relate to them, and you get to unlock their little personality traits,” Duncan said. “The more you do, the more they trust you. I’m gonna miss Sonni.”
The time spent with a foster parent can exert a lasting impact on a cat’s development and happiness, according to Duncan, and Kristin and Browncoat can be found actively working to ensure that cats are ready to be adopted by a forever family.
“One in five cats stay in their first home, and we want all our cats to stay in their first home. We want these cats to stay and not experience the trauma and stress of being moved around,” Kristin said. “We do everything we can to set our cats up for success.”