Home News New San Jose cafe combines coffee and kitties waiting for adoption

New San Jose cafe combines coffee and kitties waiting for adoption

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Editor’s Note: This article was written for Mosaic Vision, an independent journalism training program for high school students who report and photograph stories under the guidance of professional journalists.

It is Disneyland…for kittens. They’re racing in a wheel, climbing towers and playing hide-and-seek inside tunnels.

On this rainy Saturday in May, over 40 cat lovers made a reservation and paid $15 to attend the grand opening of an unusual San Jose venue in the Cambrian Park Plaza — the Itty Bitty Orphan Kitty Rescue Cafe, known as IBOK.

“It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” said Laurie Melo, co-founder and president. “We hope that this cafe will give the kittens a chance to find their forever home.”

For Melo, it’s an urgent mission. Melo hopes that the cafe will help save lives by raising additional funds to support rescues.

Since IBOK’s founding over  20 years ago, it’s expanded from adoptions to placing pairs of kittens in foster homes. “The main goal of IBOK rescue has always been to find loving forever homes,” Melo said.

Customers slipped off their shoes before entering the two-room cafe as kittens zoom underfoot, some so tiny that they fit into the palm of a hand. The cafe offers a range of drinks, including teas, apple juice and coffee but the star attraction was kittens.

Each playroom is uniquely decorated with illustrations of cats, futon couches and toys.  At feeding time, kittens paused from playing while others napped after the first few adventurous hours.

This cafe, located at 14420 Union Ave. in San Jose, is open on weekends from 12 to 6 p.m., accepting walk-ins and room reservations, $10 for children ages 5–11 and $15 for those older than 12 years old.

Behind the cozy atmosphere lies a tale of compassion and dedication. Itty Bitty grew out of  a chance rescue by a creek in 2002 . Melo and her husband Luis Melo had been volunteering at animal rescues, helping to socialize and care for animals.

In the spring of 2002, one of the groups discovered a litter of kittens by a creek in San Jose and asked Melo to temporarily care for them. Bottle feeding the abandoned kittens sparked her passion for saving newborn litters.

She initially created the Itty Bitty Orphan Kitty volunteer group that helps rescue newborn kittens, nurture them, find them a foster family and, if possible, a forever family in Santa Clara County.

Unlike other rescue organizations, IBOK focuses on caring for and finding homes for pairs of abandoned kittens.

Melo and Melissa Lisbon created the Facebook group  “Save a Kitten” to gain followers and overall support for moving kittens out of adoption centers and into homes. Currently, Itty Bitty has about 47 foster kitty caregivers for over 60 kitties.

The inspiration for the cafe took shape two months ago. Melo set out to find a larger space for IBOK where people could socialize with the kittens without any commitment to adopting them and she had support.

“I have a new board with more ideas,” said Melo, who was surprised when she quickly secured a lease for the space.The group has raised $10,000 through  a GoFundMe campaign to buy cat beds, litter boxes, food, pet tunnels and other necessities for the cat cafe.

Since opening day, the cafe has been completely sold out resulting in nine pairs being adopted. “It’s been an incredible three weeks. Our guests are happy and really enjoying the experience,” Melo said.

Jennifer Philips, a San Jose resident, found her new kittens at the cafe.  “IBOK is a wonderful kitten rescue agency and the addition of a kitty cafe is a lovely idea,” Philips said.

After her previous cats died, she started searching for a bonded pair of kittens and came across IBOK’s cafe. She visited the cafe twice: the first time to bond and solidify a decision and the second to meet the pair’s foster mom.

“This provides kittens a chance to socialize with humans, future adopters a chance to meet and interact with kittens they may want to adopt,” Phillips said. Even if visitors aren’t looking to adopt, she said, the cafe still offers an opportunity for play and snuggle time with a room full of adorable little fur balls and also to donate to IBOK.

Rashel Naranjo Arellano is a sophomore at Eastside College Preparatory School in East Palo Alto.

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