“Meet our latest rescue, Bianca,” Mriidu Khosla – managing director of Cat Cafe Studio – says, walking towards a tiny one-month-old kitten curled up in a large cage. Bianca is the most recent member of the Cat Cafe family which has been steadily growing over the years and which by January next year will become the first full-fledged cafe of its kind in India in a new building devoted only to it in Versova.
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The cafe, which currently houses around 40 cats, stemmed from – and coexists with – the Zcyphher Studio which was started by Khosla in 2010. It began with her rescuing her first cat in 2009 and took an organised and public form in 2015. Its primary objective is to facilitate the adoption of strays and, till date, close to 200 adoptions have taken place.
The adoption of adult cats is especially encouraged because they do not care they need all their lives and people usually want to adopt kittens. But both Jason Moss – co-founder – and Khosla are emphatic about the fact that they are not an NGO. “People don’t seem to understand that and we keep getting rescue calls from outside or have people abandoning cats outside our door. When we don’t entertain these calls people get abusive sometimes. We’re a small private organisation with limited capacity, we do not receive CSR; 80 per cent of our funds come from the profits of Zcyphher, and the rest come from the cat cafe’s earnings. We only keep cats which have been rescued by us or our friends,” says Khosla.
They are also very careful in screening who adopts their cats and their procedure involves the prospective adopters reading an adoption manual, filling a questionnaire, and having home visits. Khosla says: “We are known to be the most difficult to adopt from in the city but this comes from terrible experiences that we have had of losing our cats after adoption to sheer neglect. People need to be willing to go the extra mile to learn about feline care if they adopt because they’re not taking home an ornament but a new family member.”
Two cats in their care have had to have their eyes removed, one of them because children threw rocks at it. “We prioritise the rescue of injured and ill strays and nurse them back to health. We’ve had many extremely malnourished strays or ones which required amputations and not all of them survive. In this regard, Dr Swali – a vet we have tied up with for the last five years – is a godsend. Sometimes, we have up to four massive expensive surgeries in a month which he gives us good discounts on.”
Their busiest days are the weekends when they have at least 50 visitors a day, many of whom are cat-lovers who are unable to keep pets at home. They also hold spay drives for strays every second week. Merchandise like t-shirts, mugs and bags with text like ‘Crazy Cat Ladki’ and ‘OCD: Obsessive Cat Disorder’, which are all designed at Zcyphher, are sold. Events like open-mic nights and art exhibitions are held every month or two. “The aim is to create a community of artists and animal lovers, which is what we are,” says Jason. It is also important for them to create awareness about basic animal care which they say is shockingly low in the country.
Their plan is now to expand the cafe and make it an independent enterprise in its upcoming location, separate from Zcyphher. “Right now it’s a very homegrown set-up – my mom makes the cakes and cookies we serve – but we’re running out of space. We have had our experimental phase and have something good going. It’s time for us to make it something self-sufficient and complete,” says Khosla.