Santa Barbara Cat Cafe Helps Rescue Cats Find Forever Homes

Photo by Noe Padilla

Lauren Marnel Shores

Last month, Santa Barbara’s Cat Therapy shared the story of Tazzy, a rescue with a permanent tail injury who was left with further irreparable leg damage after being attacked by two dogs. When told that Tazzy would likely be euthanized, Cat Therapy sent out a distress call, asking for $1,500 in donations for Tazzy’s necessary surgery and three-hour travel to Santa Barbara where she would find her new in-between home at Cat Cafe. 

In less than 24 hours, community members raised over $2,000 for Tazzy’s medical bills, well exceeding the funding goal. 

Since its opening in May 2017, Tazzy has been but one of over 400 cats that Cat Therapy has fostered and facilitated adoption for. Each cat was rescued off of the streets of Los Angeles (L.A.) and subsequently placed at risk of euthanasia in high-kill shelters before they made their way to Santa Barbara’s Cat Cafe. 

Catalina Esteves, the founder of Cat Therapy, sat down with The Bottom Line to discuss the impact the cafe has had in helping rescued cats find their forever homes.

“[The donations for Tazzy] definitely showed us that the community that we’ve built around cat therapy is amazing,” said Esteves. “It showed us that the impact we’ve been able to do isn’t just reserved for the cats we have in here. Now, because of the support that we’ve built throughout the years, we can actually help cats outside of cat therapy.”

Tazzy’s owner contacted Cat Therapy after moving to a new building with a no-pet policy, stating she would have Tazzy put down unless she could find her a new home. After exceeding their funding goal, Cat Therapy was able to transport Tazzy the following day from Northern California to prepare for her surgery.

According to their newsletter, Tazzy arrived in Santa Barbara on Feb. 23 “on the thinner side, with diarrhea, and dirty from being outside.” At this point, she had been living with a broken leg for over a month before finally receiving surgery.

“We felt like we were going to reach the goal because people here in this town are amazing, but we thought it was going to be a lot of hard work, and the response was really amazing. It’s really encouraging — it makes me feel like there’s hope,” stated Esteves. “There are really good people out there and they’re interested in making this world a better place.” 

Similar to Tazzy, the other cats at Cat Therapy were all rescued from the threat of euthanasia. Because Santa Barbara is a no-kill city, the cafe partners with Stray Cat Alliance to find cats placed on euthanasia lists in L.A. shelters, helping them find new foster homes until they can be adopted. 

“The problem is that the amount of space they have is very limited, so as soon as they run out of space, they run out of the ability to rescue more cats. So that’s where we come in,” said Esteves, explaining how Cat Therapy has the capacity to house over 20 cats in a free-roaming environment. 

After paying a small donation fee to enter the cafe, visitors are greeted with several cats freely exploring the room — napping on the plethora of soft beds adorning the floor and benches, climbing the tower of shelves that lead to bowl-shaped beds hanging at the top of the sidewall, or chasing after toys scattered around the room for visitors to play with the cats. 

“By being able to have these cats here,” continued Esteves, “not only do we increase the amount of exposure they have, and therefore increases their chances of getting adopted, we’re also freeing up all that space at the rescue in L.A. so they can take in more cats. Basically, per cat that comes here and is fostered here, one cat is saved from euthanasia in L.A.”

Esteves explained that Cat Therapy is more than simply a place for people to de-stress with cats, nor is it for those exclusively interested in adoption. Instead, the cafe functions on multiple fronts — raising money for the shelter and its partner-rescue organization through entrance fees, socializing the cats with each visit, and increasing the cats’ exposure for potential adoptions. 

“You can help our mission — you can help us continue to rescue cats — just by visiting. It doesn’t matter if you can’t adopt, it makes a difference regardless … If you love cats, if you love animals, then come visit because either way, your visit is going to have a positive impact here.”

Although the shelter is now temporarily closed due to COVID-19, those interested in supporting the shelter can continue to do so through direct contributions, purchasing gift cards for when the shelter reopens, or purchasing merchandise through Cat Therapy’s website. In addition, Cat Therapy has implemented “a COVID-19 safe protocol for adoptions” in which people can learn more adoptions and foster-to-adopt policies via phone and facetime. Those interested can email