Cat cafés, where adopting a feline becomes a social experience, are becoming popular in Lakeland. Botany Cats, a mobile cat lounge, already opened, and two more cat cafés, Purrology Café and Kitty Cat Lounge, are in the works.

“We all intend to get as many cats off the streets as we possibly can,” said Cindy Skop, 54, owner of Kitty Cat Lounge.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office said it welcomes the help. As of June 1, 2022, it had 379 cats in its shelter. Every Saturday, it offers free adoptions on all of its animals. Shelter officials said 73 percent of their animals leave the facility alive, but even with the discount, shelter staff euthanizes an average of 159 cats per month from November to April.

Janette DeLoach, 25, of Lakeland, a former veterinary nurse, opened Botany Cats on Feb. 8, 2022. Customers reserve appointments online and pay $7 per person for intervals of 30 minutes to visit the cats; DeLoach also welcomes walk-ins. She said the county shelter’s euthanasia rate served as her motivation for wanting to help solve the problem. Since opening, 23 cats from her lounge have been adopted, she said.

A lover of cats at a young age, she believes opening Botany Cats fulfills one of her purposes in life. “I wanted to do more to help the cats who needed homes and the community who is overrun by strays,” said DeLoach. “The cat population problem in Polk County is ridiculous, but I want to do my part to help get kitties off the street and into homes.”

DeLoach decided to make her cat lounge mobile because it “broadens her foot traffic and gets the cats adopted faster.” Botany Cats is open four days during the week at various sites around town (its website has an updated schedule) and at local markets on the weekends.

She said it took her about a year to open the lounge; some of the issues she faced early on ranged from funding to finding homes for cats faster than she could bring them in. 

In addition to being mobile, what makes her cat lounge unique is it also serves as a plant nursery; she also sells cat products, such as toys and collars. DeLoach doesn’t sell food or beverages, so she often collaborates with different coffee shops, breweries, and tea shops. 

DeLoach works with the rescue, Liberation Cat House, to assist with cats who need a new home or are taken off of the street. For DeLoach, it’s a priority that a cat chooses its new family. After initial visitation with the cat, the adoption process includes a screening, agreement, adoption fee, spaying and neutering, microchip, vaccination, and flea prevention. Adoption feeds vary, depending on the age of the cat, according to Botany’s website.

Declawing, however, is not one of the services you’ll find at Botany. “We are very against declawing cats. As a previous vet tech of four years, I know firsthand how inhumane it is. Truly, if you have the intention of declawing your cat, we won’t adopt one out to you,” said DeLoach.

During Pride Month throughout June, Botany is offering half off of adoption fees, according to the Botany Cats Facebook page. She’ll be parked at the Pride in the Park event at Munn Park on June 18 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

In a few years, DeLoach said she hopes to open a storefront with more space for the cats and a café.

“However, I will always keep the mobile aspect to continue doing markets since they are such a good opportunity for the cats to find forever homes, and because mobile businesses are such a big thing in Lakeland,” DeLoach explained.

While DeLoach is doing her part to help reduce the stray cat population in Polk County, she said she hopes more publicly funded trap, neuter and release (TNR) programs will become available. Not only does she encourage local residents to learn the many benefits of owning and loving a cat, but she educates about the importance of spaying and neutering.

“It has also been noted in several studies that cats purr at a frequency that lowers stress and anxiety in humans, as well as may even help our physical bodies heal. Cats aren’t just great for our mental health. They are also great for our physical health, and they have been shown in more than one study to lower a person’s chance of a heart attack and stroke and increase our cardiac health,” DeLoach said.

With that in mind, Cindy Skop had also is hoping to improve the lives of cats and humans in Polk County. She just closed on a property where she will house Kitty Cat Lounge. It’s at 946 E. Orange St., near downtown Lakeland and Florida Southern College.

The 1,600-square-foot facility will have a cat room with about a dozen cats and a café. The cats will stay in the cat room with their own separate heating/cooling system, allowing someone who may be allergic to still visit the café.

Owner Cindy Skop in front of what will be Kitty Cat Lounge.

Skop is working with the cat rescue, Saving Paws Rescue of Florida Inc., a non-profit run by Jennifer Rader.

“I was talking to Jennifer at Saving Paws the other day. She has over 80 kittens … several of them are having to be bottle fed,” Skop said. “There’s definitely an issue in Polk County where we’re being overrun by strays … so there’s definitely a need.”

All of the cats will be adoptable and come spayed or neutered, vaccinated and microchipped. Like DeLoach, she also is not a fan of declawing.

To visit with the cats, Kitty Cat Lounge will charge $8 per person for a 30-minute session. The adoption fees at Kitty Cat will be $75 for a cat older than 1 year, $100 for a cat 6 months to 1 year old, and $126 for a kitten that is 3 to 6 months old.

Skop said she hopes construction will be completed by August 2022, depending on the permitting process.

“I knew I wanted to be near downtown Lakeland, where I thought I would have not only foot traffic but bike traffic from (Florida Southern College) and surrounded by other unique business-minded people,” said Skop.  

The hours for the lounge will be Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Having grown up with a mother who loved cats, she said she lived with cats from a young age. Working on a project years ago as a Ledger photographer about an organization that would trap, neuter and release cats inspired her to volunteer at different rescues, and then she heard about cat cafés in Asia and decided she wanted to open one herself.

“My father passed away and while I was waiting for his estate (to be) settled, I decided I would do what he did – become a successful business owner! And since philanthropy has always been at my core, I wanted to do something that made a difference for the greater good,” Skop explained, adding she acquired business skills through a program run by the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce and a mentorship program run by the Small Business Development Center. She also secured backing from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Skop said she believes helping cats aligns with her charitable aim.

“I have rescued many cats myself and spayed, neutered and released over the years. I knew this was something I could be passionate about and make a difference doing it,” Skop said.

She came to Lakeland in 2005 to work as a photojournalist for The Ledger, was laid off in 2010 while pregnant and has been working as a freelance photographer ever since. She said she hasn’t found it as fulfilling as she once did, however.

“Since getting laid off from The Ledger 12 years ago, I have watched the career that I so passionately did for nearly 27 years change,” she said, sensing it was time to begin a new meaningful career journey. Skop said she’s personally witnessed how cats can improve a person’s mental health. Her son has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and she’s seen the benefits of having cats around him.

“We went to a cat café when he was 8 and I watched him for that whole entire hour we were there sit very calmly with the cats. He was unmedicated. It was just a wonderful thing to see …There is something to having a cat whether it’s purring or you’re stroking it that makes you calmer,” Skop said.

What will set her cat lounge apart is its mid-century theme.

“If you can, imagine walking into your grandma’s house,” she said. “I’ve already got a whole storage unit full of furniture waiting to be in place. I’ve been collecting mid-century furniture since before I went under contract.”

The café will serve Ethos coffee, hot chocolate and tea and smoothies. She said she hopes to collaborate with Catapult members to also sell savory pre-made goods.

For Kristina Schuster, 36, the calling to help the homeless cat community was strong. Her Purrology Café will be located at 5343 S. Florida Ave., near Outback Steakhouse in South Lakeland.

Kristina Schuster

“For years I bottle fed litters of kittens, and the demand got too much. I knew I had to do something bigger to benefit the community… The homeless feline community is heartbreaking, and I will vow to make an impact,” Schuster, a Lakeland resident, said.

Purrology Café has hit some snags with construction and does not yet have an opening date. Schuster started a GoFundMe to help with unexpected construction projects at the café, such as new pipes and air conditioner units.

“While these repairs have set us back, the community has still had my back and has been showing their excitement for Purrology to open its doors!” said Schuster.

Schuster, originally from Michigan, moved to Lakeland in 2006. The former preschool teacher who has loved cats for as long as she can remember, got the idea to open a cat café after visiting one in Georgia. 

In Purrology, people will be able to order drinks from the barista and look at the cats through a clear partition or they can pay $12 an hour through an online reservation to enter the cat lounge to further interact with the cats. All of the cats inside the lounge will be adoptable and come vaccinated, spayed and neutered and with a health certificate. The plan is for it to be open from Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Schuster is looking forward to announcing an opening date and bringing happiness to kittens and owners alike. After all, she said, “Cats help release a human’s ‘happy’ hormones.”

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Stephanie Claytor has been a broadcast and digital journalist in Lakeland since 2016, covering Polk County for Bay News 9 and currently free-lancing for LkldNow. She is an author of travel and children's books.

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