Here’s an organization that’s worth its weight in yarn: Brooklyn Bridge Animal Welfare Coalition (BBAWC) rescues homeless cats and places them with loving adopted families across New York City. In addition to rescuing these cats, BBAWC also runs the Brooklyn Cat Cafe, where you can play with cats and kittens while munching on tasty fare. Best of all, if there’s a kitten you fall in love with, you can adopt him or her on the spot.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Anne Levin, President of BBAWC and manager of the Cat Cafe, who shared her personal experience in the feline rescue business.
Keys to the Community: Talk a little about how BBAWC got its start and how the cat cafe came about.
Anne Levin: BBAWC was started back in 2007 by a group of friends and neighbors in the Brooklyn Heights community who wanted to help get stray cats from the neighborhood adopted. Through the hard work of one of the founders, Dorothy Sherman, we were able to expand, joining the Mayor’s Alliance for Animals and expanding our reach beyond the neighborhood.
The idea behind it was a simple one: there are a lot of animals in need out there, and they can’t all go through city shelters or traditional shelters because those facilities are already overwhelmed. A lot of people want to help animals but have limited access to vets, rescue services, or adoption agencies. BBAWC was founded as a cooperative in which people would list their own animals and foster, but we would provide some much-needed structure around the process, hosting adoption events and offering counsel to those in need.
That approach was successful for a number of years, during which we hosted a significant number of adoption events — but one of the things we noticed was that a lot of attendees would hold and play with the cats but wouldn’t adopt them. If you’re at an event trying to get animals adopted, that’s frustrating. It feels like a waste of time.
K2C: How did the Brooklyn Cat Cafe help solve that issue?
AL: Brooklyn Cat Cafe was a different kind of economic paradigm for adoption, in which the people who are coming to play with the cats are actually supporting animal rescue. We don’t have to charge $1,000 per cat to afford the rent; instead, we charge a nominal admission fee ($5 for a half an hour of playtime) that goes towards supporting the cats. It’s a win-win: the cats are having a much better time than they do in foster homes, where there’s often one person caring for a number of cats, or a traditional shelter space with cages.
We do still act as a cooperative. Individual rescuers who have cats here owe us a number of volunteer hours and contribute to the maintenance of the space. And with a physical space, we can offer access to humane education in a way that simply wasn’t possible before. We do outreach to the community, Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) classes, and community cat classes. We want to expand more into outreach for vulnerable individuals or communities that might benefit from the comfort that a friendly cat can provide.
K2C: Are all the cats up for adoption?
AL: Pretty much. We always have a nursing mom and her kittens, and they’ll eventually be up for adoption (although they’re too young when in the kitten terrarium). Those kittens are always on a live webcam so people can watch them. We have people from all around the world email us about the cats. It’s funny to see when and how people watch.
The one exception is our cafe mascot, who is not available for adoption. All the other cats — usually there are 20-25 at any given time — are rescued from the streets, from other shelters, or are relinquished by owners who weren’t able to keep them. In addition to all the cats at the cafe, we have about 50 more that are in foster homes right now.
BBAWC subsidizes medical care and covers big procedures, so there’s always a need to raise funds. We’ve had over 250 adoptions since we opened a year ago, and we’re hoping that eventually the cafe can become a profit source for the rescue.
K2C: You mentioned outreach events at the cafe. We saw on your website that there is cat yoga!?
AL: We do a lot of fun stuff! We host monthly yoga classes on Sundays and stretch classes on Saturdays. The instructors donate their time to the cafe, so it’s like a fundraiser for us — the money goes towards BBAWC and pays for medical costs.
We have a Brooklyn Cat Cafe Book Club we are starting. June 22 is our inaugural meeting. Local author Kathleen Flynn will attend, give a brief reading, and discuss her new book The Jane Austen Project. We try to do a small fundraising event like that for the rescue at least once a month.
K2C: Do you have any plans to expand beyond the one location?
AL: Not right now. We’re first-time small business owners, so this has been a year of learning for us. I think we are finally figuring it out. We’re applying for grants, hoping to start some long-term annual events in the fall, and partner with more local organizations.
In October, we want to organize an event called “Caticon,” or Cat Comic Con. It’ll be a month of fun neighborhood events about comics and cats, which we’ve found are surprisingly related! One of the first national well-known comics, Krazy Kat, in the early 20th century, was all about a cat. We felt that there is a great opportunity to encourage a meeting of minds between cat lovers and comic book aficionados.
This May, we’re celebrating our one-year anniversary. We are really thrilled with how much we’ve accomplished in our first year, and we’re excited to move forward!