Northwest Indiana’s first cat cafe finding felines permanent homes | Northwest Indiana Business Headlines

The Region Cat Cafe

Shane is one of several cats available for adoption at the Region Cat Cafe. The business recently opened in Merrillville and is already more than a third of the way done meeting its goal of getting 100 cats adopted the first year. 

MERRILLVILLE — Kids’ eyes widen with wonder when they first enter the cat room at Northwest Indiana’s first cat cafe.

Cats lounge on furniture, cat trees and every available surface in the glass-windowed room in the Region Cat Cafe at 281 W. 80th Place in Merrillville. People can pet the sprawled-out cats, play with them if they’re feeling rambunctious or just watch them while they stretch, yawn or lay about.

A new concept for Northwest Indiana, the Region Cafe Cafe sells coffee, tea, espresso drinks, food, beer and 50-minute blocks of time inside the cat room, which is walled off from the dining and coffee shop area. But it’s also a business with a mission. After just a few months, the cat cafe at the former Cafe Fondue space is already more than a third of the way to its goal of finding 100 furry felines forever homes in its first year. 

“When I first heard it was going to be opening, it was definitely something I wanted to do,” Dyer resident Caitlin Rudzinski said. “I’m a self-proclaimed crazy cat lady. I was super-excited. I couldn’t wait to go.”

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Several cat cafes have opened in Chicago over the last few years, but Rudzinski said “it’s not really my jam to drive into the city.” 

“I wanted something closer to home for animal therapy,” she said. 

She and her husband ended up adopting a cat who had been abandoned by its previous owners in the Valparaiso area after they moved. The Second Chance 4 Pets Network in Whiting brings cats to the cafe in the hope that they will be adopted.

It’s how Rudzinski ended up taking in Sammie Jo.

“When cats are antisocial, I try to make them my friends,” she said. “We’d go to the cafe to sit with the room full of cats to decompress from work and would come back to check on Sammy Jo because she looked sad. My husband was the one who first vocalized bringing her home.”

Sammie Jo had been getting more sociable in the cat cafe and has been flourishing since they took her in.

“She’s been super snuggly and loving since we brought her home,” he said. “She is totally different. She lets us pet her back and loves affection. She is super playful. She was a late bloomer.”

They have three older cats she’s still feeling out.

“It’s a nice, lowkey social way for the rescue to introduce people to cats,” she said. “It’s low-stress. They’re out on the furniture and in the sun playing with toys. You get to better know their true personalities and better know them.”

The Region Cat Cafe

Jill Urbanczyk hangs another picture of a cat that was adopted out at the Region Cat Cafe. The business recently opened and is more than a third of the way done meeting its goal of getting 100 cats adopted the first year. 

Owner Linda Ramos envisioned the Region Cat Cafe as being a place where cats could audition for adoption by mingling with people and seeing how they got along. A “wall of fame” string of photos hung on the wall in the two-story cafe shows all the kitties who ultimately went home with visitors.

“So far, 40 cats have been adopted,” she said. “Quite a few kitties go to homes.”

The 2,000-square-foot cafe seats about 15 people on the first floor, including at tables and the counter. The majority of seating — up to about 30 people — is on the second floor, where there are books, board games, cards and an aerial view overlooking the cat lounge. 

Typically, about eight to 12 cats are splayed out in the lounge at any given time.

“People can hang out and enjoy coffee, pastries, fresh food, wine and seltzer,” Ramos said. “So the way the cat cafe works is there’s a reservation system. People get 50 minutes in the cat room for $11. It gets pretty busy, especially on weekends. But if you just come to the coffee shop, you can still see the cats from multiple places. You can see them through the windows or upstairs looking down. People who just want to have lunch can look at cats instead of looking at the back of someone’s head in a booth at a different restaurant.”

The menu includes many light options like a roast beef sandwich with caramelized onions, chicken salad croissant, fresh veggie on 12-grain bread, smokey poblano cheese soup, pasta salad and taffy apple salad.

The dining area is kept entirely separate from the cats, who dwell in a living room-like environment that includes recliners, couches and a nine-foot-high tree built into the wall to satisfy their desire to climb.

The Region Cat Cafe

Owner Linda Ramos holds Shane, one of the cats available for adoption at the Region Cat Cafe.

“They’re all just domestic cats who for different reasons need to be rehomed,” Ramos said. “Some owners passed away. Some had kittens born outside a home. Others were rescued from more overpopulated environments. There are a number of different reasons.”

All the cats are at least 12 weeks old because all have been spayed or neutered.

The Region Cat Cafe has many toys available for people to play with them, such as teaser wands and lasers. But don’t expect them to always be animated.

“The cats aren’t trained to entertain and sleep about 20 hours a day,” she said. “When you walk in many are going to be sleeping. But you can pet them, relax with them and sit down next to one while it sleeps.”

About a dozen people are allowed in during a visitation session. Children must be accompanied by an adult, and no children are allowed in under the age of seven so they don’t disturb the cats.

Cadence Qualls, an 8-year-old kid from Crown Point, said she was impressed by the Region Cat Cafe and how friendly all the cats are when stopping by last week.

“It’s nice,” she said. “The cats are very lovey.”

Her mother, Vanessa Qualls, said they wanted to support the business because they liked cats.

“We’d never been. We impromptu wanted to go check it out and then go get dinner,” she said. “What surprised me is that it’s really well done: all the decorations and decor. Everything looks really nice. We’d definitely come back.”

The Region Cat Cafe

Sol Castillo, of Lansing, holds up her daughter Ari, 7, so she can pet one of the cats at the Region Cat Cafe.

The first cat cafe started in Taiwan, and the concept was popularized in Japan before coming to the United States.

Most cat cafes tend to operate in larger cities. Chicago has the Tree House Cat Cafe and the Catcade Cat Cafe & Rescue, both on the north side. It had a few more before the coronavirus pandemic when restrictions made the business model difficult.

Indiana has just a smattering of cat cafes in Indianapolis, Kokomo, South Bend, Lafayette and Evansville.

“Most people who come in love cats,” Ramos said. “It helps socialize shy kitties to have a loving touch, to guide them to be more social so people are more apt to adopt it. It’s a really good introduction to the cats, including those more on the gentle and shy side. People can see whether the kitty loves to jump, run and play. They can really learn the personality of each. Kids can dangle toys over them and get to know them while hanging out and relaxing for 50 minutes.”

It’s meant to be a destination for all of Northwest Indiana. The logo features three cats whose tails spell out 219.

Ramos likes to joke “out with the Region rats, in with the Region cats.”

“We’re the first cat cafe in Northwest Indiana. We’re here to serve Lake, Porter, Jasper, Newton and LaPorte counties,” she said. “People come in from all over and say, ‘Oh my gosh cats, this is the cutest thing we’ve ever seen.’ We want a place to go where people can find happiness, that’s calming, relaxing and fun at the same time.”

The Region Cat Cafe

One of the cats at the Region Cat Cafe stands on a sink in the local business, Northwest Indiana’s first cat cafe. The unique coffee shop and restaurant gives people a chance to mingle with up to a dozen cats at a time.

Customers come from all ages and backgrounds, including high school kids just hanging out, college students studying and older women meeting for tea. Many families with young kids visit.

“It’s a great place to go for a date night,” Ramos said. “You definitely have something to talk about. It’s a unique and different experience.”

The business employs about a half dozen people who make coffee, clean out litter boxes and tidy up the cat lounge between visits. 

“We want to adopt 100 kitties in our first year and are on pace to blow that goal out of the water,” Ramos said. “People meet these cats and fall in love. It’s the personal interaction.”

Rudzinski believes it can help connect more rescue cats to pet owners.

“Whether you’re a cat lover or not, it’s got a nice ambiance. It’s a nice cafe to get a cup of coffee,” she said. “You can socialize, hang out or sit in the upstairs area looking down on the cat room. It’s an excellent way to meet cats in a casual setting, which is why they’ve had so much success with adoptions. You can meet a new furry friend and get to know their unique personality. It helps get cats to their homes.”

The Region Cat Cafe is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

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