The Cat Cafe South Beach: Emblem of Defeat or Reinvention?

A letter to the mayor:

Most people don’t know the story of the Café. It is one of many challenges and disappointments powered forward by pure love and real grit. Café owner Celyta Jackson worked miracles to get the business started, prevailed in the face of epic hurdles, especially in the permitting process, navigated the gauntlet of the city’s various feline spay and neuter NGOs and their relationships with the City, launched numerous outreach efforts to City electeds and staff,  all while using a good deal of her own resources and working seven days a week to keep things going in a blighted business district full of threats. Somehow, she was able to create and maintain a sort of magic oasis for animals and people with an atmosphere of civility, kindness and fun, with a stellar adoption record of almost 120 cats to date.

Attached is a picture of the happy day our City celebrated Celyta and the Café. For Celyta, the reward was all the good she was doing for cats and people. The cats got a gorgeous, loving group home where they could interact with people and were more likely to get adopted than if they were sitting somewhere in a dreary cage. Adults and children of all ages loved to visit the Café – like so many of our business patrons, they came from around the block and around the world, visiting multiple times and keeping touch on Facebook. People who didn’t choose to go in or were allergic, loved to just watch the cats from outside the window. That personal connection to animals, especially now, has special meaning.

The Café was always an ambitious and novel enterprise. Although the pandemic certainly hurt the Café as it did so many businesses, it might not have meant the end; it was just a bridge too far. Celyta has an exit plan, of course, and the cats will be assured of stable homes, even if they must be sent to lesser environments. But it is such a shame - the café is built, with all its very special (and expensive) equipment, including state of the art air filtration systems and custom designed build-out to provide great living conditions for cats and accommodate human visitors.

I know how busy you all are right now, and how hard you are working to lead our City though this difficult time. Thank you for reading this and considering whether you have any ideas or suggestions that might help. We can all use a bright spot in our lives these days  – the Cat Café is such a spot. Perhaps it could become one emblem of a cultured, re-imagined City.

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