15 March 2024

Catnip Cafe: Furry Fun with Feline Friends 

Whoever said cats can’t be as friendly as dogs never set foot in Norfolk’s Catnip Cafe. Upon walking into this Colley Ave. storefront in Ghent, you’re greeted by nearly two dozen shelter cats – some eager for “scritches” and pats – others hanging back to size you up before engaging.  

On any given day, the cafe is home to approximately 23 cats, owner Freeda Steele says as she leads Buddy, a sleek, senior Russian Blue with a distinctively gruff meow, to his water bowl. 

“In June, it will be seven years since we opened,” Steele says. “In that time, we’ve adopted out more than 1,600 cats.” 

Which brings us to the dual purposes of the Catnip Cafe: to serve as a halfway home for shelter cats in need of socialization and as a springboard for adoption. The residents of the cafe come from two local rescue organizations – Billy the Kidden out of Virginia Beach and Feral Affairs Network in Norfolk. Steele says the rescue groups select the cats that live at Catnip Cafe based on their ability to be sociable and their age, which ranges from six months and up. (A semi-annual Kittenpalooza event is extremely popular with kitten lovers). 

It’s a win-win for the cats, the rescue organizations and the streams of visitors who flock to the cafe to play with the residents. Cost for a session runs $9 per person for a 30-minute power visit and $13 for an hour-long appointment. The number of groups allowed at any given appointment window is kept small to avoid overwhelming the residents. Visitors must be five years or older. 

People visit Catnip Cafe for a variety of reasons, Steele says. Some come to play with the cats, while others arrive with adoption on their minds. Visitors who aren’t allowed to have cats – or who are allergic – come to get the temporary fix of a little feline playtime, she says. 

The cafe portion of Catnip Cafe

“Some people will pop a Benadryl, hang out and love on the cats and get their cat time without a lifetime commitment of allergies,” Steele says.  

Catnip Cafe is also popular with students and remote workers seeking a break from the usual coffee shop routine. They can set up shop, enjoy complimentary beverages and snacks and spend time among the purrs and playful meows of a room filled with adorable cats. 

An hour-long visit is enough to give you the sense of the fluctuations in energy levels in the cafe. Some kitties tuck into tunnels and perch atop couches to nap while others frolic and chase each other around until they tire out. 

Steele says, “some of the cats are new and shy and some are super active. But then they flip and the nappy ones start playing, then the ones who were playing take a break.” 

As for long-term residents, there are several who have been around since last summer: Virgil, Peaches and Tonic. Steele suspects they will eventually be adopted. 

“Some cats are shy, but shy cats can go fast at certain times. Some people are looking for that. Some people want a cat that’s independent while others want ones that are cuddly and all over them.”

At Catnip Cafe, there are both types in abundance, all waiting for you to visit. 

Catnip Cafe is located at 1611 Colley Ave. 

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