IT MAY seem these days that the internet is dominated by white supremacists and Wikileaks, but click for click, nothing gets more attention than pussy.
Oh, don’t get your dander up—I’m talking the four-legged persuasion, ya creepers.
More than a decade after YouTube founder Steve Chen posted the first cat video, we’re still “feline the kittehs,” as it were, sharing classic Grumpy Cat and Lil’ Bub memes and whiling away the workday watching Maru diving head first into a too-small box. Hedgehogs and otters may have edged into the cute critter market, but cats remain the world’s favorite mammalian entertainment.
Our collective obsession is surely catalyzed (tee hee) by the cuteness factor, but the animal magnetism is real: A 2015 study found that simply watching Henri’s Ennui can improve mood and productivity, just a fraction of the benefits gleaned when you pet a pussy in person. (Everyone who’s not a felonious barbarian knows that pussies do not like to be grabbed and have the right to scratch the eyes out of anyone who tries, or better yet, hire Gloria Allred to shame and bankrupt the purrpetrator.)
Research shows that cuddling cats can boost heart health and even heal bones, and cat owners report less anxiety and better sleep habits than the general population (as well as a higher incidence of shredded curtains and missing goldfish.)
I grew up in a home full of charming hairballs, though I am not now personally owned by a cat because my husband is allergic to them, and by “allergic,” he means a girlfriend’s cat once peed in his shoes and he has still not forgiven the entire species. So we’re basically a dog-snake-guinea pig family until I can afford my own yurt.
As a cat lady without a cat, I’ve been known to become fixated on others’ pussies, drifting off at parties to play with the laser pointer I keep in my purse. I once bought the entire paperback collection of Haruki Murakami from E. Shaver Booksellers out of embarrassment because I’d been there so long blissing out with store mascots Bartleby and Mr. Eliot.
Fortunately, I can now get my meow on without dropping big bucks or looking like a purrvert: Purrvana Café & Cat Lounge opened last week on the corner of Barnard and Anderson streets, offering the cat-deprived a clean, well-appointed place to hang out with Savannah’s most glamorous clowder. (FYI, a group of cats can also be referred to as a “glaring,” which is even more appropriate given felines’ superior staring contest abilities.)
Several of Purrvana’s pussycats were basking on the sun-dappled window seat on my first visit (there have been several more, obviously.) They eyed me suspiciously at first until Noir, a handsome glossy specimen deigned to introduce himself with a whisker tickle across my hand. Friendly calico Miss Webster stalked across my lap as shy tabby Owlette skittishly disappeared into a cupboard. When Gnarly, a handsome devil wearing a permanent tuxedo snuggled into my armpit and started running his motor like a well-oiled Mercedes, I basically went into a murmur-induced coma, until he leapt away to chase a tinkling ball under the settee.
Owner Patricia Underwood has styled the place as a fancy Victorian salon, with funny feline touches like a candy bowl full of feather toys and a picture frame mounted with a scratching pad on the inside. When I fretted that it won’t be long before all those dainty claws make macramé out of the velvet-covered furniture, Patricia laughed.
“I’m not emotionally attached to any of it,” she said with a shrug. “It’s all thrift store stuff, we’ll just get more.”
The CPA bought the formerly falling-down structure from the Historic Savannah Foundation in 2012, when it was listed as one of the city’s 100 Worst Blighted Buildings. She moved in upstairs and has been restoring the place ever since, though she wasn’t sure what to do with it until she visited a cat café in Portland, Oregon a few years ago and became smitten with the kitten concept.
“I saw this as a way to be around animals and create a neighborhood gathering spot at the same time,” explained Patricia, twitching a peacock feather ever so slightly to entice Owlette out of the cabinet.
In case you’re wondering about the health department logistics, several litter boxes stashed discreetly around the room are changed several times a day. The kitty haven has a separate entrance from Purrvana’s café side, where Cup to Cup coffee and croissants from Auspicious Bakery are served along with other sweet and savory treats. Yes, you’re allowed to bring purchased refreshments over to the cat room, as long as you don’t mind a sneaky paw in your mug.
Ten cat groupies are allowed in at a time, and reservations are recommended, as our local pussies are already proving quite popular. At $9 for an hour, $5 for a half hour, they’re also way cheaper than therapists.
“I want this to be accessible for everybody,” promises Cat—er, Patricia, adding that the cat room can accommodate wheelchairs. “I’m a special needs mom, too.”
I’ll admit the possible exploitation of cat concubines freaked meowt at first, but it’s vital to know that Purrvana is mutually beneficial to the stars of its show: All of them come from the Palmetto Animal League, the area’s only no-kill animal shelter. Just over the South Carolina border in Okatie, PAL rescues hundreds of cats and dogs a year and offers affordable veterinary care and adoption services while doing its best to make a dent in the Southeast’s tragic feral cat crisis.
“This is a great way for the community to meet the cats and learn about what we do,” explains PAL Executive Director Amy Campanini, who helped handpick Purrvana’s furry sweethearts. “We make a lifetime commitment to these animals, and this makes space in our shelter and helps them find homes.”
Oh, did I mention all the Purrvana pussies are available for adoption? Three fur babies have already found forever families in the past week, and should you develop a special bond with Manly, Miss Webster or any of the rest of the real-life LOLcats, you just have to wait until the end of the day to complete the paperwork.
PAL will send over a fetching replacement to the cafe immediately, as there is no shortage in the world of friendly felines eager to bring down your blood pressure, purr in your lap and bat a toy mouse around for everyone’s amusement.
If I had it my way, I’d bring home the entire clowder tomorrow, but you know, “allergies.” But one of these days my yurt will be glaring with pussy power!