Florence, a cat with an amputated limb hops into Mriidu Khosla’s cabin that has a saline drip on one wall and project maps on the other. Ever since she decided to open her own studio, ‘Zcyphher studios’ in 2010, the production house became the Cat Café Studio/ adoption centre. Located in Bungalow 68 of Versova, a tiny white door leads to an even bigger cat haven with as many as 30 cats playing, napping, running and unsuccessfully trying to catch that bloody red dot.
“Cat Café Studio is only a few months old but we were adopting and rescuing ever since we began. I moved to Mumbai in 2008 and rescued a cat while I was doing different jobs. I figured everything out by myself and went on to adopt more. We started with four cats that we got in our homes and I brought them with me to work every day. Over a period of time, the number went up to 30. We have found homes for over 200 cats out of the 300 we rescued since then. Some passed away too,” explains Mriidu, 33, managing director of Zcyphher studios. “Basically, we don’t have a life. The only time we leave the office is to go for shoots and visit the vet,” her sister laughingly admits.
Charu Khosla, Mriidu’s younger sister, gave up her job as a dentist to become the director of photography at the studio and now doubles up as the go-to medical advisor for cats and dogs. “The food you see at the café is home-made. Our mom makes it for free and we charge people who come to our cafe for it. Whatever we make, it goes back to the cats. Our staff also has gracious mothers who contribute food for the cafe without asking for anything. So they try to do their bit for the cats in their own way,” she said. The cats have their staff on their toes too by acquiring much of their working space.
A black cat sleeps cozily near a mouse pad while one rests at the end of a chair behind the editor. A girl has a feline hostel below her desk where three fully grown cats reside.
The trio that manage the café organise a lot of offline events with art exhibitions, open mic nights, theatre and bake sales where people can play with the cats and enjoy the show. Whatever they make, more than 12-15% of their profit goes towards helping cats and dogs. “We had a few dogs that got adopted too but we are primarily a cat café styled after the famous Japanese cat cafes. We rescue any cat that comes our way and give them shelter, food, medication and love. We conduct neutering drives and have spayed over 450 animals since we began. We just completed three operations a few days ago. We feed all the stray animals in our area as well. But let me tell you that we are not an NGO. We see how our friends at other NGOs suffer and it astonishes us,” said Charu who joined the studio in 2012.
“Some people just drop off their stray cats outside our doors and keep calling us and insisting that we take their cats and re-home them. We get a lot of abusive calls and some people just demean us. Some call us and say my cat is pregnant and in labour, what do I do? I don’t understand why people don’t think of calling the vet the very first instant something like happens? All the information is available on google, it’s all out there,” says an incredulous Charu. “Dropping a cat you found on the street at an NGO is not rescuing it,” added Jason. Mriidu chipped in saying that feeding a cat every two hours is a commitment you have to make and a journey you have to take with the cat to rescue it.
Jason Moss, co-founder of the studio, flew in from Florida to assist Mriidu at the studio and took up the cat cafe project with much zest. He was disappointed to see just how bad the adoption rate and the state of the city’s NGOs were. “We went to Bai Sakarbai hospital for animals and we didn’t have a good experience. They feed milk to cats when it is known that it is harmful to them. We have rescued cats from that hospital who were in terrible shape. There is a cat here with us called Ian who lost an eye and was operated there. He was languishing there for weeks and the caretaker at the hospital told the boy who found Ian, that if he didn’t take him, he could die at any moment. The boy made repeated trips to the BSPCA hospital and paid for his surgeries. He came to us and we rescued him. The college boy took initiative and wanted to be a part of the journey of adopting a stray, that is what is missing here,” he said.
He says his heart doesn’t bleed for people whose adoption requests he rejects. “I will not let anyone adopt a cat from here unless they fulfill all our requirements. We have had a lot of bad adoptions where we have had to repossess cats for the harm done to them after adoption,” he said. Mriidu and Charu nodded in agreement and said that adoption from Cat Café Studio is the hardest in the city. Complete with a manual, house checks, repeated interviews and paperwork, they insist on prospective adopters to get a feel of a pet cat first. “Nobody chooses a cat. the cat chooses who they want to love. They know when they are unwanted and it stresses them. We leave the choice on cats,” they said. “We want people to know that adopting adult cats is better than adopting kittens because they are much calmer, vaccinated and easier to take care of,” said Mriidu.
A large frame of successful pet parents adorn the entrance of the studio. The founders claim they are in touch with each one of them over whatsapp and email. Besides this, a whiteboard with cat details is the definitive guide to knowing every cat in the house with each of their specific ‘superpowers’ listed as well. While one feline is a Cinderella, another one has a diva complex. Jason attributes the surge in popularity of cats to the various cat videos out there, not to mention the fact that they are generally low maintenance. Charu said that a lot of single people adopt cats in a city that is not that friendly towards owning pets in general. “We have built our own small community and it brings us a lot of happiness when someone loves your cat just as much as you do. Our cats also occupy our desk space where our employees work. A lot of people have also offered us work and have become our trusted clients because they just happened to hear about this café and spent time here. They have brought us a lot of luck,” says Mriidu.
“A lot of kids come to pet cats here because their parents won’t allow them to have one. Sometimes we have parents making trips here to ensure it is safe for their children and bring them on a weekend. This gives us an opportunity to educate them about love for animals,” she said. They plan on getting a bigger space by next year where they can adopt dogs as well. “We have enough running cash from the café to look after our cats. We have started producing home-made, fat-free soap for animals in Pune which we sell here. We also have more merchandise in the form of mugs, t-shirts and more that go for the cats well-being. We are in works for shampoo and shower gel and might move to animal grooming products in future as well. We want to make a space for internal spaying, a room for recovery, a private vet, an art space, a movie screening room and maybe a space for people to play video games while they pet cats,” added the trio.
What a way to calm frayed nerves, with an ice-tea and a cat rubbing up your neck for some tender love and care.
You can find out more details about this wonderful Cat Café Studio by checking out their Facebook Page.
Photographs: Karan Khosla (@thekhos)