Catopia promotes pet adoption through cafe experience

One Albuquerque entrepreneur has embarked on their take of a cafe, incorporating coffee, comfort and cats.

Catopia Cat Cafe, owned by Sandy Dierks, acts as a foster home to 16 feline friends while also selling eats and drinks to customers while they get to know the adoptable cats.

Outside of Catopia Cafe, photo by Makayla Grijalva

Catopia Cafe is not the first of its kind in Albuquerque. In April 2016, Gatos y Galletas opened their Downtown Albuquerque doors, but closed shortly after in November 2016. Dierks’ cafe sits in northeast Albuquerque off of Paseo Del Norte.

She said she started last year to research the concept of cat cafes and the logistics of how the cafes operate. Growing up as a daughter of a veterinarian who did work in the South Valley, Dierks said, she has always had a love for animals, especially the four cats she has at home.

Catopia owner Sandy Dierks comforts one of the cats fostered at Catopia. Photo by Shayla Cunico / NM News Port

“I had a lot of help getting (Catopia) together,” Dierks said.

Dierks went to New Mexico State University, earning her bachelor’s degree in economics and international business, laying the foundation for her to own her own business. Dierks said that she received mentorship from many different organizations, including the Women’s Economics Self-Sufficiency Team.

Dierks, who previously worked as a medical transcriber, decided she needed a new venture to keep herself busy. As both of her kids started preparing for college and her former boss closed his practice and retired, Dierks said it was an opportune time.

“Working at a shelter would be tricky because I’d want to bring them home, and that’s not practical,” Dierks said. “So, this is my small way of trying to give some help in that area without making it too emotionally traumatic for myself.”

Since its opening on January 5, 2019 Catopia has facilitated 18 adoptions to date, helping friendly homes find new cat companions, something that Dierks said is her favorite part of her job.

Dierks said that she has felt really good about the adoptions that have happened at the cafe so far.

“They have gone to really nice people and I felt like they were gonna take really good care of them, when you’re letting them go to a really good place, it’s not so hard.”

Catopia works mainly with the City of Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department and Desert Paws New Mexico to supply the cats for her cafe.

Desiree Cawley, Marketing Manager at the City of Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department,  said that some people don’t enjoy going to the animal shelter, so Catopia is a nice alternative.

“(Shelters are) very intimidating and overwhelming when you see a hundred cats there,” Cawley said. “But, you see a small amount (of cats) and you’re drinking coffee and you’re watching, you’re thinking ‘oh, that might fit my house’ because you’re in that kind of environment.”

Foster cat at Catopia. Photo by Shayla Cunico / NM News Port

When preparing cats to go to Catopia Cat Cafe, the Animal Welfare department will observe them to make sure they are fit to taken into an environment with people and other cats. To do this, the cats are put into group room where they can be closely observed by shelter volunteers.

“That’s a key thing because they are all roaming,” Cawley said. “They have to intermingle with other cats and get along together.”

Once at the cafe, the process for adopting a cat is fairly simple. If the cat was fostered through the City of Albuquerque, the cafe will conduct an interview and have the people wanting to adopt fill out an application. The city will then do a background check on the prospective pet parents. The cat is usually able to be taken to its new home the same day.

When adopting through one of the other cafe’s partnerships, a home visit might also be involved.

According to Cawley, the goal for all the pets in the adoption center is adoption. Out of all the cats received by the City of Albuquerque, nearly 75% have been either adopted or reclaimed by their original owners.

“We strive really hard (to get pets adopted),” Cawley said. “We only euthanize for health reasons or behavior reasons.”

Cawley said that business like Catopia are removing the stigma from adopting pets from an animal shelter.

“They weren’t discarded or they weren’t bad cats. It’s just circumstances that caused them to come into our shelter,” Cawley said.

It’s harder to know, what a cat’s personality is when you are at the animal welfare, because they are in cages. It’s a really stressful environment, but (here) it’s more laid back and we get more time with the cats too, so the employees know more about the cats.

Miranda Garcia, Catopia Cat Cafe Employee

“(The cats) are here for a foster home, so most of it is people being able to hang out with them, but also part of it is them being shown off to get homes,” Garcia said.

Garcia said the cats are more comfortable at Catopia in comparison to an environment of a shelter, allowing the cats to reflect their true personality and be themselves.

“Its harder to know, what a cat’s personality is when you are at the animal welfare, because they are in cages,” Garcia said. “It’s a really stressful environment, but (here) it’s more laid back and we get more time with the cats too, so the employees know more about the cats.”

Shayla Cunico and Makayla Grijalva are both editors at the New Mexico News Port, they can be contacted on Twitter @ShaylaCunico and @MakaylaEliboria.