Interview! Ann Dunn, Founder of Cat Town, Oakland, CA

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“Nobody wanted to be standing in a cafe making coffee, they wanted to be helping the cats. But now, we’re seeing how helpful it has been to forgotten kittens and see how successful it has been.”

Ann Dunn founded Cat Town, an Oakland, CA organization focused on helping the most vulnerable cats in local shelters—cats that are too scared to show their best selves, and therefore tend to be overlooked by potential adopters. After realizing this was an issue, Ann decided she wanted to work with these cats that needed the most intervention and save them from being euthanized. She opened the first Cat Cafe in conjunction with Cat Town in 2014 and just opened an adoption center for the hardest to place cats.

Ann worked for over twenty years in public housing redevelopment in managing, funding and planning. While she didn’t grow up with cats, she did end up adopting two cats after college. It was in their memory that she started volunteering at the local animal shelter. She never imagined volunteering would lead her to open her own rescue shelter and she soon became obsessed with helping cats. In Ann’s new venture, she saw an opportunity to apply her professional skills to address the high euthanasia rates for the higher-risk cats who weren’t having luck finding homes. In 2011, Oakland had a 42% euthanasia rate, but by focusing on the cats most likely to be euthanized, Ann has helped place around 1,800 cats and has reduced the euthanasia rate to 14%!

To do this, Ann brought a different perspective to the problem by looking at the variables that were in play at an animal shelter. She saw obstacles that were in place that prevented some cats from feeling safe enough to be confident, which in turn, led to them not being adopted—and often times, to being euthanized. Ann wanted to help by finding a way to place these cats in something other than a cage, where people could get to see them open up more. She originally imagined a quasi- sanctuary/adoption center/cat cafe, where people would be able to spend time with these shyer cats in an environment that was more comfortable for the animals. She wanted to see these troubled cats find a “safe place” where they would transform into confident cats that people would want to adopt.

Ann now works on the Forgotten Kitten Project as well. She uses a different approach with kittens who may not be socialized because they are a little older when they come in. She brings them in and lets them become desensitized to an active environment, where they are amazingly resilient. It helps boost their confidence and gives them the skills they need to become more adoptable cats. She received a grant from Maddie’s Fund for this project, including documenting her findings in order to inspire other organizations to replicate this approach and help even more shy cats and kittens.

Ann also participates in an apprenticeship program through Maddie’s Fund, where she shares innovative ideas with other organizations. Cat Town is a host organization, where they have different organizations come in and shadow them, to learn about Cat Town’s operations, ideas, and successes—and how they can be implemented in other organizations.

Find out Ann’s thoughts on the Cat Cafe and what she would do differently if she were doing it again. Would she even open a cat cafe if she was starting all over?

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