Cat lounge a haven for felines and their fans

June 13, 2019 — When it comes to socializing and romping off-leash, dogs and their owners have dog parks. The feline equivalent had been lacking, but in recent year free-roaming kitties and cat enthusiasts are gathering in cat cafés.

Ann Chasson '80
    Ann Chasson ’80

In San Jose, California, The Dancing Cat, co-owned by Ann Chasson ’80, is a 1,000-square foot storefront space that’s decorated like a living room, with artwork, several couches, and two long picnic tables in the center. Visitors can sit and read, draw, chat, and hang out with cats.

“We’re a cat adoption lounge,” explains Chasson. “A lot of people would call it a cat café, but we don’t have the food service of a café.” (Visitors can bring their own food and drink, however.) “Besides being a showcase for adult cats for adoption, we provide a place for people to share their love of cats with other cat lovers and create a community. We’re the place to meet other people while you’re hanging out with cats.”

Since opening several years ago, The Dancing Cat has facilitated the adoption of 400 mainly adult cats into more permanent homes. The cat lounge is also available for birthday parties, yoga (with cats), crochet get-togethers, and cat-themed events and talks.

According to Meow Around, there are more than 100 cat cafés worldwide, generally serving dual purposes: as gathering spots for cat lovers, and as low-key adoption centers where eligible kitties roam free. Some cat cafés serve coffee, tea or wine, while others sell cat-themed merchandise, and offer classes and other activities.

Chasson, a software engineer and co-founder of Mountain View, California-based Integrative Bioinformatics, Inc., has been involved with cat rescue for years but had been looking for a better way to connect homeless cats with cat adopters.

“In a shelter, people come in, and it’s noisy and cats are freaked out, so it’s not a great environment for facilitating adoptions,” she says. So when Oakland’s Cat Town Café opened in 2014 as the first permanent cat café in the U.S., Chasson was intrigued.

After seeing the success of Cat Town Café, Chasson and her business partner opened a pop-up cat lounge for a month in May 2015. It was so successful that they stayed open for six months. Then with the support of an animal rescue organization, they reopened in 2016. They were able to rent the same building in downtown San Jose, a former liquor store.

People enjoy the company of cats at The Dancing Cat, in San Jose.
Residents in Silicon Valley enjoy the company of felines at The Dancing Cat in San Jose.

The Dancing Cat has up to a dozen adult cats available and hanging out, with another dozen or so in their foster network, receiving medical care or dealing with behavioral issues. Visitors are asked to pay a $10 admission-donation fee to support the nonprofit, though if someone can’t pay but really wants to be with cats, “we let them in,” Chasson says.

Most of the cats come from the San Jose Animal Shelter, which depends on dozens of local rescue partners like The Dancing Cat, because as a no-kill shelter, they don’t have the capacity to hold so many cats long term.

Chasson, an economics major who played volleyball at Grinnell (but didn’t own a cat during her time on campus), started her career working for an economist in Washington, D.C., did a Rotary fellowship in France, then learned how to program after working on economic forecasting. “I thought programming was way more interesting than economics,” she says. After working for several large companies in IT, she moved to Silicon Valley and in 2002 founded Integrative Bioinformatics, Inc. with her now husband, a biologist.

A cat sits on a table at The Dancing Cat.

The Dancing Cat is more than a full-time job, however, and Chasson spends little time on IT and about 80 hours a week on the cat business, doing everything from administration and volunteer coordination to website maintenance and accounting. Her favorite task, however, is delivering adopted cats to their new families. “I love seeing our cats in new homes.”

Chasson and her husband are currently fostering three kittens – which will soon be adopted out – and a 17-year-old cat. They also have two feral cats living in the backyard, who are excellent mousers.

“Every cat is different,” says Chasson, explaining why she’s always loved cats. “Their temperament and how they respond to the world is really interesting. And there’s nothing better than sitting down with a purring cat on your lap.”

— by Anne Stein ’84

For your information:

See the current cats up for adoption at The Dancing Cat and learn more about the café. To find other cat cafés across the United States, see the Meow Around location listings.

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive.