By Nina Mendes
News & Features Editor
This cat-loving, ex-poker player played his cards right.
FGCU alum Andrew Townsend was a professional gambler for years before finding his passion for cat rescue. A pivotal moment of personal growth led him to leave his poker chips on the table and start living a life with new meaning.
“I asked myself, ‘What good am I doing other than for myself?’” Townsend said. “That was my problem with it. I wasn’t happy, and that’s what led me to FGCU.”
Townsend and his fiancé, Amber Redfern, opened Fort Myers’ first cat cafe this past June. The grand opening was initially scheduled three months earlier, but COVID-19 pushed their debut to the summer.
“I knew I wanted to start a business that gave back to the community,” Townsend said. “A long journey led me towards the cat cafe and how much this area actually needed one.”
Over 250,000 feral cats are roaming Lee County, according to Townsend. He is willing to do his part to make a dent in that number.
Cattyshack is located in Gulf Coast Town Center and is partnered with Gulf Coast Humane Society (GCHS). The cafe also serves as a donation drop-off for the shelter.
Townsend and Redfern receive the rescue cats from GCHS to help them find their forever homes. The felines are fully vetted with their vaccinations and a microchip, making them ready for adoption.
Over 250 cats have been adopted since the cafe opened just over two months ago.
“Andrew and Amber are so dedicated to the success of Cattyshack and the wellbeing of the cats in their care,” Executive Director of GCHS Jennifer Galloway said. “For Gulf Coast Humane Society, it’s exciting to have another resource for our cats and kittens seen by the public.”
Inspired by the ’80s comedy Caddyshack, the cafe has subtle golf-related nudges that give the place its personality.
The building is separated into two halves with separate air systems to account for guests with allergies.
People enter through the cafe side and can enjoy various cat-themed coffee, pastries, beer and wine. Guests can purchase a meow-cha (mocha), a meow-mosa (mimosa), a caffé Ameri-gato (caffé Americano) and more.
“My favorite part of working here is playing with the cats,” Cattyshack employee Rachel Mclaughlin said. Mclaughlin is also a senior at FGCU. “It’s very relaxing here, and it is a great way to de-stress.”
It’s free to enter the cafe portion of Cattyshack, and Mclaughlin recommends it as a great study spot for students.
The cats are located in the Mulligan Room, which has a $15 entry fee.
Mulligan is a term in golf for an extra stroke allowed after a poor shot. The name is fitting, as these cats have been given a second chance at life.
Guests wanting to spend time in the Mulligan Room must book an appointment through the Cattyshack website to allow for social distancing.
“Cat safety is our top priority,” said Townsend. “I think this cafe adds something fun, new and unique. Especially during this time when there’s a lot of uncertainty going on.”
Wearing a mask inside the cat cafe is strongly suggested, and gloves are available upon request. Guests are allowed to remove their face covering while eating, drinking or taking pictures with the cats.
Cattyshack also offers interactive activities like Cat Yoga every Sunday. There are plans to host wine tastings, birthday parties, team-building events and FGCU student activities soon.
The cat cafe is currently in need of volunteers and will offer service-learning hours to students. Some of the daily tasks include socializing with the shy cats, cleaning and feeding.
“The majority of the people that come here don’t even have an intension of adopting a cat,” said Townsend. “I’m excited for more people to find out about this place and what it can be for the cats.”