Coffee and Cats: Bringing Adoption to the People

HeARTsSpeakTheCatCafe_Stewie_RayaGreenbaumAt the Cat Cafe in San Diego, the curious and content residents of the business can purr their way right into new homes! Cats from the San Diego Humane Society are fostered by the cafe and are able to be adopted directly from that location, all between sips of latte or cappuccino.

Cat cafes have popped up all over the globe, gaining momentum in the last few years in the U.S. With the popularity of these businesses in mind, some animal shelters have been able to incorporate this new kind of outreach into their pet adoption strategies, reaching new audiences who may not otherwise have considered or known about their programs.

HeARTs Speak Blog The Cat Cafe San DiegoCat Cafe owner Tony Wang agrees: “Seeing shelter pets in unexpected places helps people see that they are friendly and fun animals. It helps remove the stigma that some people have about there being something wrong with an animal that is surrendered to a shelter. It definitely helps them think adoption…they get to experience firsthand how friendly shelter pets are.”

Getting the word out about the cafe and adoption is critical to supplementing walk-in customers. HeARTs Speak member Raya Greenbaum has the task of photographing the cats who are available for adoption at the Cat Cafe and counts it among one of her favorite assignments: “In addition to the exposure to adopters that the cat’s receive, the cats have constant socialization and engagement through play…It’s on their terms because they have the option to take a break in the backroom or curl up in a cat cubby. On the other side, I have noticed a few people who visit because they can’t adopt a cat. The Cat Cafe allows people to fill their ‘pet void’ while also benefiting a local business and shelter pets.”

Raya told us that a more home-like environment presents the opportunity to get more candid lifestyle shots that may help break down stereotypes about shelter animals. “They are napping in the window, playing with a visitor and strolling across shelves. Their personalities shine through more and allow people to envision them in their own homes more easily.”

That said, timing and patience are key in this environment, similar to photographing cats in free-roaming rooms at the shelter. “It would be great if every cat wanted to sit perfectly still in natural light…but this is not always the case,” says Raya. Luckily, she had some expert tips and tricks for the rest of us on working in an unconventional space!


5 Tips From Raya:


  1. Learn the animal’s cues and practice patience. “New arrivals are typically shy and may want their space. Yes, it’s important to get their photos but providing a positive experience for shelter pets is a priority. Pay attention to body language and give them some time until they are ready for their closeup.”
  1. HeARTs Speak The Cat Cafe San Diego Blog Let the animals lead. “I love following shelter pets during a photo shoot when space and schedule allow. From where they want to go, to what they want to do, the photos where I follow their lead are always my favorite. It feels more genuine and reflects their personalities.”
  1. Invite people into the photo. “If people are around, invite them to interact with the shelter pet. Incorporating the human-animal bond in a photo highlights the loving nature of shelter pets to potential adopters.”
  1. Remote shutter for shy pets. “I learned this trick while photographing a Chihuahua named Archibald. He was happy and relaxed until I lifted the camera. The remote shutter was how I captured a photo without causing more stress.”
  1. Nifty 50. “My 50mm lens is my go-to.”  When cats at the cafe gravitate towards a darker or more dimly lit area, she shoots with a wider aperture (letting as much light in to the camera as possible, with a low F-stop number) in order to blur the background, eliminate clutter and help brighten the photo. “This lens helped me improve my photography skills and my confidence on shoots. I would highly recommend it to new photographers. It’s affordable and versatile…a win-win!”


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Caitlin Quinn

Caitlin Quinn

Caitlin is passionate about working with shelters and rescues to reimagine the way they tell their stories and connect with new audiences. She has served in the animal welfare field since 2008 and early on had the honor of working closely with diverse organizations across the U.S. to maximize resources, redesign policies, and find life-changing marketing solutions. In 2015, she got her MPA with a concentration in nonprofit management and in 2021, she began teaching marketing + communications for the University of Florida Master of Veterinary Science, Concentration in Shelter Medicine program. She lives in NY with a petite brindle pit bull named Sally who owns her heart.