The cat cafe cure

Adriana Isabel pets Monroe at Crumbs & Whiskers Cafe in Los Angeles on March 16, 2023.

Sitting in the middle of the cement floor, surrounded by neon pink LED lights, cushioned fluffy rugs and cat trees, Adriana Isabel stares at Monroe’s bolting green eyes, which stand out from his long black fur. 

Smiling ear to ear from pure joy, her cheeks turn a rosy red, blushing from excitement.

Isabel swings a cat toy and Monroe jumps to catch the feathers at the end of the stick. She giggles. 

After play time, she glides her hand across his shedding black fur, closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, releasing built-up tension and anxiety. 

Petting Monroe brings her a soothing warmth that only pets can provide. 

A third-time guest at Crumbs and Whiskers Kitten and Cat Cafe, Isabel didn’t grow up with pets. Until she got one, she didn’t know how special it could be to experience the love and care they give us. 

“I have a history of anxiety and depression,” Isabel said. “It can be so grounding to know that animals are in the present. They’re feeling what’s going on in the moment, and I think it’s just a good reminder for me to slow down.”

Adriana Isabel looks at Monroe at Crumbs & Whiskers Cafe on Melrose Ave. in Los Angeles on March 16, 2023. Photo by Rachael Rosenberg.

Crumbs and Whiskers, a cat cafe with locations in Los Angeles and Washington D.C., serves as a shelter for cats until they are adopted, as well as a cafe for people to come, reserve a session and play with dozens of cats. 

Crumbs and Whiskers National Manager David Koehler-Stanescu has experienced firsthand the feeling of calmness and comfort pets can add. 

“I think it’s a quiet happiness,” Koehler-Stanescu said. “I think it’s closer to joy. It really is about knowing they’re there. Being able to rely on their affection and love, and form that bond over 15–and if you’re lucky, 20 to 25 years–brings a lot of happiness.” 

Working in a space like Crumbs and Whiskers has allowed Koehler-Stanescu to witness people’s mood lift when they experience the physical and mental benefits of pets.

“It makes people happy,” Koehler-Stanescu said. “The most important thing is that people come in and you can see them relax. You can see them being like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so calming and such a serotonin boost.’”

General Manager Amber Headrick is a big cat person, but she grew up mostly surrounded by dogs. Never living without a pet, her role at Crumbs and Whiskers brings fulfillment to her life, and she’s seen many customers feel the same way when they book a session at the cat cafe. 

“I’ve seen a lot of people come here and say, ‘I’ve had the worst week, I just want to come and cuddle with cats,’” Headrick said. “The cats usually come right over to them.” 

Located on Melrose Avenue, Crumbs and Whiskers offers a cozy lounge with over 20 rescue cats and kittens that guests can play, cuddle, nap or take pictures. The cafe is filled with cats looking for their forever home and guests are welcome to apply for adoption. 

While booking a ticket and choosing a time slot, guests have the option of purchasing either a 30-minute or 70-minute session. Upon arrival, there are menus to order coffee, drinks and pastries from the cafe. 

Not only are pets our companions, but they bring purpose and happiness to our lives. Headrick said that she wouldn’t be such a happy person if she didn’t have her pets. 

“They definitely help improve your mental health and your day,” Headrick said. “Even if you’re having the worst day of your life, and you don’t feel like getting out of bed, you’re going to get out of bed for your pet. Whether you have to feed them or take them on a walk.”

Allison Valdes, a first-time guest at Crumbs and Whiskers, put experiencing a cat cafe on her bucket list years ago. Having pets at home, the feeling of a cat purring brings her peace and relaxation.

“On days I’m feeling sad, seeing my cat immediately makes me feel so much happier,” Valdes said. “I recently got a new job so sometimes there’s a bit of anxiety; all I want to do is come home, see my pets and immediately my bad days are over. I feel so much better and just so much more at peace.”

Marriage and Family Therapist Ramona Estrada primarily works with teenagers and other individuals in a psychotherapeutic manner. She specializes in major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety.

Estrada uses her dog, Gizmo, in therapy sessions with clients who feel comfortable having a dog in the room. Undergoing training classes, her dog knows how to display different behaviors around each client.

The teenagers and adults Estrada works with are able to open up and be calm when they have something to focus on, such as petting a dog.

“I’ve seen it reduce anxiety,” Estrada said. “When clients come in, they’re highly anxious, and they’re not sure what to do. Petting Gizmo, having that distraction and giving him the attention, I’ve seen a reduction in their anxiety symptoms from when they first come in versus when they leave.”

Having a dog present has improved the atmosphere for many of Estrada’s clients who have generalized anxiety disorder. Petting her dog during therapy has made it easier for people to process things and be receptive throughout their sessions.

“I have a lot of teenagers that come into the office with generalized anxiety disorder, and it really helps them,” Estrada said. “It changes their demeanor  when they come in, and it makes it easier to engage therapeutically.”

Estrada has seen firsthand that people’s quality of life changed when they got pets.

“I’ve seen a real change in people who are on the depressive scale when they get cats or dogs,” Estrada said. “Because they are having somebody to care for. With a lot of dogs, you have to go walk in the sunshine and get some exercise, which in itself is a natural antidepressant and helps boost your neurochemicals for your feel-good dopamine and serotonin.”

Marriage and Family Therapist and author Lori Robinson has spent most of her life working with animals in the wild. From an animal communicator to an African safari specialist, Robinson has dedicated her life to making a dif- ference and changing people’s perceptions of nature, wildlife and animals.

Growing up with a menagerie of animals, Robinson was used to having a wide variety of pets in her home.

From dogs and cats to exotic birds, reptiles, snakes and a goat, Robinson’s passion for animals has been present for most of her life.

“It was such a natural part of my life that I didn’t really analyze or think about it,” Robinson said. “They were just so integrated into our lives that we didn’t even treat them differently. They were almost like siblings.”

Robinson believes humans innately are in relationships with wild beings and wild places. She teaches and writes about the relationship people share with nature and animals, which opens us to a spiritual state of awe.

“When we bring a pet into our lives, or we start gardening, or we start hiking, we get this feeling; it’s a feeling of love, a feeling of connection, a feeliing of relationship, a feeling of spirituality, a feeling of awe,” Robinson said. “The reason we get it is that we’re reminded about that innate relationship that we’ve lost with nature.”

The feeling of that intimate connection between guests and the cats at Crumbs and Whiskers is what brings them back to this warm and loving space.

Isabel didn’t end up adopting Monroe, but it’s likely she’ll be back for more play time and cuddles to relieve her anxiety.

“If I’m having the kind of day where I’m really anxious, a pet doesn’t mind,” Isabel said. “They’re just glad that you’re there and it’s nice to be reminded that you are enough.”

Bobby Brady at Crumbs & Whiskers Cafe on Melrose Ave. in Los Angeles on March 6, 2023. Photo by Rachael Rosenberg.