One of the really endearing things about shopping at thrift stores is that you never know what you might come home with. Some vintage clothes. Electronic junk. As-seen-on-TV kitchen gizmos.
Or maybe a cat or two.
Nestled cozily in the very back of Boomerangs Thrift Store in Wilton Manors is a room that is every bit as one-of-a-kind as the items you might find sprinkled throughout the rest of the store. In what was once a kitchen for a busy Mexican restaurant on Wilton Drive sits the Good Luck Cat Cafe. It’s a place to rest, to meet a new furry friend – and maybe welcome one (or two) into your home.
“I’m in there four or five times a day,” says Matt LaMariana, a veteran of the South Florida thrift store scene who opened Boomerangs almost seven years ago. “When you’re having a bad day, there’s nothing like spending a few minutes with a cute cat to chill you out.”
The cate cafe phenomenon is a recent one, and it’s a fairly simple concept: Have a seat, hang out and relax with some calming animals. It began 20 years ago in Taiwan and has spread seemingly everywhere since, becoming more common around the globe, including in the United States. But often, cat cafes resemble coffee houses or tea rooms, and sometimes you have to pay admission just to hang out in a room full of felines and sip on an overpriced drink. Not here.
The Good Luck Cat Cafe is not-for-profit and runs with an all-volunteer staff. The place leans heavier on the “cat” part of the description and a little less on the “cafe.” There are bottled water and various snacks for purchase to help benefit the rescue organizations that supply the animals, and they’ll accept donations, too. But all they really ask is that you take a squirt of hand sanitizer before you pet any of the featured guests.
Laura Summers came to the café to, as she puts it, work one shift. Several years later, she’s still here. She has been volunteering at the cafe since it opened two summers ago and was only open four days a week. Cats, like any other animals, are seven-day-a-week pets and need regular tending. Summers is retired and lives nearby, so it was a natural fit. She sees repeat visitors from all over the country and has met visitors from as far away as London.
Now, the cafe is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. “I do this because I love it,” Summers says. “The number one mission is to get the cats adopted.”
And that’s precisely what they’ve done about 100 times since the cafe opened. It’s a pretty solid turnover rate, considering there are a maximum of 10 cats housed on the premises at any given time. The whiskered faces of the cafe’s success stories line the walls even as a new class is welcomed in.
The cafe sees all kinds of boarders, everything from three-legged cats to one youngster named Phoenix, who lost her ears in a fire. Summers says one cat named K’Ehlair (it’s a Star Trek reference) lived in the cafe nine months before a volunteer scooped her up.
“He wrote the nicest note about how everybody missed out on the best cat that ever was and how everyone overlooked her,” Summers says. “That’s really exciting when you have a cat who’s been here a long time and you can find them a good home.”
The cats here are free range, so they have the run of the room. There are large cages where the animals are kept for the night, but during business hours they are free to do as they please. This serves a couple of purposes for the prospective cat parent. First, it helps to socialize the cats not only with their housemates, but also to get used to living around people. It also allows the animals to choose their humans.
“One thing they get here is exposure,” LaMariana says. “Sometimes people will visit two or three times before they put in an application to adopt. If I go to a shelter, I’m going to fall in love with the most pathetic things I see. Here, you sit on the couch and see which cat comes up to you. It’s the chance for the cat to pick you rather than you picking out a cat.”
As for the adoptions themselves, those are handled through Lady Luck Animal Rescue and Good Karma Pet Rescue. All of the cats on offer are microchipped, spayed or neutered and up-to-date on their shots. Good Karma and Lady Luck rely on networks of volunteers to foster their animals since they don’t have permanent space. Good Karma rescued more than 1,700 cats and dogs in 2017, which was nearly double the number from the year before.
There is an application procedure and fee at the cafe, and both Lady Luck and Good Karma require an in-home visit before completing an adoption. That means that same-day adoptions are pretty rare, but it also ensures that the cats are sent to a safe environment.
“We’re a network of all volunteers,” says Sofia Morales, a board member for Good Karma who joined the group three years ago. “Everyone has a family, a job or other volunteer efforts they might be a part of. It’s a lot of people who really, really, really love cats and dogs coming together to do this for fun.”
Meanwhile, the proceeds from Boomerangs benefit the Animal Rescue Fund. And among the fund’s chief beneficiaries are Lady Luck and Good Karma. So even shopping in the store can help out these needy animals.
“I decided the one thing I’m really good at in this weird little business is turning unwanted items into cash for charities,” LaMariana says, “and nothing is nearer and dearer to my heart than these animals.”
Good Luck Cat Cafe
(Located inside Boomerangs Thrift Store) 2365 Wilton Drive, Wilton Manors
Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., 7 days a week
Interested in volunteering or donating?
Find more information at:
Good Karma Pet Rescue goodkarmapetrescue.org
Lady Luck Animal Rescue ladyluckanimalrescue.com
The Animal Rescue Fund theanimalrescuefund.org