Stress Relief Session at the Indianapolis Nine Lives Cat Café

Kelly Niiyama, owner, at the Nine Lives Cate Café
Kelly Niiyama, owner, at the Nine Lives Cate Café

As college students, we are no strangers to stress. With papers, quizzes, exams and more, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and overextended, especially when balancing life, work and school. As more studies are done to understand stress, more research is conducted on effective ways to reduce stress. For example, researchers have found that animal connection helps relieve stress; the Nine Lives Cat Café assists in this manner. The café is located ten minutes from campus in the Fountain Square area. 

Living in a dorm or an apartment that does not allow pets can make it hard to interact with animals. Pets also require plenty of space, time, energy and care to ensure that they can live happily and healthily, which can be more than a college student can offer. Veterinary and food bills can also be overwhelming, and more than a student can afford. The Nine Lives Cat Café allows students to interact with cats in a safe and clean environment.

Kelly Niiyama, the owner of the Nine Lives Cat Café, said she often finds herself going to the cats for stress relief. She owns two adopted cats that cohabitate in her office with her, named Weeble and Sasha. She mentioned how the cats play a large part in her work breaks. 

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Weeble playing

“Oh, yes. Totally relieves stress because as a small business owner, I really have three businesses. One is the coffee business. It’s very distinct. And then the cat lounge business and then I started a nonprofit for adoptions, Indy Adopts,” said Niiyama. “Weeble comes up, wraps his arms around me and, like, okay. I need a Weeble break. It makes everything better.”

Niiyama also said that what makes the Nine Lives Cat Café a unique experience when seeking animal comfort is the range of animals you can interact with. 

"Even for people who already have cats. They have one or two cats, but we usually have 15," said Niiyama. "Lots of different personalities, different levels of energy."

Most cats that enter the cat café are usually older cats with more life experience. Some of these cats might have lived outside their whole lives or even need rehoming. For instance, there are situations where people adopt pets and changes in living circumstances cause them to find they can no longer take care of that animal. These animals are surrendered to shelters who then have to find them new homes. Kittens are easier to adopt because they are younger, but often people can forget about the older cats, and Niiyama is making it easier for them to have a place to relax. 

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Sasha taking a nap

“They can get the kittens adopted so they don’t necessarily send them to us as much as the older cats and it’s more for college students. It’s more chill, like you’re coming in the afternoon, probably, and here are these cats that are older who just kind of sit by you. Maybe you can touch them, maybe you can’t,” Niiyama said. 

One of the benefits of interacting with these older cats is that they have less energy and are more content to relax with students as they socialize or study. 

"We had one adopted last night. She was really scared and was in a foster home where she was bullied by the foster cats, who were younger, and she was eight," Niiyama said.

Another benefit of the Nine Lives Cat Café is feel-good stories like this. The cat café has seen over 1,500 adoptions, and there is no shortage of stories ending with a happy ever after for cats that are worth sharing. There are days where everything feels like it is falling apart and getting the experience to hear a heartfelt story of a cat getting a second chance at a happy life makes things seem less harsh. 

Polaroid Adoption Wall at the Nine Lives Cat Café

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Adoption Story Wall

"You go to somebody else's world, which is their world, and they depend on us for everything," Niiyama said when discussing the cats at the café. 

According to the News in Health, a newsletter from the National Institute of Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Services, there is power in pet interaction. 

"Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood," said NIH.

One of the most significant ways this article says animals help reduce stress is by assisting people in practicing mindfulness. While some apps, such as Headspace, help promote this skill, the report argues that by interacting with animals, you can also help build your mindfulness skills. Dr. Ann Berger, who researches for the NIH Clinical Center, works with cancer patients to train them in mindfulness to help reduce stress and manage pain.

"The foundations of mindfulness include attention, intention, compassion, and awareness. All of those things are things that animals bring to the table. People kind of have to learn it. Animals do this innately." Berger said.

Students can also find benefits in their café area. Outside the cat lounge area is a study bar where viewers can look at the cats without entering. If a student wants to focus on school work but is worried about the cats being too distracting, the tables and bar outside the cat lounge are perfect for quiet study. Often the areas around campus can become too loud, distracting or even crowded. The cat café is an ideal break away from the campus's rambunctiousness but still within perfect distance from IUPUI. Niiyama mentioned advice that her husband, who immigrated from Japan, shared about studying there.

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Study area in the viewing gallery

Niiyama said they were working on creating the perfect atmosphere for studying by ensuring their music was not too loud or distracting. The beverages at the café are also worth getting. One IUPUI student stated that the dirty chai latte at the café is well worth the time and money. 

"Go to a coffee shop, buy coffee. Don't spend a lot of money, buy coffee, use the internet and study." Niiyama said.

Alyssa Work (she/her) is a senior majoring in Communication. She is also a social media intern, and this is her first year on the Campus Citizen team.

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