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Hyla’s Heart to Home Cat Lounge. (photo: Kelly Marini)

In 1998, the first cat lounge, Cat Flower Garden, originated in Taipei, Taiwan, starting a global trend that has been growing ever since. Now San Pedro has a cat lounge of its own with the opening of Hyla’s Heart to Home Cat Lounge in downtown, a venture that aims to benefit both animals and the local community. 

The feline-centered lounge — created by Pedro Pet Pals, the nonprofit organization launched in 2009 by President Theresa Sardisco — is part of the new pet wellness center in the two-story building on the corner of 7th and Mesa streets. As opposed to the traditional shelter experience, the lounge reconceptualizes how rescue cats are re-homed, providing a warm, comforting, and fun environment for adoptable cats to roam freely and interact with potential adopters. In collaboration with South Bay Cats, a local nonprofit rescue and adoption organization, the mission is to find forever homes for the felines, all within a safe and unique atmosphere.

The lounge pays homage to Hyla Marrow, an avid cat lover and accomplished gymnast, dancer, actress, and daredevil stuntwoman who created a trust that, since 2016, helps homeless cats find medical care and permanent homes. Pedro Pet Pals was fortunate to be chosen as one of the recipients of the Marrow Grant and decided to purchase the vacant building at 395 West 7th Street, while honoring Marrow by creating the Hyla’s Heart to Home Cat Lounge. Project Manager Kenna Dean, who spearheaded the lounge inception, ensures all aspects of the operation run smoothly. “We are seeing a rejuvenation of the downtown area in San Pedro, and being the project manager for the cat lounge seemed like a perfect fit,” says Dean. “The hope is to get as many cats as possible into their forever homes. Our goal for the lounge is to be open daily and to have the cats live there while they wait to be adopted.” 

The cat lounge is an extension of the Los Angeles City Shelter, according to Sardisco. “We’ll have both community and shelter cats available for adoption, and [we] are currently working on a project of opening a low-cost vet clinic as well,” she explains. “Pedro Pet Pals also intends to eventually host shelter dogs on weekends.” 

The lounge concept was very carefully considered, with half of the building devoted to the long-term goal of low-cost vet care in collaboration with the Spay Neuter Project of Los Angeles (SNPLA), the largest nonprofit, spay-neuter animal welfare organization. Animal shelter euthanasia and intake are reduced when high-quality, low-cost veterinary services are provided to the underserved communities in the Los Angeles area. The harsh reality is not every pet owner can afford vet services, and often for that reason, pets are relinquished to the shelters.

Teri Harrington, president of South Bay Cats, a nonprofit organization since 2004, will host the lounge cats. They’re chosen based on whether they are healthy, friendly, and good candidates for socialization and potential adoption, with potential adopters given an evaluation form. The cat’s welfare is always the highest priority, and proper screening is done to ensure that both the potential adopter and the desired cat are compatible. Dean expressed “gratitude to the South Bay Cats for their organization of this project.” (More information about South Bay Cats can be found at southbaycats.com or their Facebook page, South Bay Cats.)

The well-being and comfort of the cats are the priority at the lounge. COVID-19 precautions are enforced, and house rules keep the cats safe and secure. To cite a few: allowing the cat to lead the way, no chasing, no cell phones on speaker, quiet voices, no food or drinks offered to the cats, and kids must be under parental control at all times. The lounge ambiance is one of serenity, and visitors are greeted with a sprawling, vividly-colored cat mural by renowned artist Jules Muck, a reminder that at this facility, cats reign supreme. Just as human body language is recognizable, so is feline language. The lounge has an entertaining graphic that illustrates “cat body speak” to better understand the cat’s mind. 

The Hyla’s Heart to Home Cat Lounge sponsors includes Councilman Joe Buscaino, Supervisor Janice Hahn, The Hyla Marrow Trust (Rita Topalian, Trustee), Domenick’s Pizza House, ILWU, and the San Pedro Fish Market, just to name a few.

The popularity of the cat lounge is already taking shape. “Our early start shows fully booked appointments,” says Sardisco, and she emphasizes how the community can show support, even if they’re unable to adopt. “We never turn down volunteers! If your schedule doesn’t permit volunteering, donations are always greatly appreciated and go directly to the animals.” spt

Hyla’s Heart to Home Cat Lounge is located at 395 W. 7th St., Suite A. For reservations and more information, visit pedropetpals.com/hyla-marrow-center/hylas-heart-to-home-cat-lounge, email info@pedropetpals.com or Theresa.Sardisco@gmail.com, or follow them on Facebook under Pedro Pet Pals.

Valerie Electra Smith-Griffin

Valerie Electra-Smith Griffin is a freelance writer located in San Pedro, CA.