I first learned of the company Urban Feline, Inc. while watching the morning news one Saturday. They were covering a local pet expo and Andrés Zepeda, the president of the company, was being interviewed about his products and furniture for cats.
But what really caught my attention was the work that Andrés has done with shelters by donating furniture and offering free repair services if they ever need something fixed. He also volunteers by offering feline therapy at various shelters and a local cat café to overcome adoption challenges. Andrés says, “Providing distressed animals with a healing touch is by far the most rewarding part of what I do.”
Urban Feline is based in Chula Vista, California and incorporated in 2010. Their ultimate goal is to become either a B-Corp or a 501(c)3. Their mission statement is simple: “Improving the lives of cats everywhere… ESPECIALLY those in need.”
A conversation with Andrés
Can you talk a little bit about your background?
I’ve been studying feline anatomy, psychology and physiology for several years in order to better understand what cats want, and how to best give it to them. As an analyst by trade and animal lover at heart, it’s been fun using my professional skills and crafting talents to improve the lives of so many animals. My dream is to have a similar impact like I do locally at a national level, and one day even at an international level. I believe that humans have a moral obligation to ensure that the animals of our society be given the same level of care and attention we would provide for ourselves. Shelters and rescues are the current benchmark in that regard, but I believe there are other ways of achieving this and in a far more effective manner. Newer concepts such as Cat Cafés, Reading to Cats, and Prisoners with Cats are all great examples of just that… and I believe this is just the beginning of a new movement that is changing animal care.
What was the inspiration behind starting Urban Feline?
I adopted Cheeto and Leyla (my first two cats) from the Chula Vista Animal Care Facility in 2005 as kittens. I was determined to give my cats the best quality of life possible, especially after discovering one of them was born deaf and they were destined for an indoor life. I was determined to make ‘indoors’ as fun, challenging and interactive as possible. After being disappointed and frustrated with the stuff in pet stores, I decided to get creative – and made my own stuff. I modeled it after what I had seen in the stores, but when that failed (as in, they destroyed it), I began to think outside the box. That’s when it hit me, and I decided to bring the great outdoors inside. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I had built my very first Cat Tree. The compliments from friends and family were so encouraging that I decided to look into making it a business model. Shortly thereafter, I realized this was what I wanted to do.
How are the shelters that Urban Feline works with selected?
Currently I’m limited to only the shelters in my area – and whom are willing to work with me. You’d be surprised how many shelters and even vet offices are just not interested. But for those who are, I do everything I can to help improve the lives of the cats they shelter.
If a shelter is interested in working with you, how would they go about that?
Just drop us a line and let us know how we can help. Our general e-mail inbox is: ClientServices@urbanfeline.org
Do the shelters have input in the designs/concepts?
Shelters have provided a lot of feedback regarding the challenges they’ve encountered with cats, common problems they’ve experienced with cat-care products, and things/features they wish cat products offered. In response, we developed our entire UFé Condo line around cats while keeping the needs of shelters as a top priority. We’ve created a multitude of features designed to benefit the high demand environments of our community shelters, which only enhance their function and lifetime in the home setting.
Have the shelters reported any benefits or improvements they’ve seen in their cats?
YES! We’ve received lots of positive feedback from shelters, their volunteers and even visitors, ranging from how much more alive and exciting the rooms look – to a noticeable improvement in overall feline morale. More playfulness, especially with the kittens, less tension, etc.
One shelter shared experiencing an increase of approximately 30% in adoption rates the year following us furnishing their catteries. We studied the feedback they received and surveyed their staff. We concluded that this was a result of two key benefits our products brought to their catteries:
a) The cats were happier – the environment enrichment our products offered enticed more exercise and created more felinal space (like personal space, but for felines), which in turn greatly reduced stress levels.
b) The bright colors brought a vivid and lively appeal to the catteries, and the innovative designs created a lot of interest and excitement among visitors.
Together, these benefits produced a different emotional response from visitors. While triggering the same empathetic response people normally experience when entering a shelter/rescue, the key difference was that instead of being accompanied by sorrow and/or pity, their empathy was linked to happiness, caused by the colors and relaxed demeanor of the cats. Each year, these shelters continue to receive positive feedback from staff, volunteers and visitors regarding the lively environments.
Cat trees ready for the shelter
What’s a good stat you can share?
I’d say my favorite stat is the number of euthanasia we’ve prevented. And while I can’t give an exact count, I can say it’s between 100 and 150 cats since we first started working with shelters and rescues in 2010. This number is a relatively conservative calculation based on the percentage increase of adoptions post furnishing shelters, the therapy sessions with adoption-challenged felines scheduled for euthanasia who were later adopted, and the ferals we’ve rescued. And in all reality, the actual number may be considerably higher, but we’re less focused on the number and more so on propagating the effort… even one life saved is worth it.
Can you explain feline therapy (mentioned earlier) that you provide when volunteering?
My way of providing animals with therapy is different and completely unorthodox. It’s not something I learned in books or even from studying with vets or other animal experts. It’s completely intuitive and energy based. To many, that just sounds silly, but the results can’t be argued with.
For us (people), we talk to someone and explain how we ‘feel’, and they then help us ‘feel’ better about things by helping us ‘look’ at it from a different perspective. What I do with animals, especially cats, is to ‘feel’ them and try to understand their emotional perspective. It’s a combination of body language, expressions through the eyes, feeling their body for tension and stress, and then projecting onto them whatever is needed, be it a sense of calmness and tranquility, or helping them realize not all humans are ‘bad’, or even just helping them let go of accumulated stress.
I wish I could provide a more conventional explanation for it, but the fact of the matter is that it’s a completely unconventional form of care and therapy… but it works, and sometimes in unbelievable ways.
What is the ultimate goal for Urban Feline?
Simple – to design and produce the best in feline care products on the market – everything from furniture and bedding to toys, feline toiletries, homeopathic health care, a complete raw food line and even educational materials and programs to help pet owners establish healthier relationships with their furry friends. We want to be the brand people think of when they want the best for their furry friends.
As per our rescue effort (our ReachOut 2 Paws initiative, or RO2P), the dream is to one day create feline “Disneylands”, per se… where we can, as a brand, manufacture and produce our entire product line in a sustainable and eco-centric manner, while offering massive natural reserves where any felines facing euthanasia can go to live out the rest of their lives.
If there was one thing you could let people know about Urban Feline, what would it be?
Every Urban Feline purchase helps us to continue improving the quality of life for cats everywhere. By choosing Urban Feline products you’re not only giving your cats the best of the best, you’re also helping give cats in need a better quality of life, too!
Do you have a favorite organization you’d like to give a shout out to?
I really admire the staff at Chula Vista ACF. They genuinely care for animals and do an amazing job, especially considering the limitations and circumstances they are faced with. I also really enjoy the ‘new’ approach The Cat Café offers people who want to interact with cats. They can get to know the cats better, enabling them to make an informed adoption decision. It’s heartbreaking for an animal to be adopted and then returned to the shelter… so I really support the approach that cat cafés offer. I also really like Project Wildlife, operated by the San Diego Humane Society. They do a great job caring for animals that fall outside of the parameters of shelters and rescues. I’ve worked with all of these groups and feel they each offer a much needed form of animal care, and I believe our communities are that much better because of them.
Urban Feline at The Cat Café in San Dieg0
Do you currently have any pets?
Yes, I have four cats who are my children, subject matter experts and devout product testers. :-) I also care for two feral cats that were brought to us from a friend who helps care for feral communities. Both of these two females have physical and health challenges which make it exceedingly difficult for them to survive on their own… so we do our best to help improve their survivability and quality of life by offering them shelter, food and therapy. One has overcome tumors on her hind paws, and is dealing with her blind eye and poor sight quite well. The other has a lower jaw deformity and some missing teeth, and also seems to have memory lapses and the occasional split-felinality, like personality, but for felines. :-)