HomeCatsNew cat cafe in Aiea aims to help people with developmental disorders and rescue animals New cat cafe in Aiea aims to help people with developmental disorders and rescue animals By petsitterbank September 19, 2022 Cats 0 Comments Mahalo for supporting Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Enjoy this free story! A new cat rescue cafe that’s opened in Aiea is a dream come true for two autistic young men and their mom. Annette Gallagher, who has always wanted her sons to find meaningful employment and purpose in their lives, will soon see the pair train to become employees at Toe Beans & Dreams Adoption Cafe, which opened Sept. 9 in the Pearl Kai Shopping Center. For the cafe’s owners, there’s a bit of serendipity to its name as well. Toe Beans & Dreams is run by Kat Charities, a cat rescue nonprofit started by Karen Tyson in 2016. She and vice president Beth Doughty had long aspired to uniting animals and children with disabilities, and finding loving homes for the animals. (“Toe beans” basically refers to the pads on a cat’s paws.) “Animals can help kids, and kids can help animals. It’s a beautiful collaboration,” said Tyson, a neuropsychologist who has found a way to incorporate her feline hobby into her profession. As a therapist who works efficiently with kids with developmental disabilities, Tyson would sometimes bring to work kittens, ducklings or other creatures that needed to be bottle-fed. They were animals she rescued through Kat Charities. “I always see their eyes light up and (the kids) just soften. Animals don’t cast judgment and these kids are just so incredibly enamored with the animals, and the animals can trust the kids. It’s really an amazing connection,” she said. The Gallagher brothers are among the first of several young people ages 15 to 28 who will receive training at the cafe, either serving food to customers or taking care of about 30 cats on-site. Tyson and Doughty pick up feral cats off the street in evening forays about twice a week all over the island, then get them checked by a veterinarian. The partners have 300 cats and kittens currently in their care, with most of them being fostered and socialized for adoption by volunteers. Gallagher said her sons, Samuel and Mason, who are in their 20s, were extremely nervous about working at the cafe, as any new experience can be disturbing for people with autism. They need to be introduced gradually to new stimuli — “Anything new is extremely stressful for them.” Gallagher will accompany her boys and offer support on their cafe job until they can increase their skills, work hours and confidence. At first, they’ll start training for just a few hours once a week. The brothers have experience with cats; in the past year, they’ve helped her rescue and foster cats at their home to assist Tyson. “Karen already knows us and interacts beautifully with my boys. … They’re going to go into this new environment with people that aren’t afraid of them; and animals don’t place the demands on you that people do,” Gallagher said. The cafe offers an opportunity for people who want time to interact with the cats and see if they have a rapport with the one they want to adopt. When Gallagher and her boys were looking for a kitten, they’d drive all over the island to meet one; some of the owners were understandably reluctant to allow people into their homes to interact with the animal, she said. In working with autistic kids, Tyson said she often diagnoses children when they are around age 3, but when they reach 18 or 19, they still aren’t prepared to hold a job or thrive without their parents. “It’s a parent’s worst fear, like, ‘I’m eventually going to leave this earth and what am I going to do with my kids?’ They don’t have a peer group anymore, or they’re out of school. They can’t get a job, and they just don’t have a whole lot of value in their life,” Tyson said. “I thought what an amazing thing I could do if I could somehow create an animal adoption cafe that hires these young adults, and they’ll get jobs while at the same time I can be working with these kids.” Tyson has moved her office, the LD-ADHD Center of Hawaii, to the space next door to the cafe so she’s able to pop over any time. Doughty will do most of the staff training and run the cafe. She spent 15 years as a special education teacher’s assistant and also works in Tyson’s office. Having grown up in Tennessee, Doughty has been rescuing wildlife since she was a child. Tyson’s daughter, Stephanie Dobbs, is a certified pastry chef and will be producing bagels and making sandwiches and salads for the cafe’s simple menu. Dobbs is also a veterinary technician who can assist with the animals. Tyson hopes parents and others will volunteer to get the cafe started to give people with disabilities a place in the community, which might encourage other employers to help them. “The whole idea is to give these kids an opportunity for training and meaning in their life,” she said. Tyson has paid for the renovation of the cafe and its equipment with earnings from his practice. She intends to apply for grants and seek support from various agencies, but has yet to figure out how she’s going to cover payroll and other expenses. “I just kind of did it on a wing and a prayer,” she said. “The reality is, what these families are looking for is just a place for their child to belong. It’s not so much about whether their child is making $15 an hour, but whether or not they just have somewhere to go Monday, Wednesday, Friday for three hours, and they’ve got their purpose and their peers and they look forward to going — that’s really important too.” Serendipity played a role in the Gallaghers meeting Tyson. In 2019, a year after the family moved to Oahu from Illinois, they were struck by tragedy: Doug Gallagher, their husband and father, suddenly died of a heart attack. The same week he died, the family had just adopted his first kitten for Mason, who has a special affinity with animals. “Fifi (the kitten) really got us through some tough times, she lifted our spirits up,” said Gallagher, who spent hours of despair on her lanai. “Within days of my husband passing away, all of a sudden these feral cats started showing up and sitting with me for hours. … Boy, they were incredibly therapeutic and it helped me when I was feeling really alone.” One in particular seemed as if he wanted her to follow him. “He (kept) meowing and looking at me, trying to pull me to the front yard, to show me something.” It turns out that the roaming visitors were being fostered by Tyson in her home nearby; the Kat Charities-branded van parked in front of her house led Gallagher to introduce herself. Tyson soon took the family under his wing, Gallagher said. Eventually they started fostering cats at their own home. “Boy, was Karen heaven feels! What are the odds, that these kitties in my darkest hours would start coming to me and eventually lead me to her, and here we are, about to build yet another awesome piece of my boys’ life. Mason is incredibly proud, he is officially a cat rescuer already, but this job is a real job; it’s what he wants to be when he grows up, just like Karen!” Share this:TwitterFacebook Related Tags:business, Editors Related Posts Need free dog or cat food? Come get it Saturday – Mississippi’s Best Community Newspaper Frosted flakes: cats and Christmas trees don’t mix Dog Helps Nurse Abandoned Kitten Back to Health in Heartwarming Video Add a Comment Cancel replyYour email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *Comment:*Name:* Email Address:* Website: Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.