Ryan Madden uses a dangler wand to play with some of the cats during the grand opening of Hunter’s Kitten Lounge on July 6.

Tucson’s newest cat lounge is here and it’s the purr-fect hangout spot for all you cool cats and kittens.

Hunter’s Kitten Lounge officially opened its doors on Saturday, July 6 at 5319 E. Speedway. The lounge is owned and operated by Southern Arizona Cat Rescue, a local nonprofit dedicated to saving at-risk cats and kittens in Southern Arizona.

Chad Lacy pets Joey while he rests on a book shelf at Hunter's Kitten Lounge on July 6.

The lounge is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, but hours can change daily, so check their website before heading out. Admission for an 80-minute session, which can be booked online, is $15 (plus fees) per person.

Visitors can also pick up drinks, snacks and merch designed by local artist Turtle’s Soup in the retail area.

“We're Tucson’s first nonprofit cat lounge and will always stay that way,” said SACR's adoption and medical coordinator Melissa Lesinsky.

Mochi gazes into the camera while playing with toys at Hunter’s Kitten Lounge.

The lounge will typically have around 20-30 cats and kittens. However, the rescue has an average of 200-250 cats, most of which are in foster homes.

“During kitten season, it's around 250 (cats). It's crazy,” Lesinsky said. “I think during the slowest time of the year, we get down to maybe 100, maybe 120. But we're consistently managing that many cats and keeping them safe and healthy and fed and medicated and all that good stuff and then finding homes for them on a consistent cycle. So, we adopt out over 600 cats a year from these foster homes.”

Melissa Lesinsky, left, and Alex Byler of Southern Arizona Cat Rescue hold Chloe.

Since SACR’s creation in 2019, 3,100 cats have been adopted, according to Alex Byler, the rescue’s social media and intake coordinator. Many of the cats come from low-income shelters in rural areas in Southern Arizona.

“We do get our adults adopted. We're very lucky with that, but at the same time, it's much slower to get them adopted,” Lesinsky said. “Because it's just a photo online, there's nowhere to physically come and meet them. Now you can come here and you can see who you connect with or you can just hang out. If you're looking to adopt, you can connect with and actually bond with an animal versus trying to feel that connection through a photo online.”

Kat Rodriguez plays with Chloe during the grand opening of Hunter’s Kitten Lounge. The lounge showcases cats available for adoption.

Lesinsky was inspired to open a lounge in Tucson after visiting a cat café in Denver several years ago. Now that the idea has come to fruition, Lesinsky and Byler say it all feels surreal — and they feel a lot of love.

“Every time we're talking about it, posting about it, I'm excited,” Byler said. “It's an awesome feeling to know that this is a place where lives can be saved. I mean, it's overwhelming but in a good way.”

Louise Johansson pets Alish while other cats roam during the grand opening of Hunter's Kitten Lounge on July 6.

But the lounge couldn’t have come to life without a little help from the community. Nearly everything in the 2,400-square-foot space was donated or built by community members — including wood donated by local Home Depot stores and used by a SACR foster to build cat-climbing shelves. The facility’s washer and dryer were donated by a local appliance store.

Lesinsky and Byler, who were both veterinary technicians, even went back to their former practices to pick up old shelving and furniture. Plus, Lesinsky recruited her dad to build wooden benches for the space.

The space is a true labor of (community) love.

“It feels like a house .. you feel really comfortable and cozy,” Lesinsky said. “And I want people to feel comfy enough to curl up on the couch and not feel like it's a sterile (environment). Because when you're hanging out with cats, you want to be snuggling on the couch. And the cats want you to snuggle.”

Vegas locks in with the dangler wand while playing during the grand opening of Hunter's Kitten Lounge on July 6.

‘All the cats here each have a story and they're all able to coexist and just live happily together. I feel like it's cool to be able to have a place where people can come do that too.’

Even with all the community's love and support, the lounge wouldn’t have been possible without Lesinsky’s biggest inspiration: her cat Hunter.

It's been two years since Hunter died and Lesinsky still gets emotional when speaking about his personality and his role in the lounge.

Hunter was a cat with special needs who had a “really, really horrible start to life,” Lesinsky recalls. He was covered in wounds and maggots when he came through the emergency clinic she was working at in 2018.

Hunter was a “walking Huggies mascot,” says Lesinsky. 

Despite his challenging start to life, he was filled with energy and would happily “ping-pong” around his home, often donning his bright-blue “POW!” superhero cape, which is now framed and displayed in the lounge.

His energy and love for other kittens as a “foster dad” is something that Lesinsky hopes people will pick up on while hanging around the lounge. The lounge not only honors his name, but his spirit too.

People pet cats during the grand opening of Hunter's Kitten Lounge on July 6.

“There's so many pieces of him everywhere, like his favorite things,” Lesinsky said. “I'm still trying to find an entire box of orange mice online, but it's proving to be difficult because little orange jingling mice are his favorite thing, specifically the orange one. So, I'm trying to find a whole box that I can buy to have here to have him sprinkled throughout. We have him kind of everywhere.

“We had our soft opening this past weekend with friends and a lot of people who knew him were like, ‘We can feel him here.’ And even Alex was like, ‘I'm getting choked up, people keep telling me his vibe is here.’ We wish that he could be here obviously, but it's a really great place to honor him. We were gonna do this before he passed away but being able to do this in his honor and have my cat's name in lights on the side of the building is the coolest thing.”

Melissa Lesinsky, left, and Alex Byler hold Chloe inside of Hunter's Kitten Lounge on July 6.

Now that the lounge is up and running, the SACR crew looks forward to adding events like cat yoga, trivia, painting and video game nights with the help of their down-the-street neighbor Fangamer.

More importantly, they can’t wait to continue saving cat lives in Southern Arizona, helping them find their furever families.

“All the cats here each have a story and they're all able to coexist and just live happily together. I feel like it's cool to be able to have a place where people can come do that too,” Byler said.

“No matter who you are, you're welcome. And you can come and enjoy being part of the change of the lives that are in here, too. Even just telling them (the cats) hello or giving them a treat is part of their journey. And it's really cool when people can say ‘Oh, I took a picture of that cat and helped it get adopted.’ Those things are really exciting to see.”

For more information about Hunter’s Kitten Lounge or Southern Arizona Cat Rescue, check out their website.

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Elvia is a journalism and history graduate from the University of Arizona. She hopes to create stories that show what makes Tucson and its community special.