CASCO, Maine — Anne Beal remembers the first cat she ever rescued. Beal was 19 and found the gray feline in a Connecticut dumpster.
She wanted to help the animal but someone told her not to bother trying. The grumpy tabby was well known in the neighborhood as a feral monster.
But Beal found out he was, in fact, merely a temporarily unhoused yet elegant gentleman.
“All I did was open my car door and he got right in,” Beal said.
After taking the cat to the vet and having him checked out and neutered, Beal quickly found the silky purr machine a home.
Now, some 30 years and at least a hundred rescues later, Beal is set to open the Meow Lounge on Main Street in Westbrook next month. The lounge will be both a foster home for a dozen-or-so adoptable kitties and a place where humans can drop in for a fee and commune with the whiskered wonders.
It will be the only lounge of its kind in Maine.
“It’s a place where people can just come in and spend time with cats,” Beal said. “And then I’m going to do trivia nights, paint nights, maybe movie nights — and yoga with cats.”
The adoptable cats will come from The Androscoggin Humane Society, the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland and the Homeless Animal Rescue Team in Cumberland.
Beal is perhaps uniquely qualified to run the new business.
She’s volunteered at animal shelters and rescue organizations her entire adult life. Years ago, when Beal lived in New Haven, Connecticut, she even ran a recurring newspaper ad seeking homeless cats.
“I would get them spayed and neutered and vaccinated and then find homes for them. But I never charged any fee for it,” she said. “When I was moving to Maine, one of the hardest things was worrying about who was going to take care of all the stray kitties in the areas that I used to find them.”
She ran a pet boarding business for more than a decade after moving to Maine. Now, Beal is hoping her new commercial venture will be a good way to make a living while continuing her cat-saving efforts.
At home, Beal has many cats of her own. She’s shy about saying just how many, wary of gaining a “crazy cat lady” reputation. They’re all rescues.
One cat, named Rocky, came all the way from Cairo, Egypt. Beal had a friend living there who found the white and yellow cat as an injured kitten. Beal paid to have Rocky flown halfway around the world and then cared for by a local veterinarian.
Beal said she isn’t quite sure what it is about cats that make her care so much. It’s something deeper than words, she reckons.
“I’m just a big sucker for a stray,” she said, giving up the word search. “I recently went up to Toronto and I spent the whole week stressed out because I didn’t know what to do about a stray cat I saw there in a backyard. I was literally crying all week about it.”
Beal originally wanted to open a full-on food-and-drink cafe with resident cats but current health codes in Maine won’t allow it. Instead, she’s pivoted to the current idea which will include a small retail shop selling local, artisanal, cat-related items.
There’s a small hourly rate to hang out with the cats. Other activities will also have fees.
Beal is also hoping to sell pre-made human snacks but still needs approval from state regulators.
In any case, patrons will be allowed to bring in their own food and non-alcoholic beverages.
In getting ready to open the lounge, Beal had to obtain an animal shelter license as well as a business license. She said it’s been a challenge to get all the paperwork in order but that both state and local officials have been supportive.
“I am planning on a soft opening for July 1, and then a grand opening July 8, and the mayor is scheduled to come to a ribbon cutting on the 13th.”