Most birthday celebrations don’t include tuna and salmon cupcakes, but this was no ordinary party.
Volunteers gathered at Ella’s CatHouse & Catnip Bar in downtown Napa on Saturday to celebrate the cage-free, no-kill adoption center’s first anniversary and the 110 cats who’ve found their forever homes in the process.
“We didn’t know what to expect when we opened,” said Julia Orr, director of communications at Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch (JARR) which operates Ella’s. “This was a new venture for us and the city of Napa, so to have found homes for more than 100 cats in our first year – we are very pleased. We think this is a special place, and we are so happy that the community has welcomed us.”
The Ella’s CatHouse volunteers celebrated with chocolate cake, but volunteer Willow Duggan prepared tuna and salmon cupcakes for Ella’s current residents.
“Do you want to try a cupcake,” Duggan asked Beans, a fluffy gray cat that’s up for adoption. The cat caught a whiff of the treat’s fishy aroma and burst into a song of enthusiastic meows. Duggan set a tray down in front of him, and the cat methodically moved his nose from treat to treat until he found the one he wanted.
Duggan visited Ella’s CatHouse the day it opened last year and adopted a cat. She signed up to be a volunteer soon after.
“I’ve always loved animals, but I’ve always had a thing for cats,” said Duggan, who currently has four cats with boyfriend Jason Rogers, who also volunteers at Ella’s. “I just think that there is something very therapeutic about having a cat to cuddle with. And I love it here because we get to work with the cats and help them find their forever families.”
Duggan admitted it’s bittersweet when cats get adopted because she and her fellow volunteers develop bonds with the cats. But on the flip side, it is satisfying to know a cat is going home with a loving family.
Sylvan Mance has been volunteering with JARR for three years and takes shifts at Ella’s one to two times a week, so he knows that bittersweet feeling all too well.
Mance said his day job keeps him away from home a lot so it’s not feasible to have a cat of his own, but he’s able to get his cat fix at Ella’s by visiting with the current crew. Ella’s houses up to 15 cats at a time, and Mance said he’s happy to offer a nuzzle or scratch behind the ears to whoever needs a little love.
“Sometimes I just lay on the floor and let the cats crawl all over me,” Mance said. “I’ve been told I’m a cat whisperer. I don’t know if that’s true, but I’ve always liked cats. They’re beautiful, agile, friendly and playful. It never feels like work when you are here.”
Ella’s CatHouse is currently accepting new volunteers. Those interested can apply online at jamesonanimalrescueranch.org/get-involved or call JARR volunteer coordinator Heather Lake at 858-204-8594.
Curt Pajer and his wife Vanessa Conlin, a JARR volunteer, owned Ella, the cathouse’s namesake. Pajer volunteers at the cathouse and stopped by Saturday to join in the celebration.
“Ella was such a loving cat. I think she’d be happy to see how successful this place has become,” Pajer said. “She was nice to every cat she met, even if they weren’t nice to her. She was a sweetheart.”
Ella’s CatHouse & Catnip Bar, 1009 Caymus St., Napa, is open Friday through Monday from noon-6 p.m. Info, 501-0016; jamesonanimalrescueranch.org/cathouse.
The railroad that carries vacationers north from Napa into the wine country is exploring a shift of its operations – in the opposite direction.
A finger of land west of Soscol Avenue that currently holds the Napa Valley Wine Train yard and its commissary would give way to a housing development, setting a new direction for an area long dominated by auto showrooms and chain stores.
The Wine Train would then move its maintenance and food service operations farther south to Napa Valley College, which could partner with the rail excursion line in providing hospitality and technical instruction, according to a proposal shared by company directors earlier this month during a Napa forum on expanding passenger rail service in the North Bay.
Early estimates by the Wine Train point to between 100 and 200 units of multi-family housing at its service yard, a narrow strip bracketed by Soscol’s Auto Row to the east and the Vine Trail and Napa River to the west. About 9 acres west of the Eighth Street stub end could be redeveloped, according to Scott Goldie, a Wine Train partner.
“If we’re really thoughtful on the plan, I think there will be pretty wide support,” predicted Goldie, a leader in the team that purchased the Wine Train from the founding DeDomenico family in 2015. “There’s always detractors, but it’s very good housing potential close to downtown where a lot of the hospitality jobs are located. We’re cognizant of the need for workforce housing; if we can make it all work, we would be looking to incorporate that.”
A railyard-to-housing conversion is one of several projects the Wine Train is evaluating as possible uses for the 17 land parcels it acquired along with the rail service, which has carried tourists on fine-dining journeys between Napa and St. Helena since 1989. That effort to build out and monetize its landholdings already has led to plans for a 148-room resort hotel on McKinstry Street to replace its main station house, and officials also have discussed renovating the Rutherford depot – 147 years old but empty and dilapidated – for use as a café and scenic stopover for Wine Train passengers.
The Wine Train’s current facility is south of the existing station, where the tracks continue over the Oxbow Commons park, through Third Street and then diagonally across Soscol.
If housing takes place over the existing rail yard, the Wine Train would create a replacement service building on land at NVC’s main campus south of downtown. The new facilities would be near the tracks that run along the west side of campus near its athletic fields, according to a map the rail company showed during a Train Riders Association of California forum Jan. 3.
Informal talks between the Wine Train and the college began late in 2016, and NVC leaders see a partnership as a possible way to work with the rail company on expanding its culinary and vocational teaching, according to school president Ron Kraft.
The college currently runs a culinary program at its St. Helena branch and began offering culinary courses at the Napa campus last fall, and Kraft suggested those programs – as well as more industrially oriented ones – could tailor their curriculum to the Wine Train’s needs at a future servicing hub, developing skills that could be put to use in Napa and elsewhere in the job market.
“We’ve envisioned for a long time that the college could be a location for a depot, said Kraft. “If and when this Wine Train plan unfolds, I imagine it also would include a depot where students could train with workers.”