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  • Tara Crutchfield

Botany Cats

A love of cats (and plants), a trip to an Orlando cat café, and a passion for helping animals led Lakeland native Janette Nettler to her dream job – one she created for herself. Florida’s first cat adoption lounge and plant nursery, Botany Cats, opened earlier this year and has introduced 12 cats to their new pet parents. “There are so many cats out on the streets and in shelters. All the shelters are completely full, and I want to help as many as I can,” Nettler said.


Janette Nettler has loved animals since childhood. She got her first cat at age four, followed by another several years later. As an adult, she got two Corgis and found that she adored dogs too. Now she has three cats at home, “Plus these guys, of course,” she said of her Botany Cats brood.


Born in Lakeland, Nettler lived in North Carolina from age four to 14 before moving back to the Swan City. After another move, she’s been back in Lakeland for two years. “I keep coming back, and it gets better every time,” she said. “I consider Lakeland my home.”


She went to college to study elementary education but gravitated toward veterinary medicine. Nettler changed career paths and became a veterinary technician for about five years. “I loved helping the animals,” she said. “I just wanted to do something a little more – to have something of my own and be able to plan my work schedule around my family.”


Familiar with the cat café concept, Nettler had the fleeting thought that she, too, could create an atmosphere around cappuccinos and cats. “I thought the idea of a cat café was so unique. There are so many cats out there that need homes. The boutique experience of a cat café was so different from a shelter,” she said.


She took a trip to an Orlando cat café in 2021. “It was so relaxing, and it was fun, and the cats didn’t seem stressed. […] I fell in love and decided to make it a reality for Lakeland, but a little different – I put my own spin on it.”


BOTANY CATS HITS THE ROAD

The original idea was to have a brick-and-mortar cat lounge. Finding space within budget proved difficult. Nettler didn’t have any experience working in coffee shops either, and Lakeland already has some great ones. Why not bring Botany Cats to them? Nettler rethought her business plan and decided to make it mobile. She first thought of renovating a school bus, but the concept soon evolved.


“I thought, ‘I already have a truck. Why don’t I get something I can pull?’ I started looking at campers, and I found this one,” she said. Her cat adoption lounge and plant nursery took the form of a 2009 Dutchmen Freedom Spirit travel trailer. “The layout was pretty much what I wanted anyway. I didn’t have to do too much as far as renovations go,” said Nettler. “Everything started working out, and it was like, ‘Well, this is what it’s supposed to be then.’”


She bought the trailer last November. “I took it camping to break it in before I did any renovations,” she said. The kitty camper took only a few months to renovate with minor cosmetic upgrades like removing the dinette and building a bench for more seating. Nettler dubbed the trailer Demeter. The Greek goddess of harvest and agriculture and a character in the Broadway musical “Cats,” Demeter was a fitting name to marry Nettler’s two concepts.


Botany Cats’ first day open was February 9, with a grand opening on March 5 at The Green House Garden Store – a locally owned plant shop where Nettler sources her plants. Now Nettler brings Botany Cats to local establishments like Quinteassence Kava Bar – where we met with her – Hillcrest Coffee, the Polk Museum of Art, and the Lakeland Public Library. “I can bring the kitties to the people. They don’t have to come to me, which is great,” she said. Nettler says she plans to work with other Lakeland businesses, including Cob & Pen, Swan Brewing, and The Joinery.


Those on the east side of Polk County won’t have to travel far for kitten cuddles either, as Nettler will occasionally be joining the Saturday lineup at the Winter Haven Farmers Market starting in May. She’s looking to partner with other businesses in Winter Haven, from the library to coffee shops and the brewery. “I’m very excited to get in touch with that community,” she said.


SO WHAT’S A CAT LOUNGE ANYWAY?

“A cat lounge is full of adoptable kitties,” Nettler said. “All of mine are rescues, so either I get them from the SPCA [or] a rescue out of Kissimmee called Liberation Cat House – they take in medical cases, and then when they’re healthy and ready to be adopted, they can send them to me.” Nettler also has pet owners reach out to her when they can no longer care for their cats. She takes them in, has them checked by a veterinarian, and gets them ready for adoption. All the cats up for adoption at Botany Cats have been fully vaccinated, microchipped, spayed/neutered, dewormed, given monthly flea prevention, and tested for common diseases such as feline leukemia, aids, rabies, distemper, etc., according to their website.


Though the purring posse at Botany Cats are looking for furr-ever homes, adoption isn’t a requirement to play with cats and shop plants. “Whenever you see me around town, just come in and hang out with them for a little bit.”


Typically, Nettler allows four people in the same party at a time to play with the cats. At larger events like farmers markets, it’s open for 15-minute walk-ins. During the week, when she’s at the museum or a coffee shop, she accepts reservations online – $7 for 30-minute appointments. Walk-ins are welcome, too, if available – $9 for 30 minutes. Nettler notes it’s always a good idea to make a reservation as it secures your spot and saves a bit of money (which you’re sure to need for all the cat toys and treats you’ll be buying your new fuzzy friend after you fall in love with an adoptable kitty).


According to Botany Cats, “Cats have a huge impact on both your physical and mental health by lowering stress levels, heart rates, and boosting positivity. The adoption experience should be the same. Calmer humans + stress-free cats = forever homes found.”


Those interested in adopting a cat can learn all about them, including their medical history, from the Botany Cats owner. “I spend more time with these kids than my cats at home, so I know their personalities and I’m very passionate about matching them with the perfect family, the perfect home,” she said. Since opening in February, Botany Cats has adopted out 12 cats!


As for the ‘Botany’ part of the name, Nettler offers a selection of cat-friendly plants for sale. She’s working on expanding her offerings, even starting a greenhouse at home where she plans to grow catnip and cat grass. Alongside the cat-friendly greenery for sale, Botany Cats offers cat supplies, handmade scrunchies, headbands, and cat bandanas by local maker East of These. Two other local artists have work for purchase at Botany Cats – digital prints by Gently Mental and pet portraits by Gabriella Escalera of Gaby’s Art Gallery. Even the mural of Nettler’s cat, Bear, on the trailer’s façade, was painted by local artist Maegan Carroll.



THE FUTURE SOUNDS PURR-FECT

“For the future of Botany Cats, I’m definitely still looking at the brick-and-mortar side of it. In a couple of years, I’m hoping to have a larger space – a more permanent space – but also still have the trailer. [...] I still want to have [the trailer] to go to the farmers markets because they’re such a big hit, but have a larger space to take in more cats and rotate what cats I bring on the road. That might look like a partnership with a local bakery or a startup coffee shop or something. I’m open to partnerships,” said Nettler.


What’s the most rewarding part about running Botany Cats? According to Nettler, “Definitely the adoptions. It warms my heart so much hearing the stories from the new owners after they take their babies home and how well it’s working at home. They’re not pressured to keep the cat if something were not to work out [...] they can always bring the cat back to me, and I’ll try to find a better fit. […] For the 12 adoptions I’ve had, it’s been nothing but happy stories, and I love it so much.”


Follow Botany Cats on social media and their website to stay updated on where they’ll roll into next, for reservations for some much-needed cat therapy, and information about adoptions.


Botany Cats

FB @BotanyCatsLKLD

IG @botany_cats


Photography by Amy Sexson



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