Inside Otis and Clementine's Books And Coffee in Upper Tantallon, N.S., you'll find more than just good reads and caffeinated beverages — six kittens and their mother have made a temporary home here and have free rein of the small shop.
Customers are often greeted at the door by the tiny felines, who enjoy basking in sunlight, exploring cardboard boxes stacked near the entrance and pouncing on each other.
But the two-month-old kittens will soon go to new homes, and another litter will arrive to spend the first days of their lives roaming aisles lined floor-to-ceiling with wooden shelves brimming with used books.
Owner Ellen Helmke started fostering kittens at her store in the spring, and plans to do it indefinitely.
"I thought it would be a fun thing to do and I thought people would enjoy it, but it's turned out to be so popular," said Helmke, who fosters the cats through the SPCA.
"They jump on piles of books, they hang out on the albums, they sit on people's laps, curl up on their shoulder. They run the place."
When cats arrive at the SPCA, the agency often will temporarily place them in foster homes like Helmke's until a permanent home is found.
This litter of kittens — Rudy, Ritz, Rico, Rena, Rio, Luna and mother Ruby — is the fourth group Helmke has fostered at Otis and Clementine's.
She said it's a win-win for her business and the animals: it draws customers to the store and the kittens become socialized — and they easily find homes.
"It almost feels like it's a turning point," said Helmke, who has been in business for 8½ years.
"The used book business is a pretty tough business on a good day. So I'm thrilled that people like it, and people are coming to the store."
Each kitten in this current litter was spoken for within one week, said Helmke. The new owners, some of whom are from the local community, often stop in to visit their soon-to-be pet.
Shawna Morrissey, a regular customer who lives in nearby Lewis Lake, N.S., recently came into the store to snuggle her new blue-eyed kitten Rio.
"We weren't really anticipating that we were going to find a little teenie baby kitten at this time of year," said Morrissey, holding Rio in her arms and petting the kitten's white and silver fur.
"We have a one-year-old kitten at home, so we're ready for a second one. We had two before. They were 16 and 17 and we lost them. So it's time to get our new little kitten family going."
The playful critters also draw local youth into the bookstore — younger children will come in with their parents after school and high schools students stop in on their lunch breaks.
Helmke has litter boxes and food set up in her backroom. She feeds the kittens three times a day and brings them to the SPCA intermittently for vet checkups.
The kittens are expected to go to their new homes on Monday. While the babies have all been adopted, the mother cat, who is around two years old, is still available.
Once this feline family is gone, another will soon arrive.
"I absolutely love it," said Helmke. "Who doesn't love kittens?"
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