Not much can compare to the feeling of sipping on a nice cup of tea while a cat sleeps beside you, purring gently. This calming scene is the atmosphere cat cafés around the world are trying to create. Cat cafés have become particularly popular in the last five years. But cats as stress-relief is not a new concept. People have been using animals in this way for many years, especially around places like hospitals and college campuses. But the question is: is this arrangement mutually beneficial?
The first cat café opened up in Taipei, Taiwan in 1998, but Japan is where the trend took off. It’s no surprise that these cafés became very popular in Tokyo, where most people rent apartments and are unable to keep pets in their homes. The cat cafés are now a regular stop for local business people and tourists alike.
The trend quickly moved to Europe and North America with cat cafés opening up in the UK, US, and Canada. While there is no doubt that cats can be a benefit to us, there have been some doubts raised regarding whether or not we are beneficial to the cats.
Derby and District Branch of Cats, the UK’s largest cat charity, argues that a café environment is not suitable for domestic cats. They claim that cats are solitary animals by nature and do not usually live in social groups. Consequently, the combination of many cats living together and many strange humans wanting to touch them all the time does not add up to a relaxing environment for the cats, despite how relaxed they may make their human visitors feel.
In defense of cat cafés, many of them work with local animal shelters. They act as sort of “off-site” adoption centers. Normally, all cats within the café are rescue cats that are available for adoption. The café owners argue that because these cats get a chance to interact with different people every day and show off their personality, they have a higher chance of getting adopted than if they were within a shelter.
A Cat Café in Downtown San Diego was working with the San Diego Humane Society for two years. In that time, they were able to send 219 cats to the right homes.
Some cafés are very ethical in the way that they treat their cats. One example is Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium in Shoreditch, East London. Lady Dinah’s is London’s first cat café and has strict rules in place for the protection of the cats. Listed on their website under their conditions of entry they have a list of standards to state the proper conduct while in the café. The list includes things like no waking sleeping cats, no flash photography, and no picking up the cats. They also have rules regarding how many people can be in the room with the cats at a time to ensure the cats are safe, comfortable, and happy.
A blog called Its Animal Abuse on Tumblr has posted a very helpful list of questions you should ask before visiting a cat café. You can read it here. The list includes concerns such as the ones listed below:
Are the cats in the cafe adopted/rescued or purchased from breeders?
Does the cafe have guidelines for interacting with the cats, and safe private spaces for them to retreat to and escape from human interaction?
The question is if animals are used as therapy for the benefit of humans, where does it end? While cat cafés and therapy dogs on campuses may not be harmful to the animals, what sort of path for the future are these organizations leading? Where is the limit to how animals can be used for human benefit? Does the benefit always go both ways? Incidentally, these are all crucial questions to ask before participating this trend.
While some cat cafés benefit some rescue cats, there are also a bunch of other ways to get your cute animal fix while traveling. There are many shelters and animal charities you can visit or volunteer at while visiting other places!
Alternatives to Cat Cafés
A volunteer-run cat rescue facility that started as a houseboat used as a home for stray cats.
A no-kill animal shelter in Texas. Their mission is “To promote and provide the resources, education, and programs needed to eliminate the killing of companion animals.”
A no-kill animal shelter in Toronto with 396 total adoptions this year to date.
Iran’s first ever animal shelter for homeless dogs.
A shelter in the Philippines started by a 9-year-old boy who wanted to help sick and homeless dogs.
The UK’s largest cat charity that operates a help-line or a ‘cat-line’ as well as helps find foster homes for cats.
River enthusiast, swan fan, and optimistic adventurer, Rebecca spends her days dreaming about her next travel destination, taking photos of the sunset, and meticulously documenting her life on paper.
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