Cat cafes and those who love them

Australian Traveller - - Contents -

SYD­NEY HAS THREE OF THEM. There are two in Bris­bane. And Mel­bourne claims the orig­i­nal. Cat cafes are on the prowl across Aus­tralia, with Perth and now Ade­laide join­ing the mog­gie move­ment. Aside from the ex­cuse to make catty puns, cat cafes are res­onat­ing with peo­ple who’d love a pet of their own, but cir­cum­stance – their rental rules, trav­el­ling life­style or fur­ler­gic part­ner – means they can’t. Oth­ers go for the com­pan­ion­ship and good vibes that an­i­mal in­ter­ac­tion de­liv­ers. Or, in my case, pure en­ter­tain­ment. The cult-like pop­u­lar­ity of LOL cat vids on YouTube has un­doubt­edly fu­elled the de­mand. Cat cafes orig­i­nated in Tai­wan in the ’90s but achieved global fame in Ja­pan (where there are now more than 100). The trend, which Wikipedia dryly de­scribes as ‘pet rental,’ has since swept the world. Vis­it­ing one is an un­usual ex­pe­ri­ence. Far from my im­age of loung­ing on squishy couches hold­ing painted crock­ery as fe­lines purr on my lap and rub against my shins, in­te­ri­ors are rel­a­tively spar­tan and cats are, typ­i­cally, more in­ter­ested in look­ing af­ter

their own needs than mine. Re­gard­less, they’re ridicu­lously en­gag­ing as they claw up cat trees, lounge in mini tipis and snoop un­der tables. Bris­bane’s Lucky Cat Cafe and Cat Cud­dle Cafe mix things up with cat yoga, while Syd­ney’s Cat­mo­sphere stands apart with its sci-fi theme. When I look up Ade­laide new­bie, Hash­tag Meow, I sus­pect it’s hav­ing a lend with its Felixs­tow ad­dress. But it’s fur real. In­side, a poised Ben­gal over­looks two Rag­dolls as they play on the floor, while a newly ar­rived Bri­tish Shorthair hides in a kitty cabin. The spec­trum of styles is de­lib­er­ate, says co-owner Amelia Wang. “I wanted to show peo­ple that dif­fer­ent breeds have dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties. Here peo­ple can see what cats are like be­fore own­ing a pet.” Since open­ing in Novem­ber 2016, in­ter­est has been so “over­whelm­ing” that she’s ditch­ing the glass par­ti­tion and the dessert menu and un­leash­ing the en­tire floor to her 12 furry friends. She and part­ner Jerry Lam take dif­fer­ent cats home each night to give them a break from the cafe, where they spend the day mix­ing with a max­i­mum of eight peo­ple per vis­it­ing slot. In Perth, all fe­lines, from Mr Fox to Ziggy Star­dust and Mowgli, are res­cue cats, and a per­cent­age of the tak­ings go to an­i­mal wel­fare. “The vi­sion is to res­cue as many cats as pos­si­ble,” says co-owner Chris Mew­burn (yes, that re­ally is his sur­name). When the so­cial en­ter­prise launched, 24,000 peo­ple jumped on­line and Pur­rth was booked out for six weeks, a trend that hasn’t slowed. About 1500 peo­ple wanted a job there, in­clud­ing a vet (hired) and a per­son with zo­o­log­i­cal qual­i­fi­ca­tions (no brainer). Mew­burn and part­ner, Euterpe Pla­tri­tis, live 20 me­tres from the cafe, and when they’re not there, they have CCTV wired into his phone for mon­i­tor­ing. They take cat wel­fare se­ri­ously, seek­ing ad­vice from cat shel­ter Cat Haven and Perth Cat Hospi­tal, send­ing their kit­ties for monthly vet checks, and train­ing their lounge hosts to iden­tify signs of stress and fa­tigue. “The space is de­signed in such a way that if the cats want to get away from peo­ple at any time, they can,” says Mew­burn. “There’s a cat flap they can ac­cess to reach cat con­dos out the back. Cats like to es­cape ver­ti­cally rather than hor­i­zon­tally so we have cat high­ways and boxes up on the walls.” The cafe is also closed from 3pm to 5pm for cat naps and is never open for more than five hours at a time. The modus operandi for the rest of Aus­tralia’s cat cafes is largely sim­i­lar, in that you must book a visit, gen­er­ally of 30 min­utes to an hour. Your cat ther­apy ses­sion costs from about $6 to $20, and most are in a glassed-off play­room where hu­man num­bers are lim­ited, the cats have free range and only drinks are al­lowed. Pho­tos are fine, but no flashes thank you. Meow.

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