Shoreditch ‘Meows’: The Rise of Cat Cafés

Cats are running the interweb, that’s a fact. Now, it seems like they are taking over the real world.

Lauren Pears, owner of Lday Dinah’s Cat Emporium

Shoreditch is set to be the home to London’s very first cat cafe. Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium is opening soon, near the trendy Brick Lane, at Bethnal Green Road. The café was granted planning permission in September and ever since, the team behind Lady Dinah’s have been busy taking care of the cats and working on the building to get the Emporium fit for cats and people.

Lauren Pears, an Australian-born entrepreneur, introduced the idea of a cat café in the UK in a crowd funding campaign at the beginning of the year. It proved to be really popular and garnered much support and raised a total of £109,510. As we draw closer to Lady Dinah’s grand opening, the excitement hasn’t wavered.

Despite the new-found worldwide popularity, cat cafés are in no way new. In fact, the first ever cat café appeared in Taipei, China in 1998 and it was in Asia that the concept of cat cafes or neko cafés developed. In 2004, GioCat opened in Seoul, South Korea and from there on spread to Japan. At present, more than 100 Japanese neko cafés exist – around 60 of which are located in its capital, Tokyo.

Europe finally picked up the trend in 2012 when Neko Café opened in Vienna, Austria – becoming the first cat café in Europe. When asked why there’s such a huge surge in the popularity of cat cafés, Neko Café’s owner Takako Ishimitsu said:

People need it, absolutely! Why do you even ask?

Takako said that the most of the response she got are mostly positive and customers came flooding in. According to her, Neko Cafe caters to a range of customers including elder people, who had many cats before but can’t have new ones as they can’t imagine that they will live longer than the cats. People with disabilities also come in because it’s too complicated for them have any pets at home. There are also children and people with an allergic family member that turn up to visit. “I’m glad to be able to show people, that such simple idea can make so many people happy,” she added.

Suddenly, there are also ones in St. Petersburg, Budapest, Paris and Munich. The common lifestyle problems in these big cities , just like in London, allow the cafés to target customers whose living circumstances or conflicting schedules won’t allow them to have pets of their own.

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The cat cafés don’t go without ambivalent opinions about them. In an article by the BBC, Cats Protection criticised Totnes Cat Café, the first in the UK, in Devon. The animal charity welfare claims that it would be stressful for the as cats they are generally solitary animals and keeping them in a confined space with different people coming in might not be good for them.

London cat shelter volunteer Caitlin is worried that the cafes might perpetuate the idea of animals as commodities and play things.

I have mixed feeling about cat cafes. My immediate impulse is ‘Oooh! Fab!’, but then straightaway I wonder whether that cats want to be there, can they find a quiet refuge and privacy from customers and do they engage with customers by choice. I’m worried about it.

La gatoteca
Front entrance to Spain’s first cat cafe, La Gatoteca

On the contrary, Spain’s first cat café, La Gatoteca, is in a unique position. It is managed by ABRIGA, a non-profit NGO and it serves as their headquarters at the same time. In a press release, La Gatoteca said that visitors can enjoy the normal café pleasures in the company of healthy adult cats that are waiting for a permanent home. They also process adoptions at the café “if more than a passing fancy develops” from the customers.

The rising popularity of the these cafes raises all kind of issues and risks about animal welfare, but at the same time they also help in the  awareness campaigns for these animals. So, in whatever shape of form, the cat cafes looks like they are here to spread and stay. Last I heard, Japan’s thinking of turtle café and rabbit café. Soon enough, if we are not careful, they will all be running the world.

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