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A Rescue Says Cat Cafes Are Abusive Gimmicks -- Wait, What?!

A group called Cats Protection warns that cat cafes are too stressful for solitary hunters like cats. But I think somebody at that group forgot how to science.

 |  Nov 15th 2013  |   62 Contributions


Jon Ely and Keri Craddock are hoping to open a cat café in Brighton, England, early next year. But the pair are catching flak from the animal charity Cats Protection, which is saying that the cats will be too stressed by being in an environment with an ever-changing group of people.

A cat cafe in Tokyo. Photo CC-BY-SA by Flickr user sparklig

After all, the charity says, cats are solitary hunters and are not built to be able to tolerate that much company.

Maggie Roberts, a spokesperson from Cats Protection, says that because they have evolved from solitary hunters, cats have no need for friends or companionship.

“Cats can be stressed by being in close proximity with many of their own kind, and so the whole principle of a cat café when they're having eight, ten, twelve, or more cats within a confined space -- that can be very stressful,” Roberts told the BBC.

Cats at a cat cafe in Japan enjoy a communal supper. Photo CC-BY-SA by Takashi Hososhima

Uh, wait … what?

Has this woman ever been in a modern animal shelter? I’ve seen and volunteered at several, and every single one of them had cat rooms where the feline residents were allowed to roam inside the room. For many, the experience was very beneficial: Some cats formed close bonds with others, and almost all of them became better socialized -- and therefore more adoptable -- because they could play, run, groom and sleep wherever and with whomever they wanted.

Roberts all but accused Ely and Craddock (and, for that matter, anyone else who wants to start a cat café) of exploiting the cats for the sake of making money.

Even if the pair do end up making money from their business, all the feline residents at their café will be cats who are available for adoption through animal shelters and rescues -- probably including Cats Protection.

But the money thing is beside the point. Research from as long as 30 years ago has shown that cats are much more social creatures than they were previously thought to be. Feral mother cats den together and co-parent each other's kittens, often sharing babysitting, feeding, and hunting duties. Cats in shelters form social bonds, rub against each other to mingle their scents, and even look out for their friends when they’re not feeling well.

Even in my own house, I see Thomas and Bella snuggling together almost every day. This is not exactly the behavior of solitary hunters.

My "solitary hunters," Thomas and Bella, enjoy some snuggling time.

Of course, it’s very important that the cats in a cat café be outgoing and adaptable in order to do well in an environment with a lot of visitors, a bunch of other cats, and the noises that come along with life in a coffee shop. Ely and Craddock emphasize that they will ensure their feline residents are temperamentally suited for life in the café, and that there will be plenty of places for the cats to go if they need a break from people.

Beyond being ridiculously self-righteous and presumptuous, the Cats Protection argument against cat cafés is simply not supported by modern scientific knowledge about the social lives of cats. A group whose whole reason for existence is to advocate for cats really should at least have a clue about the latest findings in cat research.

What do you think? Are cat cafés exploitive or abusive, or are they good venues to help adoptable cats find homes? Share your thoughts in the comments.

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, professional cat sitter, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

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