By Amatur Rahman Salam-Alada
When people think of cafés, they think of the usual things: coffee, pastries, lattes. But what about cats?
Cat cafés combine both the pleasure of sitting down for a cup of coffee and pastries with the pleasure of spending time with cats.
The first cat café ever, The Flower Garden, opened in Taipei, Taiwan in 1998. By 2004, cat cafés had spread to Japan and then throughout Asia.
“Back in the days when I was younger and when my parents were young as well, a lot of stray animals [roamed] the streets: stray dogs, stray cats, et cetera,” said Thomas Shih, a fourth-year Carleton University engineering student from Taiwan. “I think maybe this was a way of coping with that.”
Shih also mentioned how in many Asian cultures, pets are not typically allowed in houses. Many apartment buildings in Asian countries also do not allow owners to have pets in their units, so cat cafés and other animal cafés allow people the feeling of having a pet without breaking the rules.
Cat cafés can also serve as a type of therapy, as is done in Japan. In fact, according to a study done by Loraine Plourde, associate professor of Media Studies and Anthropology at Purchase College in New York, cat cafés have become an important part of the healing and relaxation industry in Japan. This industry is mostly focused on helping people deal with loneliness and anxiety.
The first cat café in North America, Café Chat L’Heureux, opened in Montreal in 2013. Like many cat cafés, it is a hybrid rescue centre and shelter for cats of mixed breeds.
Ottawa Feline Café, Ottawa’s first and only cat café, is located at 1076 Wellington Street. It opened in 2017 and is home to nine cats. They look for abandoned or stray cats in the area and assess them through their foster program, which allows applicants to take care of the cats and socialize them until the café can take them in.
The café has a separate area known as The Cat Lounge. To visit with the cats, visitors to the Ottawa Feline Café must book a 45-minute reservation in advance. When they arrive, visitors spend that time with the cats who live in the Cat Lounge, which is equipped with cat beds, scratching posts, and cat toys. Customers are free to order from the café section of the building at any time during their visit.
“We’ve started doing dine-in again but not really fully. It’s just a couple tables right now, and they’re not in the lounge, [they’re] in the café side… Pre-[COVID-19] there was food, and I think when [COVID-19] kind of chills out a bit there’s gonna be food again,” said Theresa Kelly, a Carleton university student who volunteers at the cat café.
There is also a gift shop section where cat-themed products made by local artists are displayed and available for visitors to buy, as well as other local art and snacks.
“It’s a nice getaway,” said Andrea Korsch, a café visitor. “It’s something different; it’s not just going out to eat and get coffee, it’s like a little bit [of an] extra gift. Even if the cats have no interest in you, it’s very calming to just be around [them]. We’d love to adopt a cat at some point, but we’re both not in the proper cat house yet.”
More information about the Ottawa Feline Café’s foster program, including the program’s application form, is available on their website. Visitors can also apply to adopt any of the cats. Adoption applications are made available for a few cats at a time on the Ottawa Feline Café website. Staff then review the applications and choose an applicant to adopt the cat.
“Since the applications open in waves, people can kind of get to know the cats and then prepare for when the applications open,” said Kelly.
The Ottawa Feline Café was forced to close during lockdowns, but has now reopened, and is keeping some pandemic measures in place, such as serving takeout beverages only and allowing six people in the cat lounge at a time, to leave room for social distancing. A full list of COVID-19 measures can be found on their reservation booking page.