Are cat cafes using animals for entertainment, or are they the perfect way to meet an adoptable new friend?
The popularity of cats at cafes is quickly gaining traction in North America. From Cat Town — which opened in Oakland, Calif., in 2014 — to Cattery Lounge & Snackery — which opened in San Marcos, Texas, this weekend, there are over 20 cat cafes in North America now.
Most cat cafes tout themselves as a space to relax and interact with cats or kittens, but if you ask animal welfare advocates if cat cafes are good for our feline friends, their answer will likely depend on where they are located.
Cat Cafes Around the World
Cat cafes in the UK and Asia are often criticized by animal welfare groups. Much of this criticism hinges on the assertion that cats should not be kept in close proximity with each other for long periods of time, especially with strangers cycling in and out.
In most cases, these cats are bought and kept by the cat cafe and live there permanently. In this regard, they are seen as animals being used for the entertainment and profit of people. Indeed, not the hallmark of the animal advocacy movement.
Cat Cafes in North America
Meanwhile, in North America, cat cafes function primarily as off-site adoption centers for local animal shelters.
Here, the creation of a cat cafe starts with the future cat cafe owner forming a partnership with an animal shelter. The cats are all still adoptable through their respective shelter, and in many cases the shelter will send adoption counselors to do adoptions at the cat cafe. If the cats get sick or begin to exhibit signs of stress, they are relocated to the shelter for care.
As someone who worked as a cat adoption counselor at an animal shelter for several years, I can attest to the fact that not every shelter environment is right for every cat. Some cats seemingly crave the socialization that goes with off-site adoption centers. Other cats are overwhelmed and shut down — they’re not the best candidates for an off-site adoption center, whether it’s a shelter event or a cat cafe.
Cat cafes in North America are not exempt from the criticism that patrons cause stress to the cats or about the cats not getting along with each other. Most cat cafes — regardless of their location — enforce a code of conduct for patrons visiting the cats.
While there still may be up to 15 cats living temporarily in an individual cat cafe in North America, the ultimate goal for each cat is adoption. If the cats were not in the cafe, they would instead be awaiting adoption at a shelter.
North American cat cafes are typically nonprofit organizations and often take their animal advocacy to the natural next step by being completely vegan as well (with the exception of the cat food). Cat cafes will often feature special events such as Purr Yoga, paint classes and even cat behavior workshops.
Check out scenes from the first cat cafe in Los Angeles:
An Extension of Shelters
One of the most common reasons cited for euthanizing shelter animals is lack of space. Cat cafes working in partnership with a shelter increase their city’s capacity to support the homeless animals in the community by adding 10–15 slots for cats to go at any given time.
Even if the partner shelter is already a no-kill shelter, partnering with a cat cafe can reduce euthanasia in the respective city because no-kill shelters often pull animals from traditional municipal shelters when space is available.
Even with the criticism in the UK and Asia, there is some pushback on the claim that cat cafes are harmful to animal welfare. While it’s easier to make that call on cafes featuring only specific purebred cats, some cafes acquire their cats through adoption from a shelter. In that regard, it can be a gray area.
Despite this gray area, it is undeniable that cat cafes in North America are making a positive impact on the homeless animal population in the community. If you live near one, go check it out. Who knows? You may come home with a new friend.