There are about 20 cats at the Java Cats Café in Atlanta, Georgia — including a new tuxedo girl with a stripe on her nose who’s been hiding under the sink all morning.
That’s not an unusual number of felines for Java Cats, which opened in March 2017. “We usually have anywhere from 10 to 20, depending on adoptions,” explains Katie Martin, who works in the cafe’s cat lounge. “Since our opening last March, we’ve had upwards of 250 adoptions.”
Sometimes the cats go quickly. A cat once came in on the weekend, when Martin was off; by the time she returned the following week, it had been adopted. And they’ve had some cats adopted on the same day that they arrived. It is, she says, a revolving adoption door. “That’s the way it feels to employees and regular customers.”
Feline Comfort and Conversation
Java Cats is the 1st cat cafe in Atlanta and the 3rd in the Southeast; they are looking to open another cafe just outside the city. There are currently 72 cat cafes in the U.S., 44 of which have opened in the past year. And still more are about to spring into being — or, as in the case of the Mew Haven Cat Cafe in New Haven, Connecticut, are about to expand from a successful pop-up cat lounge to a full-fledged cat cafe.
The idea actually started with the opening of the Cat Flower Garden in Taipei, Taiwan, back in 1998 and got a mega-power boost in Japan. They’ve been popping up just about everywhere since then, including:
- Le Café des Chats, which has 2 locations in Paris
- Lady Dina’s Cat Emporium in London
- Cat Cafe Melbourne in Australia
- Cats Republic in St. Petersburg, Russia, which requires a “visa” (a roughly $7 visiting fee).
The Cat Cafe Neko no Niwa in Singapore carries Alfie de Meow cat-themed jewelry (10% of the sale proceeds go toward a local nonprofit cat rescue group). And the Catmosphere Café in Chiang Mai, Thailand, has a space theme and “a cat cinema,” where you and the resident felines can kick back and watch horror or sci-fi movies.
The idea behind the cafes is a simple one: The felines provide companionship for customers who are currently cat-less (e.g., their landlords don’t allow pets, the family cat may have just passed away) or who are simply in need of some furry therapy after a hard day.
Some animal rescue groups in the United Kingdom — the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), Cats Protection, and the Celia Hammond Animal Trust – have taken a dimmer view of the cat cafe phenomenon.
“Cat cafes are not a suitable environment for cats because they are in a confined space with a revolving population of people,” insisted Nicky Trevorrow of Cats Protection in a 2016 interview. “They need a stable environment — more so than dogs.”
Making That Cat Connection
The cat cafes in the U.S. work with local rescue groups. Java Cats, for instance, is in partnership with PAWS Atlanta, a nonprofit no-kill organization; in fact, some of the regulars are PAWS volunteers.
They “know what the environment is like, so they don’t send the cats who are easily unsettled,” Martin points out. “We get some [cats] that are on the verge but not completely shut down. And we have employees and regular patrons who spend time with and work with them.”
Mew Haven Cat Cafe works with the Animal Haven, a shelter in nearby North Haven. As soon as they “can establish a timeline” for the renovations’ completion, they will contact the shelter, says co-owner Angela Pullo. Animal Haven will ensure that the foster cats are “medically in good shape, that they’re cats that would enjoy being around other cats.”
The emphasis on cat adoptions is one of the things that differentiates the American cat cafes from the majority of those in other countries. (The Kitty Café in Nottingham, England, is one of the exceptions to the rule.) By and large, the foreign cafes seem to be “more of a home for the cats who live there than an adoption center,” Martin observes.
American health codes require that the cats’ living quarters be completely separate from the cafe. Both Java Cats and the Mew Haven Cat Cafe have separate doors leading into their cat lounges as well as large windows set in the wall between the 2 rooms. So you can still get your cat fix — albeit a milder one — from the cafe proper.
Check out the first cat cafe to open in Central Florida:
What People and Cats Get Out of It
Why the appeal? Pullo, who started Mew Haven with her husband, Michael, says that for them, “it was not just about being able to help cats who needed homes. It was a wonderful way for cat people to gather in a peaceful environment. Cat people don’t have places to go like dog people do.”
And let’s face it: You can’t beat a good cat show. “Some of our long-term residents are unique in that they end up learning things like giving high-fives or standing on hind legs for treats,” says Martin with a laugh in her voice. “The high-fives are the real crowd-pleaser.”