Friday, September 27, 2013

A Cat Café in Boston?

I have sometimes jokingly complained that Boston discriminates against cats. There are a number of dog parks in the city, and dogs are welcomed on the patios of numerous restaurants. The Bring Fido site claims there are 70 Boston restaurants that allow dogs onto their patios. However, you won't find a single cat park or any restaurant telling patrons that they can bring their cats to their patios. Dogs seem to get all the love and attention, and that doesn't seem fair.

There might be a positive change in the near future, with the potential opening of the first Cat Café in Boston.

At a cat café, you can get food and drink while watching and interacting with a number of cats owned by the café. Think of it kind of as an adult petting zoo. You can't bring your own cats to the café, but you can pet and play with those that are there. Though Japan is well known for its cat cafés, the first one actually opened in Taiwan in 1998. Cat cafes didn't open in Japan until 2004, the first one located in Osaka. Today, there may be as many as 100 cat cafés in Tokyo alone, some that specialize in certain types of cats, from black cats to fat cats.

Customers generally pay an hourly fee to remain at the café, with extra costs for any food and drink. Though you might have concerns with hygiene, the Japanese, who are are fastidious about cleanliness, have little issue with these cafés. Generally, everyone entering the café must first wash their hands or use a hand sanitizer. The café also have numerous air fresheners, conceal the litter boxes and frequently use vacuums to pick up cat hair. Japanese law also has strict cleanliness requirements for these establishments. Boston should pay attentiion!

Cat cafés are popular in Japan because many apartments forbid pets, and others are too busy to take care of a pet. These cafés are also a way to provide some comfort for those who are stressed or lonely. Beside cat cafés, you will also find rabbit cafés, and there might now be even a few other types of pet cafés. The cats are protected from abuse by the patrons, with strict rules on not bothering or tormenting the cats, especially if they are sleeping.

The idea of cat cafés has begun to spread out of Asia and the first one that opened in Europe was Cafe Neko in Vienna, Austria. There is now a cat café in Germany, Cafe Katzentempel, and another in the UK, Totnes Cat Café, Another cat café, Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium, is planned to open in London in the near future and others in Europe are also in the planning stages. And Boston might be the site of a future cat café.

Miaou Boston (also on Facebook and Twitter) hopes to be the first cat café in Boston, planning to keep shelter cats in their establishment. Their biggest initial hurdle is dealing with the state's health code which essentially prohibits animals from being on the premises of a food establishment. Fortunately, you can apply for a variance from the local board of health in the city where you are seeking to locate your café. Once Miaou overcomes that hurdle, they plan on creating a Kickstarter to finance the café. With all of these necessary steps, any such cat café probably wouldn't be open until sometime in 2014 at least. Maybe they could plan to open on February 22, which in Japan is Neko no Hi ("Cat Day"), a holiday established in 1987 by the Japan Pet Food Association.

If Boston denies their application for a variance, they could always then try another city, such as Cambridge or Somerville, to see if they can get a variance. They might actually have more luck in one of those communities rather than Boston proper. The primary concern would appear to be one of hygiene and if such concerns are properly addressed, I don't believe then it should be a sufficient barrier to deny such a variance. If a country such as Japan, which is far more obsessed with cleanliness than the U.S., can allow cat cafés, then why not us? Other countries are allowing cat cafés too, so why should the U.S. be the only holdout?

Dogs are already permitted at numerous local restaurants, albeit on patios, but that still is a potential hygiene issue and few seemed bothered by it. And I don't see many patios that also have hand sanitizers. Having cats in a café is a step beyond dogs on a patio, but it shouldn't be insurmountable. You just need to take added precautions to maintain cleanliness. And with cats being smaller than most dogs, the hygiene issues may actually be lesser.

You should also consider how many people own cats and invite people over to their homes for dinner. Do the guests often worry about hygiene issues with the food because the home owner possesses cats? I don't think that concern arises too often. I don't know anyone who has ever mentioned refusing to dine at someone's house because they own cats.

Obviously, strict regulations concerning hygiene should be required for the operation of a cat café, but there is no concern that cannot be addressed. With the great popularity of cats, this is an idea whose time has come so rather than fight it, why not think of ways to make it happen. Dog lovers already have plenty of places for themselves, so it is time to give cat lovers a place of their own. Throw your support behind the establishment of a cat café.


Anonymous said...

Just heard: San Francisco is getting a cat cafe this spring.

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks very much for the info!