The Astonishing Rise of the Cat Cafe

By now you have probably heard about “cat cafes,” which are the latest rage in the cat world. Cat cafes are coffee shops with cats. To keep public health officials happy they are often divided into two rooms, one where you buy coffee and pastries and the other where you can mingle with the cats. In some places, depending on local regulations, the cafes can have the food and drinks and cats all in one space by serving only drinks and packaged snacks. There is usually a small cover charge. This article describes one person’s experience with the cat cafe in Washington, DC, which is called Crumbs and Whiskers. Cat cafes generally select outgoing cats who are not stressed by interactions with people, and they have one or more areas where cats can retreat to get away from the patrons if they are not feeling social. The cafe may rotate cats so they don’t get burned out by too much human contact.

The cat cafe concept originated in Asia, and reportedly goes back to Taiwan in 1998, which had a cat cafe called the Cat Flower Garden. Cat cafes really took off in Japan starting about 10 years ago. Most apartments in Tokyo do not allow pets, and the idea behind the Japanese cafes was to allow apartment-dwelling young professionals to have some time with cats without actually owning them. Neko no Mise (“Cat Shop”), which opened in Tokyo in 2005, was reportedly the first cat cafe in Japan. Today Tokyo has so many cat cafes that there are guides to the most notable ones. Cat cafes have spread to London, Lithuania, Singapore, and Budapest, among many other places.

The cat cafe phenomenon did not reach the United States until last year, but when it finally got here it was an instant hit. The first permanent cat cafe in the United States, Cat Town Cafe in Oakland, opened on October 25, 2014. It was followed by Planet Tails in Naples, the Denver Cat Company , and Meow Parlour in New York City, which all opened in December 2014. Since then we have had so many cat cafes springing up that it is hard to keep track. Recently established or planned cat cafe locations include Sacramento, Chicago, San Jose, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Asheville, San Diego, and Lincoln, Nebraska.  Montreal gets credit for the first vegan cat cafe in North America.

Not all cat cafes are permanent – some are temporary pop-ups, likes ones that opened in New York City (way back in April of 2014) and Los Angeles. The idea behind the pop-up cat cafe, as with any pop-up restaurant, is that it can showcase the concept without the type of investment needed for a permanent establishment. Los Angeles also had a Pup-Up Cafe.

Cat cafes in the United States are designed to promote adoptions, and the kitty residents are generally from local shelters or rescues. Cat cafes are similar to offsite adoption venues in that they bring adoptable animals to places where the people are, but they serve a somewhat different function. Offsite adoption venues tend to attract people who have already decided to adopt or are thinking about possibly adopting, whereas cat cafes appeal to everyone who likes cats. The cafes can raise the profile of the shelter and help with fundraising and volunteer recruitment. Even people who never visit the cafe will hear about it and the shelter.

The way the cat cafe phenomenon has taken hold and spread is little short of amazing. It is less than a year since the first permanent cat cafe opened in the U.S., and already it seems like there is a new one every week. We may soon catch up with Japan, which reportedly has about 100 cat cafes.

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