It was reported this week that Bristol is the next city in the UK to get its first cat cafe, a cafe where visitors can spend time with cats roaming around while they have their coffee. Bristol is one of many cities in the UK that has responded to the growing trend in animal cafes – with the most common being the cat café.
The concept of the cat cafe originated in Taipei in 1998 and soon became very popular in Japan. For people who live in small urban spaces and can’t have pets these cafes were designed to provide the opportunity for contact with animals without the responsibility or space demands of an actual pet. However, they have also become a tourist attraction in many places; frequently guides to cities include mentions of these places as quirky places to visit. In some cities there are even guides to the different animals cafes, such as the Tokyo Top 5. While the trend started with cat cafes you can find examples of others focusing around rabbits, reptiles, owls, and even goats, to name a few. With some of these animal cafes become such tourist attractions you have to wonder what impact it has on the animals with strangers coming in and out all day and often wanting to interact.
While many cafes make sure that animal welfare is at the forefront of their business, often with clear rules about how to interact with the animals, time limits for the animals to be in contact with the public, and surroundings that are conducive for the animals comfort, animal welfare is still a concern for some people. In some cases this has led to either planned animal cafes not opening, or closing shortly after they open. However, there are many of these cafes that are proving to be successful, and as a result many more are appearing in different locations. Some even highlight that they are providing benefits to the animal community by using these cafes as a way to help rehome cats, as is the case in the Koneko in New York City or Kitty Café in Nottingham.
The original concept of the cat cafe as a space for local residents to have animal contact without having a pet resonates with some of the ideas I have been writing about recently in terms of cafes as community spaces – albeit in these spaces people tend to interact with animals rather than just other humans. But it could be questioned whether these places have just become a trend rather than a genuine space where local people want to go and relax and spend a bit of time with a type of furball (or the less furry variety in some cases – see the reptile cafes in Japan). Nevertheless, these animal cafes are on the rise, not only are they now common in Japan, but they have been appearing in cities across the UK, US and beyond. One cat cafe in London, the London Cat Village, states on its website that it is ‘not your traditional cat cafe’, which would suggest there is a particular tradition to follow. It advertises itself as an ‘oasis to escape everyday life’ and is a place for you to de-stress, have a ‘smeowthie & kitty onigiri’ and relax whilst our lovely kitties keep you entertained’. While in Japan there is a longer history of these types of cafes, many of them are still very different apart from the commonality of having access to different animals, so it’s interesting that somewhere wants to identify itself as somewhere that goes beyond this. I will have to visit sometime.
From Central Europe, to the UAE and the US animal cafes are now appearing in many places across the globe. It will be interesting to see if they are just a passing trend or if they become enduring parts of the urban landscape as people take the opportunity to relax in the company of animal friends while meeting for coffee and taking time to unwind.