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Published: August 14th 2017
At cat cafe #1
With the language partner (left), and roommate (middle)
So I’ve officially made it back to the US! However, before I go more into final thoughts about the experience and into detail on what my next plans are, I want to take this moment to spend some time considering an experience I had that left an impression.
One of the things that I was really excited to do while I was in Xi’an that I had not gotten a chance to do while in Japan, Korea, or China on my last trip was to visit a cat cafe. Although I heard that California just opened its first one a year or so ago, they’ve been quite popular in East Asia for some time now. There are tons of pictures and images on the internet from people who have been to these cat cafes, and the morality of both operating and visiting these cafes is pretty hotly debated. I feel like it’s one of those things that is pretty much impossible to have an opinion on without actually having been to one, as both sides of the argument make sense.
On the one hand, people against these cafes argue that the cats are mistreated, and are
forced to allow people to handle them all day long. The cats have no place to retreat to, and forcing them to interact with humans is a form of animal abuse, and both the cafe owners and patrons are to blame. On the other hand, many people claim they’ve been to nice cat cafes where the cats do have a place to retreat to when they feel overwhelmed, and most of the cats either don’t mind the attention or enjoy it. The cats are treated well, and are watched over by attentive staff who make sure patrons don’t get too grabby with them, and who aren’t afraid to reprimand patrons or even kick them out of the cafe if they are behaving too badly.
Of course, not every single cafe is run the same, and there are going to be disparities between the conditions at each cafe. But going to these cafes is an experience, and I really wanted to see for myself what it was like, and to make my own judgements. While in Xi’an, I ended up going to two different cafes, and had two vastly different experiences.
The first cafe I went to, I visited
with my roommate and my language partner, both who were fond of cats, and who had at least a little experience with them. We went to a cafe my roommate had found in one of her food apps, and went for dinner. As soon as the door opened to this cafe, you were barraged with a gross amount of pink—pink walls, pink tables, pink chairs, pink decorations—it was a bit over the top, to say the least. There were maybe six cats in this cafe, one who spent most of the time hiding in a cat tree cat bed (and who I later found out wouldn’t let anyone touch him. He would hiss and swipe at you if you got too close), and one who was in a crate who was in pretty rough condition. It was never clear why he was in the crate, but he was friendly enough, and would let you pet him through the bars. The other cats were free to roam as they pleased, and there were toys that patrons could use to play with the cats, including feathers on a stick, and a laser pointer.
Behind our table, there was a table of
two twenty-something women who were definitely inexperienced with dealing with animals. They would grab the cats and force them into cuddles as they took selfies, not letting the cats go even when they were obviously uncomfortable. They would also carry the cats by grabbing them under their forearms, leaving their backsides dangling, as they toted them back to their table for more pictures. In addition, they would use the feather stick and use it to jab at the cat who was hiding in his cat bed. They would poke it in through the entrance, and then proceed to smack the cat in the face, even though he obviously wasn’t interested in playing with them. Their behavior was honestly kind of disgusting and uncomfortable to watch, but I didn’t feel like it was my place at all to reprimand them (although I definitely shot them a lot of disgusted looks). The staff at the cafe also didn’t do anything to stop them, and it was obvious that they didn’t really have any sort of interest toward the cats; working there was just a job to them.
However, the cats did have a structure made out of stacked boxes that was
behind one of the tables and very difficult for patrons to reach where they were able to hide out for a while. And other than a dislike for forced selfies, most of them didn’t seem to have a problem with people petting them, and would walk away and jump under tables or go hide away when they were finished being messed with.
My first cat cafe experience definitely didn’t enamor me to the idea of cat cafes, but of course I knew there had to be good ones out there, and I really wanted to like them, because honestly, who wouldn’t love to chill in a cafe surrounded by cats? Okay, Sarah probably wouldn’t because she’s pretty allergic, but besides her, who wouldn’t enjoy a cafe full of cats? So when one of my American friends mentioned that she and her roommate were planning on going to a cat cafe during the last week of classes, I decided to join her. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try a different location, because there had to be ones that respected the cats while allowing patrons to enjoy playing and spending time with cats.
The second cafe did end up
This one definitely had some sort of disability. He was unable to walk straight, and held his head tilted slightly to the side at all times. Didn't slow him down, though.
being much better. First of all, the decorations in the cafe were much more muted and refined, which I definitely appreciated as a patron. It felt like they were aiming for a mature audience. There were also a lot more cats; maybe closer to ten or twelve. However, when we first arrived, the owner was there, and as we played with various cats, she would tell us a bit about them, like where she got them, or something about their personality. I really appreciated that, since it was obvious she cared for them, and had relationships with each of them. The cats also seemed like they were generally better kept; their coats were shinier, and they seemed happier.
One of the things that did kind of confuse me was that none of the cats seemed super interested in being pet. While they would allow you to pet them, and were definitely very interested in playing with the string toys, they wouldn’t come over if you beckoned, and they wouldn’t purr while you were petting them, which seemed weird to me. I guess I would expect cats at a cat cafe to be ones who genuinely enjoy being around humans,
The one on the chair had itty bitty legs and was adorable
and want to be cuddled. I mean, I’m sure cafes with cats who enjoy humans DO exist, I just haven’t found them yet.
But overall my experience with the second cafe was definitely much better, and I think ultimately I can’t say that I’m completely against them. Do I think they could probably stand to treat their cats better, or that there are places for improvement? Of course I do. But I don’t think I could condemn all of them and say that they’re definitely a form of animal abuse. In fact, if the cats are rescues, which I think some of the cats at the second cafe were, I think cat cafes have a lot to offer to cities, especially those like Xi’an, were stray cats are fairly common. I think they have an awesome opportunity to raise awareness towards owning cats, and some of the requirements and challenges that come with pet ownership in general. And if they encourage pet adoption, all the better, since major cities do often have a problem with stray animals, and getting strays off the streets and into homes is better for both the animal and for the city’s sanitation. Everywhere in
He's hard to see, but the cat dozing on top of the cage was kind enough to pee on my bag. Apparently he's the only one who does that, and just happened to choose my bag. -_-
the world, but China especially, the sale of animals is a pretty depressing thing, as puppies and kittens are crammed into tiny crates much too small for one of them, much less three or four.
I also tend to support the cat cafes, because in Xi’an I also saw a lot of cats (and itty bitty kittens) tied to trees or doors or something, where they were stuck outside in 100-plus degree heat, which was pretty awful to see. At least in the cafes they were inside, and could sit in front of the air conditioning unit and move about freely. Seeing cats on makeshift twine leashes is pretty disconcerting, especially since we don’t tend to leash our cats in the US, much less in order to tie them to something.
Sorry, that was a pretty long and intense topic for this week, but I definitely wanted to get that off my chest, because I have seen a lot of people saying pretty bad things about these types of cafes in general, and wanted to share my thoughts in a more productive way than on a Facebook argument. I think I will continue going to cat cafes when
He didn't move much, but apparently this cat was only about a year old. Still a kitten and GIANT. Not quite Maine Coon big, but getting there.
the opportunity arises, because I do want to see more of them, and perhaps visiting more will change my opinion on them in the future.
Until next time!
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