- Rules of Engagement
In the heart of Seoul, South Korea, I found myself about to experience a concept explained to me by my girlfriend a few years back as the cat cafe. Having a father that always used to say “close the door, cats might come in” you can imagine which way I was polarised to feel about mixing food and cats. The first time I heard the term “cat cafe” I just thought to myself what is this crazy talk. We don’t do such in Africa where I come from, as one of my friends politely remarked on one of my Facebook pics that I posted from the cafe.
Fast forward a few years, and here I was leading a campaign to make sure we went to a cat cafe while we were in Myeongdong. Even if it was going to be the first and last time doing it, I was determined to tick it off the list of things I have tried.
Hygiene: Cat Cafe
Before you enter in to the cat cafe, you are directed to an area where you must swap your outdoor shoes for the cafe’s indoor shoes. That is right before a member of staff from the restaurant gives you a squirt of some hand sanitiser to apply. This is, I suspect, so you do not make the cats dirtier while you are patting and stroking them.
At this point I should probably explain to you that this is a cafe, not a full blown restaurant. You will find the smallest range of food you have probably seen in any cafe, as you can imagine food might complicate things a little with that many cats to look after.
The staff caress and manicure the cats as frequently as possible without stressing them out. Air purifiers and fans are fitted and positioned through out the cafe for air circulation and reduction of smells. I could still smell the distinct smell of cat when I walked in, however my nose did adjust after a while. This could have been the one thing that could have taken away from the experience in my case.
“…I should probably explain to you that this is a cafe, not a full blown restaurant.”
Everything else seemed in order and I could enjoy my cappuccino in a nice takeaway container without worrying about anything, seen or unseen, falling into my beverage. When the staff are not grooming the cats, they are busy sweeping the floor ensuring it is as spotless as can be.
Rules of Engagement
Post hand sanitisation, before you are given the right of passage in to the cafe, you are told that there is no entry free. Rather, that you must buy at least one beverage from the cafe which seemed to be a bit more pricey compared to normal cafes. This I imagine is where the costs and profits for the cafe are recouped.
Additionally you are also cautioned that cats wearing ribbons around their necks can be feisty when approached, therefore handle with care. Cats being more independent than dogs, play hard to get so you do find yourself either ignoring/waiting for them to come to you or being on the offensive and trying pick one up. I took comfort in the fact that, I was not the only one playing the “waiting game” as there was a girl in the cafe studying and only played with a cat, as she worked, when one approached her.
No one rushed us to finish our drinks or forced us to leave when we finished them. In fact the notions were not even the least bit implied. Meaning you could sit there and enjoy as many or as few drinks as you wished, for as long as you desired. This, plus a couple of cats lying around, high and low, makes for a relaxing environment whether you have a cat in hand or not.
Even having conversations in the same room as that many cats, weirdly worked it’s relaxing magic on you. This is coming from a guy who wasn’t allowed to have pets growing up.
The cat cafe concept is not a bad idea, as previously thought when I would hear the words, now that I have experienced it. The idea is like a cross between a petting zoo and a cafe. If we keep both human and cat hygiene a top priority, throughout the lifetime of the cafe, then they will work wonderfully. I think people who can’t have pets, either due to parenting rules or accommodation regulations, would love visiting a cat cafe. Even some people who have dogs have said to me they would visit a cat cafe if one was around.
While I struggle seeing this concept taking off in Africa and other developing nations with more pressing human issues, I think an organisation like the RSPCA could benefit from setting one up at their current locations, with little change. Probably armed with cats they likely cannot find homes for, a cat cafe might cover the cost of raising them altogether. While the first Cat Cafe was release in 1998, rumours of a private one opening in Melbourne are only just catching wind. There is so much potential for an emerging market.