It started in Taiwan.
The world’s first cat café opened almost 20 years ago in Taipei, Taiwan. Cat Flower Garden offered customers coffee with a side of kitty cuddles for an hourly fee, and people lined up around the block to experience it for themselves – including a large number of Japanese tourists.
Japan got its first cat café of its own in 2005, and the concept exploded from there – today, there are 39 cat cafés in Tokyo alone. There are cat cafés in the United States, Canada, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, France, Finland, Denmark, Poland and Lithuania. There’s a cat café in Melbourne, and just last month, a space-themed cat café opened in Sydney.
But there’s been no cat café in Brisbane – until now.
After a crowdfunding campaign that yielded more than $10,000, Cat Cuddle Café has opened to much fanfare in Red Hill.
“It’s just a space where people can hang out and cuddle cats,” says owner Katina Balson, who also runs Pussies Galore Cat Rescue. “There are a lot of people who love animals who can’t actually have their own animals, because of their housing situation, but they can get their cat fix by coming to the café. They can sit there and have a cuddle and a cup of coffee and just enjoy the animals, really. That’s the fun side, but we have a serious side as well, which is animal rescue.
“I’ve been working in animal rescue, specialising in cats, for 30 years. Now I have a platform with this café to showcase these kitties for adoption.”
Admission to the café will set you back $10.50 an hour. The staff – a mixture of trained baristas and enthusiastic volunteers – will be serving up organic, free trade coffee from Prestige Organic Coffee. If you’re worried about hygiene, don’t be – there’s a solid wall (and an airlock) between where the cats reside and where the food and drinks are prepared.
Katina (yes, that’s her real name) says that every cat in her café will be available for adoption, so if you bond with a particular kitty over coffee, you can make it your furever friend – as long as Katina approves of you.
“Our adoption process is ridiculously strict,” she warns. “It’s not like going into a pet shop and buying a cat. It’s probably harder to adopt a cat here than it is to adopt a human baby, to be honest. We’re very particular, because we don’t want to give cats to irresponsible people. We want people to look after these cats for their entire lifespans, not just for a year or two of cuteness. Adopting a cat is a 20-year commitment, and a lot of people don’t think it through.
“First of all, I’ll find out what your living conditions are. Do you own your own home? If not, do you have permission from your landlord to own a pet? So that’s the most basic thing, we have to determine if you can actually own an animal.
“The next question is, can you keep the cat safely indoors for its settling in period? Do you have screens on the windows; can you ensure that the cat’s not going to escape and become stray? That weeds a few people out.
“And then we ask what your plans are for your life. If this cat lives for 20 years, what are you doing in those 20 years? And if you say, ‘Well, I hope to travel the world’, we’ll say, ‘So why do you want a cat? What’s going to happen to the cat while you travel?’
“Some people say, ‘Oh, we’ll find it a new home’. Bzzzzt! Wrong answer! That defeats the purpose, because then the cat becomes a rescue cat again, which is unfair on the animal.” In a very real sense, the café is the last roll of the dice for Katina’s cat rescue operation.
“We need money,” she explains, “because when you’re in animal rescue, you’re haemorrhaging money. Even though the animals are sold for an adoption price, it never, ever covers the money we’ve put into them. We’re out of pocket for a minimum of $100 per animal. It’s an expensive business to be in.
“The op shop [next to the café] is doing okay, it’s paying its way, but it’s certainly not going to pay our bills. So this is our big hope to actually make some money for the animals. I’m drawing on my life savings now, and my super’s been dipped into. These cats have been like my furry poker machines all these years, so I really need to start earning some money for them.”
Katina started volunteering at animal sanctuaries when she was 13 years old, and while she cares about the welfare of every animal, there’s something about cats that makes them stand out for her.
“They’re a misunderstood animal, I think. Look at it this way – dogs give you unconditional love, and you don’t have to do anything, you don’t have to put anything in, to get love from a dog. They’re very simple. You can be a narcissistic person and still get everything you need from a dog. “With a cat, you’ve actually got to love them unconditionally for them to love you back. I believe the reward you get when a cat loves you is far greater, because you have to earn it, and I believe that cats are here to teach us unconditional love.”