Guest post by Rachel Woodisse
When I first heard about the new trend of cat cafés, my first reaction was one of slight alarm. Working as a cat sitter for over 12 years and before that working in a cat-only veterinary clinic, I was worried about cat welfare. Surely cats like to be on their own and don’t wish to live in large numbers? How would they cope with so many different people coming and going everyday? What about small children causing the cats possible stress? Most cat guardians know how hard it can be to introduce cats to each other and hope they get along, but in large numbers in a café environment?
Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium opened earlier this year, and I just had to visit and see for myself. The café has been full up with bookings for months in advance since they opened in March, but I managed to get tickets for this month.
Situated on Bethnal Green Road, it’s easy to get to by train or bus, and we found it in no time. The building has a lovely English Tearoom look. There were three cats sleeping in the window. Passersby often stared at them, but they carried on sleeping, totally unaware of any fuss they were causing in the street.
We were greeted by two helpful staff who were also busy making the various refreshments on the menu. We were then let into a back room, where we were asked to wash our hands and given instructions on how to treat the cats during our stay. If any of the cats were sleeping or in areas out of reach we were to leave them alone. Cameras were welcomed, but no flash photography. We were not allowed to feed them any food we had ordered, but we could give them healthy cat treats.
We then entered the seating area. This was the first time we were near the cats, and this was after going through three separate doors. I liked this extra safety factor. The seating area is on two floors, with enough room for 11 cats and people. I was instantly aware that this whole building had been designed with cats before people in mind, which pleased me immensely. There were lots of places for cats to sleep and hide away, but there were also plenty of things for them to do. The litter trays are kept in quieter areas. They were checked frequently and there were no unwelcome odors while we were enjoying our refreshments.
Some of the cats were sleeping but it wasn’t long before about seven of them came out to see us and enjoy lots of fuss and playtime. Some of the cats were aloof (that’s cats for you,) while others were very friendly, enjoying all the attention.
The cafe currently houses 11 cats: one mother cat and her seven kittens, and three other kittens who were introduced three months after the initial family. It’s quite evident that the cafe staff consulted with feline behaviorists. They told us that they will rehome any cats that appear unhappy living in this type of environment. Young children are not allowed to visit to help keep cats’ stress levels low.
I never saw any signs of stress in the cats I met. My favorite was Wookie, a tabby/Persian mix. He loves sleeping, but he was also very sociable and loved a fuss.
The café is open 7 days a week. This decision was made because cats like routine, and closing one day a week would possibly stress them. The cafe is open 12 hours a day and closes for an hour in the afternoon so staff can vacuum and clean. At night, the cats stay on the premises. Metal shutters have been added for security. In the near future the business is planning an enclosed outdoor area for the cats.
To sum up my experience, it was just PURRFECT!
Rachel Woodisse is the owner of Portsmouth Cat Sitting. For more information, please visit her website. You can also find Portsmouth Cat Sitting on Facebook.
For more information about Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, please visit their website or Facebook page.
Photo at top of post and photo of Wookie via Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium Facebook page, all other photos by Rachel Woodisse, used with permission
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.