BY: REGAN MCNEILL
The whole concept of a cat café was literally foreign to me until I passed a store window filled with frisky felines playing with one another. I thought that maybe I was looking at a pet shop, but to my surprise, Toronto is now home to TOT the Cat Café
The idea of cat cafés did not originate in Canada of course, but in Asia. The first cat café, Cat Flower Garden, opened in Taipei, Taiwan in 1998 and the idea quickly spread to other parts of Asia including Japan, Singapore and Thailand. It seems that Japan was quick to embrace the craze where over 150 cat cafés have opened in the past decade. But more recently these themed cat cafés are popping up across Europe and North America.
So what’s the hype about cat cafés? Besides being a really cool idea for a themed café, some of these cafés are saving cat lives.
Since I have never actually been to a cat café elsewhere I can only talk about my experience at TOT. To be honest, I was skeptical. I wondered how a place where people come in and out to visit cats could be anything other than a petting zoo. Turns out it’s possible.
TOT is set up in such a way that you don’t actually have to interact with the cats if you don’t want to; it’s more like a fishbowl than a petting zoo. So if you have friends who hate animals, they can come and just chill out and drink a coffee or enjoy a slice of cake in the “people only zone” while watching you have your own fun.
The cats themselves are found in a glass window room where people can bring their beverages in and hang out. At TOT this room holds up to 8 full-sized cats and about ten people. When I went, there were only 3 cats and a lot more people. You don’t need to pay admission to see the cats, rather when you buy a drink you’re automatically eligible to have feline fun. Depending on how busy the place is, that allotted time ranges from 15 minutes to an hour. I got about 20 minutes with the cats before my name was called and time was up.
While I was in the room I noticed that people spent most of their time chasing the cats/pining away for their affection or taking photos. It was not necessarily bad, the house rules are pretty firm and enforced by the staff in order to keep the cats safe from any abuse.
The set up is not prime. However, if you are looking for some one-on-one animal therapy because you will likely be in competition with some other person trying to take a cute Instagram pic, or a younger, cuter toddler incessantly yelling “Kitty Cat” while running around trying to pet the same cat as you… Yes cat cafés are a hotspot for tiny children and no, you aren’t allowed to pick up the kitties.
Turns out TOT had a really hard time actually getting its doors open. Contrary to my concerns about the morality of the whole shabang, an employee explained to me that there are a lot of regulatory issues when it comes to opening a place that features both cats and food in the same space; it’s more of a health issue than an ethics one.
So how is TOT benefitting the cat and owner community? TOT gets all of its cats from the Toronto Humane Society. All of the cats at the café are up for adoption and anyone who is interested in adopting any of the cats can apply at TOT and their application is forwarded to the Toronto Humane Society. What I didn’t know is how effective this form of cat pimping could actually be. In just the two weeks that TOT has been open 5/7 of its cats have been adopted. Oh and guys, they will be getting ten baby kittens in the next week.
I am sure people have the same concerns as I did when I first heard of a cat café opening in Toronto. But it seems like in cat café culture, the outcome can go two ways. Either the cats are treated poorly and the customers don’t care OR the business and its customers respect the rules that allow the integrity of the cats to remain intact. If you ask me, TOT the Cat Café definitely fits into the latter of the two.
Even from the way a cat walks you can tell they think they are better than most humans. So when it’s all said and done, I think a café centred around the entire cat species is something any cat would appreciate if its consciousness allowed it to do so. Besides most of these cats would be spending time alone in cages waiting for someone to adopt them, at least this cat café speeds up the process.