It is not as easy as some businessmen think to make a success out of the cat café while ensuring the highest standards of cat welfare.
There is a cat café in Singapore called Cuddles (a good name). It opened in September 2014. Having read the story of this troubled cat café I have to come to the conclusion that some entrepreneurs who want to open cat cafés haven’t really grasped the difficulties that they are likely to encounter.
The cat café seems to be, almost, an amalgamation of a cat rescue facility and a coffee shop. Rescue cats are used to populate cat cafés but, of course, need to be selected extremely carefully. For example, they should be highly socialised and have placid characters.
In addition, and critically, they should all be extremely healthy and in the case of Cuddles there’s been an allegation by a former employee of the café who has said that up to 8 cats have died, which has been confirmed by the owner, Jonathan Tan.
Interestingly, he says he bought 30 cats for the business. I wonder why he bought them? Perhaps he bought them from a backstreet breeder? Why didn’t he adopt them from a rescue centre? Perhaps he did and perhaps he is using the word “bought” in the wrong way. He might mean the adoption fee.
In any case, he bought too many cats because the authorities limited the number of cats at the café to 20. As a result, he says that 10 of the cats were left at his home. That is a rather concerning statement to make because it raises questions about who is looking after them and their general welfare.
Perhaps more concerning is that we are told that the cats died either as a result of the sterilisation operation or because they had contracted feline infectious peritonitis (FIP).
Feline Infectious Peritonitis is transmitted between cats through close and continuous contact with infected secretions which can be through sneezing or sharing a food bowl, for example. The most common form of transmission is through faeces and the virus (the coronavirus) enters the cats of the nose and mouth.
So it is a contagious disease which begs the question as to whether the remaining cats are healthy because if they were all together at one time and if the management of these cats was, let’s say, substandard then some of the remaining cats may also have the disease. Three quarters of exposed cats show no signs of infection. This is quite a complicated disease and there are two forms of it.
It seems unlikely to me that cats can die as a result of complications arising out of sterilisation. I’m sure it is possible but unlikely and I find, therefore, that what the owner says slightly unbelievable.
In addition, the former employee says that they were not trained properly and here lies one of the problems with cat cafés, as I see it. Not only do the employees have to know about preparing and serving coffee and food they also need to have good cat caring skills.
It takes time to acquire these skills. In addition, it could be argued that the skills required are more demanding than usual when a large number of cats need to be cared for in one place which is complicated by the fact that the cats are interacting with strangers as well as the staff. So, the “skill set”, is quite extensive and the responsibilities high because, unusually, the “assets” of the cat café include living creatures (the cats).
As a result of the concerningly high number of cat deaths, the local authority in the form of the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority have become involved and are investigating.
The concept of the cat café as a high street business with lots of potential for success is burgeoning both in the West and the East. We read in the online press new openings of cat cafés all the time.
I would hope that the story of Cuddles serves as a warning to business people that there are particular complications, which need to be addressed very carefully before proceeding.