Have you ever visited a pet cafe? If not, put it on your bucket list as a must-do. I loved my cat yoga class at Sydney Cat Cafe earlier this year! Here is a unique insight into Asia’s pet cafes from Samuel Anderson, self made barista, coffee fanatic and pet lover...
I didn’t know what to expect the first time I visited Nekorobi, one of Tokyo’s oldest cat cafes. For one, the very term “cat cafe” gave me pause – I’d heard of maid cafes before, those bizarre tourist traps where girls dress up in frilly black-and-white outfits to serve customers their drink orders, but that was it. Hearing “cat cafe” brought to mind visions of a calico in a top hat bowing to me and asking if I wanted cream in my coffee!
The good news is that cat cafes are much more mundane. Even better, they’re only a tiny subset of “pet cafes,” a delightfully furry phenomenon that’s been taking Asia by storm. Here are just a few facts, stories and observations about the world of pet cafes.
- Most of them aren’t actually cafes.
There are a few establishments where you can order a macchiato while cats wind around your legs, but they aren’t the norm. The typical “cat cafe” is more like a communal living room than a restaurant. They’re soft, comfortable places filled with couches, pillows and cushions, and you’re encouraged to sit on the floor or lounge around the beanbags as you please.
The cafe I visited, Nekorobi, was a simple one-room establishment where a few other visitors were already sitting cross-legged on the floor when I entered. There were about a half-dozen cats awake and engaged; some were enjoying treats from the humans, and others were deigning to be stroked and admired. Others still were dozing and napping around the room. It was a very relaxing atmosphere, and within minutes I never wanted to leave.
2. There are all kinds of pet cafes in all kinds of countries.
Tokyo is the mecca of cat cafes; one of the men I spoke to at Nekorobi said that there are more than 50 just inside the city limits. But they aren’t the only kind of pet cafe out there, and you don’t have to visit Japan to enjoy them.
South Korea has dog cafes where you can work or relax while corgis lounge at your feet.
The Philippines has pet cafes for cats, dogs and bunny rabbits.
Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia all have cat and dog cafes.
Thailand even has a “creepy crawly cafe” where you can enjoy a nice brunch while surrounded by reptiles like iguanas and snakes!
3. There’s therapeutic value in hanging out with the animals.
Any animal lover can wax poetic about the emotional benefits of our furry friends, but pet cafes have taken that idea and run with it. In addition to the animals themselves, pet cafes come with a wide variety of self-indulgent distractions. They include but aren’t limited to:
– Video games
– Books and manga
– Toys, puzzles, coloring books
– Vending machines full of snacks
I’ve even heard of pet cafes offering free Wi-Fi and study tables for students who want to get their homework done in a stress-free environment. All things considered, you’re the king of your own time when you visit a pet cafe. If you want to interact with the animals, you can; if you’d prefer to just stretch out and enjoy a book or movie while a kitty sleeps on your back, you can do that too.
- You can pay as much or as little as you’d like.
Apart from the universal “entry fee” that you pay to get through the door, pet cafes have different standards for charging you.
For example, some might dispense pet treats through a coin-operated machine. Some might offer lunch or dinner menus for an extra fee. Some go the traditional route and offer coffee; others will let you use your own coffee maker and bring in your own espresso.”
As for Nekorobi, it was free! Once I paid the entry charge, I was allowed to use or consume anything in the room without shelling out more yen. I indulged in the vending machine sweets but left the chicken pellets to the cats
5. They’re usually funding or raising awareness for animal welfare groups.
When I was visiting Nekorobi, the star of the day was a rambunctious kitten named Mei. Named after one of the characters in My Neighbor Totoro, she was a lively blue-eyed ball of fluff who would chase any string set in front of her.
I asked a staffer what would happen to Mei when she grew up. Would she live at Nekorobi forever? Where would she go when she was no longer tiny, cute and entertaining?
“We’ll find her a place with friends,” the girl said.
It turns out that those “friends” include animal shelters, animal advocacy groups and animal welfare organizations. It isn’t uncommon for pet cafes to work closely with non-profits to ensure the safety of both their own animals and other animals like them. All of the people involved are pet lovers, and that love is apparent in everything they do.
Long story short, I don’t regret my visit to Nekorobi. I wasn’t served tea by a short-haired bobtail, but you know what? I had a good time anyway.