Has the time come for cat cafes in the U.S.?

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Has the time come for cat cafés in the U.S.? Recently I wrote a blog that mentioned that cats wandering through the open-air cafes in Key West added to the atmosphere, and in September, Petfinder‘s associate producer, Bethany, mentioned, in her blog,  a short-lived cat café in NYC where people could bring their own cats.

Reese's Pieces Candy adoptable cat

This little tabby is ready to play (and be adopted) at NFFAR in Saddle River, NJ.

Cats in cafés? That could be a hairy subject to many diners, but these retreats from the workaday world are particularly popular in Japan, and soon Lauren Pears, an entrepreneur, will be opening Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium in London. It will be place where cat fanciers who cannot have pets of their own, for one reason or another, can go get their feline “fix,” while enjoying a cup of tea, and presumably food. The frequently asked questions on Lady Dinah’s website includes one that asks if it’s “really ok to serve food and drink in a room full of cats?” and responds “The short answer is yes.”

The longer answer, it goes on to say: “The Food Standards Agency permits animals in a cafe, but legislates that ‘reasonable precaution’ must be taken (and demonstrable) to prevent domestic animals from accessing food preparation areas.”  But that’s in the U.K.

The cats who live at the London cat cafe will come from shelters, according to Genevieve Shaw Brown, writing in her abcgo.com blog . And they will be adoptable. Bravo to that!  And “To prevent stress on the cats, Pears will charge a cover that limits the number of people inside at one time. Customers who pay can hang around as long as they like, and hopefully, get to know the animals better,” according to Huffingtonpost.com.

A quick check on Google leads me to believe that before opening a cat café in the U.S., a person should check with state and local authorities, notably the local health department. U.S. states draft their own health codes, according to Lessley Anderson and Jason Krause, writing for Chow.com, although most of them adopt the FDA Food Code, or parts of it, which prohibits domestic animals in restaurants. (Service animals are an exception.) Cities or counties can issue variances to the state code. Some states have drafted laws allowing dogs at restaurants in outside patio areas, but I couldn’t find any that mentioned cats in my cursory search on Google. If anyone knows a place where cats are allowed in a restaurant in the U.S., I’d like to know.

My friend Margaret, who is a cat lover, doesn’t understand the whole cat café phenomenon. She wonders why people who want to socialize with cats don’t volunteer at their local shelters and socialize with the cats there, cats who are often starved for attention and need human interaction to increase their chances of being adopted.

It seems to me shelters could use the cat café concept for fundraisers. Imagine “Tea and Tabby Time” each week!  But shelters should be sure to check with local health departments about refreshment guidelines!

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