In the day and age of making sure your café is Instagram worthy, uniquely themed cafes have been popping up all over the world. One popular theme is the cat café, where patrons can come and cuddle cats while enjoying their coffee. Originally started in Taipei in 1998, the idea has quickly spread across the globe, blossoming in places like Japan where it has become not just a local attraction, but a tourist one as well. The Cat Cuddle Café in Red Hill however, was one of the first in the world to take this pawsome idea and turn it into not only a novelty for humans, but a rescue for our little feline friends. The Cat Cuddle Café, tucked away on Musgrave Road has been running for two and a half years in its café form, although the rescue side has been running for almost 25. Owned and run by the lovely and passionate Catina (Cat, ironically, for short), this café is taking a stand against their ‘petting zoo’ counter parts scattered around the world, and making a difference to their cats. Catina’s determination also comes from the Queensland Government’s classification of all unowned cats as feral pests, meaning any cat found in the streets can be destroyed. She urges people to call the café or the RSPCA before calling the council about a cat wandering around. Upon entering the Cat Cuddle Café, you’re greeted with an overwhelming amount of cat themed trinkets, such as badges, jewels, clothes, even homeware.
The café itself takes up most of the upstairs floor, offering a large selection of treats, including vegan options. There are couches with whimsical cushions and plenty of space to make like a cat and spread out and relax. Down flights of stairs and, after washing your hands, you enter a large open room with one dining table, plenty of plush chairs and, unsurprisingly, cats running around your feet. We were soon informed that there were 20 cats in the room, a mix of adults and kittens.
The cats are certainly not isolated or bored by any means. The walls are lined with a jungle gym of sorts for the cats to climb on; toys and even mini couches for them are set aside, and there is an enclosed outside decked area that prevents them from escaping. Cat encourages cat owners to learn about keeping cats indoors and putting up an outside enclosure, so they don’t have the ability to damage the environment and prolong their bad reputation. It is a cat’s instinct to hunt, but all cats really need is to be able to see the outdoors, get fresh air and access to fresh grass. She suggests ‘Happy Cat Enclosures’ to help you set up an outdoor enclosure for your feline friend.
But what about the humans who wander into the cafe? Cat jokes of course they get a lot of crazy cat ladies, but also crazy cat men, including two young men who held their 21st’s in the café. For a lot of people, it is the novelty that brings them in however, they do have dedicated followers who check in on the cats via their Facebook page, and can identify every cat in the room when they come to visit.
Part of being a rescue organisation means that the Cat Cuddle Café has cats from all walks of life. They currently have 80 cats, and use a foster care system. The cats must be older than 3 months before they enter the café, so they are able to cope with constant handling. Cat says a lot of the time the mothers will be quite tame, having come from a domesticated setting, but sadly have been neglected or left behind. The challenge lies in the newborns who have been born in the streets and need to be taught trust with humans. “When those kinds of cats’ bond with you, they form a ridiculously special bond as well,” Cat states, and it is true. As you walk around the café, you can see the odd flinch from some of the younger ones, and you can sense their wariness, but within moments I was petting and playing with them and they lapped up the attention. It broke my heart to think of these little, fearful creatures being born under someone’s tree in their backyard; or in the alley behind a restaurant.
Most of the cats come from private surrenders, the majority of those being families who move and leave their cats behind. This ‘poor excuse’ as Cat calls it, has made the café rightfully strict in their adoption processes, because yes, if you fall in love with one of these gorgeous kitties, you have the option to take them home. You must of course, pass the extensive criteria set out by Cat and her staff. It starts with the understanding that a cat is for life, you will have a possible 20 years or longer with your little friend; you must have the permissions to own a cat such as from a landlord or body corporate; and the criteria goes on. However, these rules do not throw off their dedicated cat lovers; the café’s adoptions can vary from one in a week to six in one day. Cat and her team will also assist with nutritional advice, how to manage flees and worms and they check in on the adoptions after the kitties are in their new home.
Everyone in the cat room are volunteers, with about 60 volunteers on their books now. She calls the Cat Cuddle Café a therapy home for humans as well as cats. Some of their volunteers have not been able to get into the work force due to a lack of confidence around people, but that has changed through spending their time at the café. One of the baristas had never had a paid job, but through time and help, she’s now one of their best workers. While so much of the proceeds go towards the cats, Cat often has to use her savings to ensure everything else, such as her 9 paid staff, and other running costs are paid.
To help with the costs of looking after the little ones, they run a lot of different events. Each event is run by a volunteer teacher, their most popular event being Yoga with Cats. It doesn’t stop at exercise; they have yarning with cats, colouring in with cats, board games with cats (including cat themed games like cat jenga), scrapbooking, making cat cushions, origami with cats; the list goes on.
You can see the fearless determination and heart-warming dedication within Cat and her team. You can see it through the love they have for the cats, and the love the cats have for them. Supporting such a strong, kind-hearted business in the Brisbane community was part of what made my visit so special, and I proudly walked out with a little ‘Cat Lady’ badge pinned to my shirt for all to see.
Author: Holly Hamer
Images: Holly Hamer