Cats rule the internet. Videos, memes, GIFs – they provide us endless hours of entertainment with their shenanigans. Some people adore them enough to plunge into the long term commitment of owning one.
Others adore them, but are unable to have one. Whether your apartment doesn’t allow pets, your partner is allergic, or you simply can’t commit at the moment. So what to do if you crave a bit of kitty love, but you don’t have access to any? Well, there is now a solution for you. You visit a cat café!
The International Cat Café Craze
In 1998 the first cat café was created in Taiwan. This sparked an explosion of these interactive cafés across East Asia. The next one opened a few years later, 2004, in Osaka (Japan). A year later another one popped up in Tokyo. It’s estimated that there are currently about 40 cat cafés scattered across the Tokyo metropolitan area.
In Japan the cafés operate as public spaces where people are willing to pay by the hour for access to the cats. They sip coffee (or something stronger), read manga, and interact with the cats. Well, they offer affection and the cats decide if they need any.
A cat café tries to recreate the experience of having your own cat at home. The homely spaces are carefully created with soft lighting, comfy furniture, soothing background music, and reading material. They are usually located in urban city centres, where a lot of people live alone. In Japan other themed cafés include rabbit cafés, maid cafés, owl cafés, and music cafés.
The Appeal of Cat Cafés
The most obvious reason why people frequent cat cafés, is a longing to interact with a little furry friend they can’t have at home. But it seems specifically in Japan, and definitely in other countries as well, the reasons run deeper. The rise of the trend points to people’s need to appease loneliness. In Japan the cat cafés are closely linked to the ‘healing industry’.
It is unfortunate that companionship (virtual or real) as well as intimacy, has become a marketable and desirable commodity. In the Japanese context the healing industry deals with the aftermath of a few big society blows the country took in the 90’s. Pet therapy slots in with aromatherapy, robot interaction, colour therapy, and more.
In the Japanese culture specifically, cats are seen as “iyashi” or “healing”. Even though they have the reputation of being aloof and fickle in their affection, they still bring a sense of calm and relaxation to anyone interacting with them. But it is not only in Japan that people are seeking a way to soothe their souls.
Spreading the Kitty Loving
The cat café trend has spread across the globe like wildfire! Over 34 countries have adopted the unique way of enhancing people’s lives with the adorable real-life presence of the internet’s sweetheart.
There are 63 cat cafés across America and 14 in Canada. European countries jumping on the fluffy bandwagon include the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, Italy and 16 others. Australia and New Zealand also agree that this trend deserves support. And now sunny South Africa is proud to join, with the first cat café opening in Somerset West.
The owner, Valerie Steinmann, visited Japan four times before introducing the wonder of the cat café to South African soil. And so Cat Heaven Rescue Cat Café was born in 2017. With a true local spin on the trend, Valerie rescued 20 cats to become beloved celebrities. In the Asian cat cafés the norm is fancy breed cats.
A True Fur Momma
Valerie owned two fur children of her own. Unfortunately Tigger (aged 16) passed away. But Jinx (aged 17) is still spreading love in the Steinmann home. After her extensive travels, Valerie realized that South Africa needs its own cat gift paradise, and cat café. She is also currently studying Ethology, specializing in cats.
When you arrive at the cat café, you can decide if you want to dive right in and get your dose of kitty loving, or whether you want to first browse through the shop. A section of the shop holds Valerie’s unique collection of gifts. It was her visit to Thun (Switzerland) that sparked her passion for all things cat related. Beware, you will most likely walk away with a cat mug, or apron, or stationery gift. One side of the shop is dedicated to the array of cat memorabilia, and the other side has kitty toys and other cat products.
The focus of the cat café is solely on the cats, so you can only order drinks and confectionaries. But who needs food, when you can play with cats! There is free Wi-Fi available, so if you are a remote worker, you can have cat colleagues for a day. Over the weekends bookings are essential, as people travel from near and far to experience the first South African cat café.
Adopt a Cat
You can become a paw-parent of one of the resident cats of Cat Heaven. Valerie and her team has carefully integrated 20 rescue cats to live in harmony with each other. Unfortunately you can’t fall in love with a cat, and take it home. But for R120 per month you can sponsor (in-house adoption) a cat and visit as often as you like. You will also receive a text message with a selfie from your adopted cat each week. Your monthly contribution will ensure that your adopted cat lives like royalty, contributing towards its food and medical care.
The Cat Heaven Rescue Cat Café aims to create greater awareness of the joy of cat adoption. By interacting with the rescue cats, people can make a more informed decision when choosing their own pet.
But whether you are considering cat adoption or simply want to interact with the furballs, everyone is welcome at the first South African cat café.
Visit catheaven.co.za for more information
35 Bright Street, Audas Estate | Somerset West