Monday, May 7, 2012

Neko Cafes

Okay, none of the obvious tasteless jokes.  These "cat cafes" are about REAL cats, folks.

 For regulars, the cafes offer a place to unwind and play with cats, while they sip coffee. Many urban apartments do not permit pets, meaning that pet lovers are left without furry friends to call their own. The neko cafes fill that void.

What?  The cats sip coffee?  That can't be right.  Call PETA!

Pet lovers often describe the joy their animals give them. Those living in environments that do not permit pets yearn for that interaction.

"It's a great place, it calms the stresses of working life," Ayumi Sekigushi, 23, told Reuters about her favorite cat cafe.

But some animal rights activists call the establishment inhuman to animals, saying that they are stressful for cats. "From morning to night these cats are being stroked by people they do not know. For the animals, that is a real source of stress," Animal welfare campaigner Chizuko Yamaguchi told Agence France-Presse last month.
Many neko cafes, however, tell customers not to disturb cats while they are sleeping and dim the lights at nighttime. As many cat owners can testify to, however, many felines get extra frisky in the evening.
All cat cafes must adhere to Japanese law regarding the protection and welfare of animals in order to keep their license and continue to operate.

While the cats (and cat cafes) vary, some cat cafes even house only former strays.

A new ordinance—a revision to Japan's Animal Protection Law—aimed to prohibit the display of animals after 8pm. "If I close this cafe at 8:00 pm, I'll see red ink," neko cafe owner Shinji Yoshida told AFP. Yoshida's cafe is located in Tokyo's Ikebukuro and 80 percent of his customers are apparently office workers who drop in after work to play with the cats.

The ordinance was aimed at pet shops that keep long hours—thereby keeping the animals up late in small cages under bright lights.

Even animal rights Japanese activists conceded that the ordinance was not targeting cat cafes, and the government finally decided—after some careful consideration—to allow the neko cafes to remain open until 10pm, which is when most cat cafes close anyway.

So, are the cats better off?  Is it exploitative?  What about if the cats are former strays that would have otherwise been euthanized?

(With a nod to reader Randy)

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?