UK cat cafe closes & makes cats redundant

The interests of the cats can be lost sight of particularly when things go wrong.

A UK cat café in Manchester, where customers pay £12 ($15) to spend an hour in the company of cats with a cup of coffee provided, is closing after nearly five years due to the economic situation. Their self proclaimed “cat family” of a dozen or so cats are to be found new homes. They also have another branch in Liverpool which is also closed, which probably ends their initial aim of opening one in every major city in the UK.

Since the first cat café opened in Taiwan in 1998 there has been an explosion of these feline themed eateries worldwide with dozens opening across the UK annually with little or no inspection. Many of these have the same vision of establishing chains of stores across the country. They have become a popular craze and sadly there are even help sites with tips on how to start a cat café. These promote the benefits of partnering a business with local cat rescues to “populate” the café with the required 10-15 cats to make it successful and many cat rescues questionable appear happy to oblige. Anyone can operate one without experience which can lead to hygiene and welfare issues.

Cat cafe

Good therapy for humans or just good business.

Most cat cafes promote themselves either as providing “a stress free haven where cats and humans can unwind” or as pseudo cat rescue centres or both. This causes a conundrum for many people as to whether they are cruel and stressful for the cats and unhygienic or a benefit to human mental health and a cat’s Shangri-La of human company. The veterinary profession appears non-committal on the issue as long as cats are well cared for, while some animal welfare charities like the Cats Protection are positively against them and will not accept donations from them. The law has no problem with dogs and cats in cafes as long as they are not allowed near food preparation and food standards inspectors can take years to inspect and give them hygiene star ratings which can be a problem.

“If the intention is to home cats from the café, this would create a ‘rolling’ population of rescue cats – in a café, this would create even more stress and further compromise feline welfare because rescue cats need as stable an environment as possible & will become stressed as a result of being in a confined space with a continually changing group of people”. 

Cats Protection, UK national cat charity.

In the case of the Manchester café, the owners are happy to claim on their website that “the café is their home” and that they are their “cat family” and yet the redundant cats are all to be found new homes. They were originally sourced from breeders and some from cat rescues to provide “forever homes” to those that could not find the home they deserved which are now hollow sounding sentiments, which is often the case with the use of the term “forever”.

Plans to open a new cafe

Worryingly the owners of the Manchester café are quoted as saying they hope to open another café with new cats when the pandemic and economic outlook is better. There seems to be no interest in caring for the cats themselves or mention of any contingency plan or fund in place to look after them. The cats appear to be viewed as stock or accessories for the business rather than their pampered cat family.

“We hope to relaunch in a new premises once the pandemic is over, so please continue to bear with us through this very difficult time. We will be spending the next few weeks finding loving, permanent homes for our 10 resident cats”.

Manchester Cat Cafe

There has been outrage in the past about animal cafes particularly those in Japan and Asia where cats and exotic animals of all kinds such as otters, hedgehogs and monkeys are used to attract customers, but hypocritically we are happy to patronise similar establishments in the UK. It is the same type of exploitation of animals regardless of the type of animal and all the animal welfare and psychological hyperbole behind these ventures.

Cat cafes are becoming big business but as with all ventures involving the participation of animal attractions, the interests of the animals can be lost sight of particularly when things go wrong. Those in existence already involve the lives of hundreds of cats and the number at risk only increases whenever another opens. In these uncertain times the Manchester closure highlights the uncertain future of cats in this type of establishment.

A typical promotional video; You decide: exploitation or just good fun for all:

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The right to roam, cats cannot trespass

Cats are footloose and free

Unlike most other captive animals, the domestic cat has the wonderful status under the laws of most countries of the right to roam. In the U.K. they do not have to be securely confined and can roam without any fear or favour or legal repercussions for their actions. They cannot trespass so neither the cats or their owners are liable for anything they may do in the way of damage, soiling or causing nuisance which is extremely annoying for those who hate them.

This has come about because like most captive animals,  a cat’s legal status is that of property and to kill or harm them is classified as criminal damage under Criminal Damages Act 1971 or theft under the Theft Act 1968. Their “freedom” is guaranteed under the Animals Act 1971 which makes provision with respect to civil liability for damage done by animals. Cats were assessed as being less likely than other animals to cause damage or injury and so were not included in the Act. Technically we do not even “own” them. 

So they are footloose and free in many ways and unlike many other countries there is no mandatory need to neuter or vaccinate them, no restriction on how many you can have in your possession, no licensing or registration and no controls over breeding and this is where the problem lies.

This freedom occurs in many parts of the world including the USA which has a mishmash of Federal, State and local laws very few of which restrict cats to an “owners” property or indoors. The U.S State of Maine, like the U.K. doesn’t include cats in their animal trespass law. In Australia cats are branded invasive species and therefore are highly restricted with night curfews in some States and cat ownership bans in local areas. Most countries in the context of law almost treat them as invisible always focusing on dogs.

This situation in many instances can lead to people taking the law into their own hands and committing retaliatory acts of cruelty on them or even to shoot, poison or otherwise kill them. Some people have even been known to go to the lengths of catching their neighbour’s nuisance cat and abandoning it a long distance away.

Their freedom comes with drawbacks

Although this status is wonderful for the cats it comes with many drawbacks. The lack of control has led to an ongoing “cat crisis” in the UK which has lasted for decades involving thousands of lost, abandoned, and unwanted cats. Charities spend huge amounts each year trying to repatriate them and combat indiscriminate breeding and feckless ownership.  

Their perceived reputation as a nuisance because of their destructive behaviours, toiletry habits and natural instincts of catching small animals and birds causes many people to view them as pests and they hate them. Cats face similar problems all over the world, particularly in the USA, Australia and New Zealand.

Cats Matter Too

Without some form of legal intervention it will always be impossible to make any inroads into the excess U.K. cat population, enhance their reputation or to improve their well-being , and more importantly to protect them, their ‘owners’ and cat haters from each other. But I am not suggesting for one minute that their “freedom to roam” should be stopped or restricted as this is the essence of a cat.