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A cat café in Vancouver: The fuzzy face of economic diversity

Michelle Furbacher wants to put Vancouver on the cat café map. A roomful of cats isn't just good for the soul: it can also be good for Vancouver's economic and cultural diversity.

Michelle Furbacher and Peanut: BFFs

Vancouver cat lovers, rejoice

"Peanut was my favourite person!" Peanut was a cat, and he was Michelle Furbacher's best friend. When Peanut passed away, Furbacher's landlord wouldn't let her bring a new cat into her apartment. Furbacher yearned for feline companionship, and so Vancouver may soon have its very own cat café.

Maybe you live in a no-pets building. Or you kill all your plants, and are afraid to look after anything that blinks. Maybe your allergies are at endless war with your adoration of cats. Gatos. 猫咪. Les chats. ねこ.  Watching Maru just isn’t enough. You need cats in your lap. On your shoulder. Perhaps atop your head.

Furbacher’s dream is to grant you your wish. Furbacher wants to open Catfé, modeled on the famous cat cafés of Japan. The concept is simple: fill a room with cats, and charge people to hang out with them.  

Furbacher said, "I got the idea just over a month ago. I was kind of waiting around to see if someone else was going to do it. Just last week, I was like, 'Well, why don’t i just go ahead and do it myself?'"

Furbacher is joining forces with the feline-o-philes of @catcafeyvr to make a roomful of cats a reality here in Vancouver.

Cat cafés aren’t a Japan-only phenomenon. Indeed, the world’s first was in Taiwan.

Those who like to mix cats with coffee can get their fix in Paris and Vienna, Munich and Berlin, San Francisco and Oakland, Budapest and Madrid.

But not anywhere in Canada. At least, not yet.

Canada on the cusp of creating cat cafés

Montreal’s amants de chat are hoping to host Canada’s first cat café: Café Chat l'Heureux. Furbacher is hoping to open Catfé in the autumn of 2014.

Bored in Vancouver  does not want to wait another moment, but there is a tremendous amount of bureaucracy to surmount. Canada’s strict hygiene laws, along with the byzantine process of opening a business in BC, makes Furbacher’s crusade an uphill struggle. Section 25 of the Public Health Act's Food Services Regulation is pretty clear:

An operator of food premises may permit the following animals on the premises:
            (a) a guide animal but not in any area of the premises in which food is prepared, processed or stored;
            (b) live fish in an aquarium;
            (c) any other animal that a health officer determines will not pose a risk of a health hazard occurring on the premises.

Furbacher has yet to hear back from Vancouver Coastal Health on the issue.

The doom and gloom over on Reddit is unwarranted, though: a cat café doesn’t have to serve food. Nobody goes to a cat café for scones or artisanal sandwiches. Furbacher said, "The food part is kind of a secondary thing. The main attraction would be hanging out with the cats."

Why have a kitchen at all? Furbacher is considering ditching the kitchen entirely and bringing in prepackaged food and drinks; or just abandoning the idea of serving food entirely.

Catfé could end up as a fuzz-positive WiFi hotspot or local lending library; or find itself partnered with a food truck.

Cats, culture, and the global city

Does Vancouver’s status as a  world-class city seriously hinge on having cat cafés?

In a way, yes.

Part of a city’s evolution involves not only economic diversity as we currently understand it, but also the expansion of what the service economy can mean.

It's not just about paving the way for a cat café in Vancouver: it's about the mindset that drives such a café, seeing the possibility in this city when no comparable business yet exists.

Furthermore, a cat café allows the public to congregate around a shared enthusiasm: in this case, the love of cats. It's easier to make new friends when we share an activity, and we know that social isolation is a health issue.

Perhaps Furbacher (and Vancouver's cat lovers) need a champion at City Hall. Who will step up and answer the cat-café call?

Japanese cat café

I visited Calico Cat Café in Tokyo, up on the sixth floor of narrow building on Kabukicho’s main drag.

After reading the laundry-list of rules, sanitizing my hands and putting on a pair of puffy slippers (I called them NekoSlippers); I entered a world of whiskers and wonder.

None of the other patrons seemed to be ordering from Calico’s coffee menu: they were too busy with cat toys, taking selfies with cats, simply staring at cats.

Sometimes the cats stare back. (Photo: Jordan Yerman)

Never mind the robots, Japan is doing amazing things with air filtration. Still, a roomful of cats cannot help but smell like... a roomful of cats.

Furbacher is getting in touch with animal shelters to find out how they keep the air fresh. “Cleanliness is a major concern for me. I wouldn’t want to work in a place that smelled like a litter box."

Also, the cats of Calico had places to hide if they got sick of all the intense human attention. High shelves, deep cubby-holes, and off-limits areas were theirs to command.

I'll take that cat to go

One of Furbacher's main goals is to have all of Catfé's cats available for adoption. You like hanging out with Mitzi? Cool. Take her home. The cafe would be a way for the public to get to know its feline neighbours. If you can't adopt a cat, well, that's okay too, says Furbacher: "At least you've made a new friend."

Just beware the Neko Punch.

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