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Vancouver's first cat cafe opens in International Village

 Cat lovers can get up close and personal with adoptable cats at Catfé. Meowza.

Slideshow: Meet three of the cats of Catfé. (All photos by Jordan Matthew Yerman)

The cats have arrived. After two years of planning, fundraising, negotiating, paperwork, and building, Michelle Furbacher opens the doors to Catfé, Vancouver’s first cat cafe, on December 14. Vancouver’s cat lovers can enjoy the company of felines, all of who are available for adoption. Think of it as speed-dating for pets.

Catfé founder Michelle Furbacher offers some last-minute coaching to Larry, one of the front-desk staff.

Besides providing a new take on curling up with a good book, cat cafes offer an opportunity for animal companionship for those whose living situations don't allow for pets. “I love cats, and I live in an apartment that doesn’t allow cats,” says Jill, one of Catfé’s  crowdfunders, during the soft opening over the weekend. “I think it’s a fabulous idea. People who can’t have cats, [or] whose spouses are allergic to cats can come hang out and get some cat attention.” 

One major change has taken place in the run-up to Catfé’s grand opening in the International Village Mall: the cats come courtesy of the BC SPCA, instead of from Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue (VOKRA). This, says Furbacher, is the result of an epiphany after fostering a cat named Snuggles while helping Stretch Vancouver put on the Cats on Your Mats yoga event in September. 

Snuggles: the cat who inspired Catfé's catsourcing.

Since VOKRA was already hooking cats up with foster homes, Furbacher focused on cats who had found themselves in an more institutional environment. The cats had fun exploring the yoga studio and interacting with the participants, but once Snuggles got home, said Furbacher, “He was non-stop purring.” The lesson, said Furbacher, was that a foster home is the best place for a cat until he or she finds a permanent home. Since VOKRA was already sending rescued cats to foster homes (”the ideal situation for a cat”), Café’s highest and best purpose would be to supply a sort of group-home for the caged cats of the BC SPCA.  “It was really hard to make that decision so close to the opening, she said, “but it just felt right.” So now the BC SPCA’s cats––many of whom are turned in by owners whose apartments don't allow pets––have an opportunity to live in a bright, vaulted space with custom-built cabinetry that allows them to engage with humans when––and only when––they feel like it. A profound lesson from a cat. “I love Snuggles,” said Furbacher with a laugh. 

Each month, a portion of Catfé's proceeds will be donated to a BC animal support group.

Prowling for inspiration

While waiting on permit approval from the City, Furbacher embarked on a last-minute supplemental research tour along the West Coast, visiting cat cafes in Oregon and California. She added what she learned to the information compiled on visits to Montreal and Budapest undertaken in 2014. “It’s interesting,” said Furbacher” to see how they do it differently in different parts of the world.” 

A Catfé resident rests during the soft opening.

Though breaking new ground in Vancouver, Catfé isn’t Canada’s first cat cafe: Montreal and Toronto have gotten there first. Perhaps Canada will claim a spot alongside Japan and Taiwan as a cat-café Mecca as the sip-’n’-pet trend heats up in the West. Jill said she saw herself visiting the cat care “once a month, if not more.”

The cafe and cat lounge are separate spaces, thanks to those stodgy ol’ public-hygiene regulators. A third space is available only to the cats, for when they need to use the litter box or just take a break from all those humans.  

Custom cat cabinetry: yes, that's an old-school television on which cats may sleep.

How to meet the cats

The initial cohort consists of five cats: Furbacher said that that number can go up to as many as twelve. The cats who are unhappy living at Catfé will be returned to the BC SPCA.

Communal living for cats.

Visitors to Catfé must read and follow a list of rules meant to protect the resident felines from over-enthusiastic encounters that might result in injury or distress to either cat or human. Remember this before you try to grab a cat's tail or rub her belly: sharp claws, lighting speed. 

A visitor then washes his or her hands and enters the tranquil, sunlit cat lounge, where new friends await.

Catfé accepts reservations, which you’ll most likely need during the opening weeks: with all the media attention, it’s nearly as hot a ticket as Star Wars Episode VII.

With only 16 visitors allowed in the cat lounge at any given time, you might need to plan your visit in advance. In the event of forming a lifelong friendship, visitors may begin the adoption process right away. 

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