Meet the Melbourne Cat Cafe felines

August 06, 2014
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It is a truth universally acknowledged, that people who love cats are completely insane.

Alright, alright – simmer down, internet.

I know a lot of people out there are cat mad – a lot of wonderfully stable/stably wonderful people. Perhaps my mind has been unfairly turned against you by The Simpsons' Crazy Cat Lady. I shouldn't judge. Let's just say I'm a cat sceptic.

Put simply, the Melbourne Cat Café is a place where you can pay $10 to spend an hour with a bunch of cats. Though such establishments have existed in Europe and Asia since the late '90s, this is the first of its kind in Australia. Australian cat fans have “been waiting for... a space for them to express themselves,” co-founder Anita Loughnan told me. “Dog people have got puppy school, dog parks... you can take your dog to cafés. There's nothing out there for cat-lovers.” The huge amount of buzz surrounding the café only confirms this. It has received extensive media coverage since it opened last Wednesday. The first five days of its existence were booked out entirely; all the sessions for the subsequent seven days are very nearly full too. The word 'success' doesn't quite seem adequate.

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But what's it like for a sceptic?

My visit to the Cat Café was marked by a series of surprises. The first was architectural in nature. Tucked away in the northwest corner of Melbourne's CBD, the Cat Café is located within a rather stately (indeed, heritage-listed) bluestone building. Were it not home to 13 cats (with just 24 eyes between them), it would make an extremely swanky residence...

Before I could meet the moggies, there were a few hurdles to clear. The first was signing a form confirming that I'd read the rules. It was common sense stuff: no pulling on tails, no feeding, and slightly controversially, no kids under eight. So far, the rule-breakers have been pretty mild.

“We've had a couple of people who just get a little too excited. They try and play with cats that are asleep, so we just... let them know that you do need to let them sleep – they're not playful if they're unconscious,” Anita said.

After washing my hands and receiving my visitor's lanyard, I walked through two sets of doors – a sort of decompression chamber – and up a winding staircase. When I reached the top, I was in the Land of Cats.

The next surprise to strike me was how happy everyone seemed. There were eight or 10 other people in this session wandering between the four rooms. Each of them was beaming while patting or playing with the cats, or just watching them sleep. The vibes were relaxed – none of these people seemed remotely crazy. They were a diverse group too, albeit all fairly young (no doubt partly due to the Monday 8pm timeslot).

Seemingly the most normal people here were in fact Anita and Myles, partners in both the business and in life. While Anita has to an extent taken charge of the venture, it was originally Myles' idea. Also seemingly normal was Myles, who actually originally proposed the idea as a joke.  

“Twelve months ago, [Myles] just jokingly suggested that we should open up our own cat café because we were pretty miserable in our corporate jobs,” said Anita. “He just said it as a joke and went to sleep and I spent the rest of the night awake, thinking, 'Why hasn't someone else done this in Australia?' So the next day I called up the city council and basically they just told me that legislation wouldn't allow this kind of business. So I then decided to read through all the legislation I could find and realised that I actually could do it, it just meant more work for them.”

Almost instantly, the decision was made. “All of our friends and family were really supportive,” Anita said, “except my father. He thought we were throwing away all our money and years building everything up - but he's a dog person.”

After months of struggle with landlords and bureaucrats, the Cat Café is finally a reality as a serious business venture. Anita and Myles have long since quit their jobs and are running the place full-time with the help of just four staff members – they're in it for the long haul. “We've got these cats that live here now, this is their home,” said Anita.

Is Anita's dad still against it? “He's changed his mind now.”

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The final surprise was how quickly the session seemed to pass. I admit I felt a little pang of loss when I had to leave the kitties, just as I was getting to know them. If a person who does not particularly care for cats can manage that, just imagine how much a true cat-lover would appreciate this bizarre, beautiful thing.

I'm not going to lie to you here – this was not my 'Road to Damascus' moment; I didn't see the light of Kittendom and pledge my undying servitude to the Cat Gods. It 's undeniable that cats are, on the whole, jerks – even most cat owners will readily admit this. But I did have a shitload of fun at the Cat Café. I cooed and I awwwed and I giggled. I went out feeling happier than when I went in. And if that's not a worthwhile night – what is?

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Meet the catsName: Sherlock

Origin: Geelong Animal Welfare Society

Coat: Mostly white

Temperament: Vivacious

Adorability: 9/10

Interactivity: 7/10Name: Lynx

Origin: Lost Dogs Home

Coat: Monochromatic

Temperament: Slothful

Adorability: 6/10

Interactivity: 3/10Name: Lottie

Origin: Geelong Animal Welfare Society

Coat: Tabby

Temperament: Energetic

Adorability: 7/10

Interactivity: 9/10Name: Winter

Origin: Lost Dogs Home

Coat: Grey

Temperament: Mysterious

Adorability: 8/10

Interactivity: 6/10Name: Clara

Origin: Geelong Animal Welfare Society

Coat: Mottled

Temperament: Aloof

Adorability: 4/10

Interactivity: 4/10

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Simon Farley

Simon Farley is a student at the University of Melbourne and also more of a dog person. Follow him on Twitter @Snaxophone. 

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