Cat cafe opens in Australia

GAYLE BRYANT
Last updated 12:32 17/06/2014
cat cafe Melbourne
Fairfax

FUR REAL: Anita & Myles Loughran are opening Australia's first cat cafe.

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There's no denying people love their pets. So much so that many businesses, such as cafes and hotels, advertise themselves as "pet-friendly".

But a new cafe is offering a solution for people who love animals but aren't in a position to own one.

Australia's first cat cafe will open in Melbourne this July. The premises will comprise a cafe and an area that houses a number of cats that people pay to visit and interact with.

The idea came from husband and wife team, Anita and Myles Loughran, after they visited a cat cafe in Tokyo on their honeymoon. After returning to Australia and becoming dissatisfied with their jobs, they decided to see if starting their own cat cafe was feasible.

"We joked about it at first but then I felt it was something that people would really get behind," Anita Loughran says. "And now nearly a year after first discussing it, we expect to open this July in a building next to the Queen Victoria Market."

The cafe area is on the ground floor while the cats are located on the first floor.

"There are four rooms for people to interact with the cats and a fifth room which is just for the cats and where they stay overnight," Loughran says.

Loughran says the biggest challenge in getting the cafe off the ground was convincing Melbourne City Council that she was serious.

"They didn't think it was possible because of health and safety regulations, but after three months they came on board with the idea."

A keen supporter of the idea is the animal management department of the Melbourne City Council.

"They have an issue with international students who come here to study but miss their pets so much they go out and buy one for the time they're here," Loughran says.

"But when they go back home they just dump them. It is hoped the cafe will help alleviate this problem as it will give students a place to come and interact with animals without needing to own one."

Funding the business was another challenge and Loughran says they turned to various sources.

"We have put all our own money into the business, including an inheritance I came into," she says. "But we needed more so we have run two funding campaigns with [crowdfunding platform] Indiegogo."

The couple chose to go with Indiegogo as you get to keep the money you raise even if you don't reach your target amount. In their first campaign they wanted to raise A$45,000 ($48,000) but only managed A$11,000, and in their second were aiming for A$5000 and to date have raised more than A$7000.

Loughran says there is a maximum of 15 cats allowed, although the final number they will have is yet to be determined.

"We are working with animal shelters to find the animals," she says. "The cafe will become their permanent home; we won't be adopting them out if someone takes a fancy to one as not only are there legal hurdles around that but we think that's too disruptive for the animals. However, we will be advertising the services of animal rescue shelters."

Visitors who want to interact with the cats pay A$10 for the first hour and then A$5 for every half an hour. There are rules around interacting, such as not feeding them or waking them if they're asleep, and there's no limit to the amount of time they can spend with them.

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While this is the first cat cafe of its type in Australia, there are other cafes that allow people to bring their pets with them. Cafe Bones in Sydney's Leichhardt describes itself as "the world's first truly dog-friendly cafe" and serves pupacinos for dogs, along with coffees for their owners.

Also popular is the dedicated pet restaurant Chew Chew, on Sydney's lower north shore, run by pet nutritionist Naoko Okamoto. The restaurant has been operating for four years and doesn't serve food for humans, only for dogs (although cat bookings are available by appointment after closing hours).

"People can bring their own food in and eat with their pets," Okamoto says. "People love coming here, especially owners who have older pets as they like creating memories of their time together."

- Sydney Morning Herald

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