Why I won't be visiting Manchester's cat cafe

Manchester's first cat cafe opens this weekend, but one writer won't be visiting. Here's why...

Feature by David Hartley | 29 Jul 2016

Nestled in a glass-fronted corner of the bar-saturated Northern Quarter, the branding is up, the bookings are flooding in and the cats of Manchester’s Cat Cafe have been let loose inside. I know this; I walked past them on Wednesday evening. They looked happy enough. But that was from my point of view – it might have been different in the heads of the actual cats. I can’t claim to know for sure, and nor can anyone else.

No doubt they will continue to look happy, but there is a much bigger picture being completely overlooked. Opening a successful cat cafe only serves to legitimise the concept and encourages others to do the same, and wherever animals and profit are brought together standards can quickly slip.

One of the original Japanese cafes has been closed for welfare and hygiene reasons, as has a very ramshackle venture in Leicester. Beyond cafes, we quickly get to more ethically dubious areas; zoos holding late-night boozy parties, Uber delivering kittens to stressed workers, all the way back to abused elephants in circus rings.

Profit vs Animal Rights

As much as animals are not here to entertain us, nor are they here to give city workers an opportunity to get their much-craved cat fix, as the Manchester Cat Cafe mission statement implies. Nor is it fair to use sentient creatures for financial gain in the guise of therapy and stress relief, while risking compromises to animal welfare.

And don’t be fooled; despite what the Cafe says about welfare being its number one priority, it can’t be. It’s a business. Profit is the priority. And while I’m sure the Cafe will work very hard to keep to the standards it deems appropriate, there’s no guarantee of the same from those who follow in its wake – which puts the Cafe in a troublesome ethical position from the off.

There’s more. This first batch of pedigree cats look to have been sourced from breeders at a time when we are suffering from a huge cat over-population problem which animal charities are straining (and desperately failing) to deal with [the Cafe state their cats are "from a variety of sources", but add that they don't accept rescue cats "who have been through traumatic experiences"].

Granted, rescue cats should not be in this environment either, as the Cafe correctly acknowledges, but if you claim to care about animal welfare you shouldn’t be supporting breeders, who are a massive part of a massive problem.

Moreover, the UK’s largest cat charity, the Cats Protection League, are dead set against cat cafes for very clear and astute reasons. I expect the charity won’t be best pleased to see their name used in the Cat Cafe mission statement.

'There are better ways to interact with animals'

It is also immeasurably sad that these particular cats won’t get the choice to roam outdoors, stalk through gardens, lounge around in actual sunshine or express any of their natural behaviours in a natural setting. Instead they’ll endure a stressful stream of strangers for ten hours a day, not to mention the drunken revellers from the many local bars banging on the windows at 3am.

And there are no guarantees that these cats will continue to get along, especially as cats are, for the most part, solitary and territorial creatures. There’s no magic spell that makes these cats particularly different, and if they do need time away from each other, or from us, a small additional room off to the side isn’t going to do the trick. Especially if other stressed-out cats are already in there.

There are better ways for people to interact with animals. Rescue centres are always on the lookout for volunteers to become cat cuddlers, dog walkers or, better still, foster carers. These are the animals that actually need our care and attention, our time and money. Think of it this way: do something for an animal, rather than finding an animal to do something for you.

David Hartley is a short story writer and performer based in Manchester. His other writings can be found on his website davidhartleywriter.com.