Stressed out? Overworked? Feeling unloved? Perhaps you need some downtime with a furry friend, away from the pressures of a high-tech workplace. Cat cafes, a novel concept appealing to everyone from lost souls to burned-out commuters, are a growing trend in some of the world’s big cities.

The idea is simple. The cafes offer an opportunity to spend an hour or so in the company of cats and kittens while sipping your favourite drink.

Courtney Hatt, an animal-lover and former tech worker in San Francisco, opened the city’s first cat cafe in June. KitTea has a cat petting room where customers pay by the hour to lounge around with assorted felines, which are all available for adoption. The cafe also serves exotic Japanese teas in a separate area.

“When you walk into a regular cafe versus a cafe full of cats, you’re going to feel a really big difference in how you interact and engage in the space,” said Hatt.  "People make friends here, it’s really fun to watch."

Hatt believes it is an ideal form of therapy to ease the kind of work-life pressures she experienced during her former life in the world of tech startups.

“It just completely calms you with a nice, fuzzy feeling,” she said.

This form of animal therapy, or purr therapy as it is known, has its roots in Japan, where the first cafes opened 20 years ago. Unlike KitTea and cat cafes in other US cities, the Japanese establishments cater primarily for people who are not allowed to keep pets in their tiny city apartments. Cat cafes, based on the Japanese model, can also be found in London, Melbourne, New York and Paris, among other cities.

After a successful crowd funding campaign, Hatt says the idea for KitTea generated more than enough interest to excite investors. It is early days for the business but the founders say it is making money. There is a waiting list to visit at peak times.

The cafe has rules about not disturbing animals that are sleeping and staff members monitor the welfare of the animals.

Such a business may not be suitable for everyone, especially those with little knowledge of animal behaviour.

“It is not as easy as people think,” said Jacqueline Munera, a certified cat behaviour consultant in Tampa, Florida.  “In Japan, most of the cat cafes seem to have a fairly stable population of cats. Here (in the US) where the goal is adoption... you’re going to have cats going out and cats coming in."

Munera says integrating a shifting population of cats can pose significant problems because the animals may not get along. Older cats could have problems socialising with fellow felines and people. It is a scenario that Munera says should be monitored closely to prevent the animals from becoming distressed.

Could this business be for you? Click on the arrow above to learn more about opening a cat cafe.

(Produced & edited by Peter Bowes; Filmed by Dan Edblom. Video includes additional still photos courtesy: Michael Wiggins, Lisa Tsubouchi and Jacqueline Munera.)

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