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Should cat cafes even exist?

We are different.

This is what the founders of two upcoming cat interaction centres say when this reporter posed questions about their businesses.

Perhaps, it is all down to awkward timing.

They want to open next month, but news broke a few days ago about a cat cafe which will not have its licence renewed as it is under investigation by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority after seven of its cats died.

The owner of Cuddles Cat Cafe, which opened three months ago in the Orchard Road area, posted on Facebook that three of the cats died due to "sterilisation and veterinary complications", while four died from feline infectious peritonitises.

Some of its former employees have alleged that staff were not properly trained to handle the cats.

SORRY

Later in a lengthy post, the owner wrote an apology expressing "regret and remorse" over the cats' deaths and sought "forgiveness from the public".

The owner of upcoming Cat Safari in Turf Club Road, Mr Derrick Tan, 33 - who is also the president of Voices for Animals, a rehabilitation society for ex-breeding dogs and cats - emphasises that his business is a social project that he has taken great pains to research.

About 30 cats, "specially picked and slowly integrated so they get used to humans and to each other" will be the stars there.

To ensure his felines are not over-stimulated, Mr Tan's therapy centre will open only three days a week."There will also be rules set and a limit to how many people can be inside at one time. No one is allowed to carry any of the cats. Staff will police the place and those who don't follow the rules will be asked to leave," he says.

None of his cats are up for adoption because "it takes at least four months for them to get used to each other".

"The place is built with the cats in mind," Mr Tan says. The indoor area measures slightly over 1,200 sq ft.

"There is a large tree trunk in the middle of the room for them to climb and shelves where they can run and hide," he says, adding that he is even looking at building an outdoor area for his felines.

Over at Lion City Kitty - The Cat Museum, Muses & Mansion, located in a shophouse in Purvis Street, former Gold 90.5FM DJ Jessica Seet, 48, says her set-up is to expose Singaporeans to cats.

Some cats will be up for adoption, in partnership with the Cat Welfare Society.

"I know of people who are afraid of cats just because they were told not to touch them when they were children," she says.

Her intention is not only to introduce these people to cats but also to allow "folks in the CBD" to de-stress by visiting the top level of the shophouse.

There will be announcements at the entrance and signs put up on how to approach the cats.

And unlike cat cafes, only the cats get fed.

"People pay a nominal fee of $9 to visit the museum and buy the exhibits, if they so wish."

Lion City Kitty will open from 2 to 9pm, from Friday to Sunday. "For the welfare of my cats, I have chosen not to open for long hours every day," she says.

Confined space bad for cats

Cats should not be put to work in interactive environments. Period.

Putting many cats in the same enclosed setting is detrimental to their mental well-being, let alone their physical health, say experts.

Says cat behaviourist Rebecca Ho, 29: "They are solitary by nature. Yes, they have adapted to our environment and are more tolerant to human contact and living with other cats. But the best form of interaction should be cat-initiated, which typically doesn't last long."

Ms Ho, who has 15 years of experience rescuing more than 1,000 street cats, says cats are naturally active at dawn and dusk, and spend 16 to 18 hours resting.

"The main attraction of cat cafes are obviously the cats. So this consideration isn't in place," she says.

NEEDS SPACE

Agreeing, veterinarian Frederic Chua of Allpets & Aqualife Clinic, 51, says: "Each cat needs its own space. It is, therefore, important to move them away from each other."

Cats also prefer familiarity.

"This explains why some pet cats go into hiding when people visit, and visiting new environments can be scary for them," adds Ms Ho.

On its part, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority, which licensed the four cat cafes here, says that it considers "the implications of animal welfare, animal health, public health and public safety in assessing animal exhibition licence applications".

There are caps on the number of animals, depending on the space of the business. Applicants need to show that the pets involved are properly housed, managed and handled in the premises; and they will not be stressed, it said.

It did not address how the situation at Cuddles Cat Cafe could have developed, but said it was not renewing the cafe's licence.

It did not address queries about whether the new-style cat therapy centres like the Cat Safari or Lion City Kitty were more appropriate.

The Cat Welfare Society, which is using space in Lion City Kitty to display some potential adoptee cats, and has allowed two cat cafes to advertise on its website, does not write off these businesses entirely - as long as they do thorough research, says its chief executive Joanne Ng.

She says the onus is on business owners to ensure the cats have their own territories and to mitigate stress. The owners should have a lengthy period to observe how their cats are interacting.

She also says the new "cat therapy" centres need observing as the concept is novel.

If it is true that the human observers are not allowed to approach the cats, "it does eliminate one source of stress, but other issues may arise".

Shorter hours and staff supervision could help manage these potential challenges, she said.

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