Cafes are nice relaxing places. Cats are cute cuddly animals. Sooner or later – with hindsight it seems almost inevitable – an entrepreneur would come along, put the two together and launch a “cat cafe” boom. It happened about eight years ago, and now there are some 200 cat cafes nationwide, most of them doing a brisk business premised on the joys – innocent joys, you’d think – of interacting with cats over coffee.
Actually not so innocent, Spa! (May 31) finds. There is a dark side to the business which is not, in fact, limited to cats or cafes. The disposal each year of roughly 100,000 cats and dogs suggests too many pets being bred and sold to too many people with too little knowledge of what’s involved in raising a pet. Nor are cats the only cafe mascots – there are rabbit cafes, reptile cafes, monkey cafes, owl cafes and so on. More on them in a moment.
In April, Spa! reports, a Tokyo cafe called Nekonote was ordered by municipal authorities to shut down. Complaints against it by outraged customers included the fact that 62 cats were apparently confined in a room the size of six tatami mats. Subsequent investigation showed sanitation measures were perfunctory and infectious disease rampant.
This would seem to be an extreme case, but others less shocking are bad enough. “Somebody I know,” says Yoko Yamamoto, director of the NPO Tokyo Cat Guardian, “was operating a cat cafe and did nothing to check the spread of infectious disease. Then it began turning into a biohazard, and the person abruptly closed the business.”
Japan’s susceptibility to “booms” is well known. Each one generates a rush to cash in, and cost-cutting seems inseparable from the profit motive. Cats treated with a minimum of attention to their wellbeing suffer but don’t complain, and are therefore easily overlooked by proprietors whose focus is elsewhere.
As at enterprises with human staff, overwork is a major problem. Cats, it was generally believed until regulations were somewhat tightened in April, are “nocturnal” animals – meaning it’s okay to keep them up until late at night. They’re in fact not nocturnal; they’re most active in the early morning and early evening; the revised industry standards call for taking them off duty at 8 p.m. instead of, as formerly, 10.
As an example of how the helpless can be victimized by factors utterly beyond their control and comprehension, consider this, Spa! says: pet cafe licensing, originally handled by the environment ministry, devolved three years ago to local governments, with a corresponding relaxation of standards.
As for cafes hosting other animals, oddly enough, Spa! hears from a lawyer, legal working time limits apply as of now only to dogs and cats, leaving owls, rabbits, monkeys and so on liable to unrestricted exploitation. Rabbits, for example, get terribly stressed when fondled without respite. Also, they need fresh air – but one cafe proprietor who tried walking the rabbits on leashes as though they were dogs discovered that that didn’t quite do the trick.
Then there’s the 24-hour monkey bar. Its location in a part of town known for nightlife means the club hostesses pour in after work, eager to lavish affection on the little squirrel monkeys and perhaps not as mindful as they should be that squirrel monkeys, like other living things, get tired and need rest. The laws don’t protect them either.© Japan Today