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Cat-ching on: UK's first feline-friendly cafe set to open

This article originally appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald.

LONDON: Abandoned cats may soon be sharing cafe space with Londoners starved of feline affection if an Australian woman has her way.

Lauren Pears, a video game executive originally from Brisbane, plans to open Britain's first cat cafe in April after raising more than £109,000 ($161,570) through a crowdfunding website.

Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium, modelled on Tokyo's popular cat cafes, is set to open in trendy Old Street, east London.

Miss Pears, 30, is already advertising for "professional cats" (staff) and says she is being bombarded with requests to start up a second coffee house in Brighton or Edinburgh.

She has approached an animal home about taking in between 10-15 "quite sociable" cats and also fostering felines at the cafe, which will be open six days a week, 12 hours a day and seat up to 50 people.

Lady Dinah's will offer customers the chance to say hello to a cat while sipping a coffee and eating vegetarian and vegan food for $7.60 an hour.

"A cat cafe has the potential to create social situations that you wouldn't otherwise get," Miss Pears said. "You could have two strangers who'll talk to each other in a cafe setting because there's a cat in-between them. It's disarming."

The tradition of cat cafes comes from Japan, where there are almost 40 established cafes, popular with apartment dwellers who are not allowed, or do not have the room, to keep a cat and with foreign tourists.

Cafes have also opened in Hong Kong, Vienna, Taiwan, Seoul, St Petersburg and in Sudbury, Canada. A few rabbit cafes have also sprung up in Japan and there is a crowdfunding campaign to to raise money to set up a sausage dog cafe in Brixton, south London. Patrons will be allowed to walk the dogs.

Miss Pears said there had been a "really, really positive" response to her cafe plans, particularly from women aged between 20-40. Some people have donated money in honour of a dead pet. But there has been criticism of her plans from the Celia Hammond Animal Trust and some members of the public have posed a "few weird questions".

"There are some comments like, 'I don't want to get cat piss in my coffee', and I'm, like, 'Really, do you think that's going to happen?'" said Miss Pears, who moved to London three years ago.

The British Food Standards Agency allows animals in a cafe, but ''reasonable precaution'' must be taken and be demonstrable to prevent domestic animals from accessing food preparation areas.

Lady Dinah's, named after Alice's cat in Alice in Wonderland, will offer lots of "high rest" places for the cats. Litter trays will be in a separate room.

Miss Pears will run a volunteer night watch program to make sure the cats are cared for. And, while she wants the cats to have a "life of love and luxury", Miss Pears said patrons would be encouraged not to pick them up.


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