One of the downsides of being away from home a lot is not being able to get a pet. Let's face it: the poor animal has not done anything to be constantly cooped up in a cage and transported with cargo. As a consequence, I'm always on a lookout for ways to make fluffy friends while I cannot afford to have one of my own. Recently I came across a nice alternative - animal cafes. They operate as regulars cafes but also house cats, dogs, bunnies, hedgehogs, you name it, that can be watched and petted. Some of them cooperate with shelters, so you can adopt the animal(s) you have bonded with.

The concept originated in Taiwan in 1998 with the world's first cat café ("Cat Flower Garden" or 貓花園). This place became a popular tourist destination, but the idea truly caught on in Japan 6 years later, when Neko no Jikan in Osaka welcomed its first visitors. Due to the Japan's dense population and lack of land space, residents tend to live tiny flats that do not make appropriate homes for pets. This made animal cafes appealing to people who look for a purr-fect company and some fluffy joy. And indeed, if you live in Japan, your options are plentiful: the country is known for the goat cafe Sakuragaoka, hedgehogs of Harry Café, owls of Fukuro No Mise, and even penguins of The Penguin Bar in Tokyo, lizards and co, of Yokohama Reptile Café in Yokohama. If you can't decide on what animals you'd like to keep you company, head to Café Little Zoo in Tokyo: there you can enjoy a proper meal while playing with turtles, frogs, and eagles. Should you fancy a dinner served by monkeys (yes, you read that right), check out The Kayabukiya Tavern in Utsunomiya, a traditional sake-house where macaques Yacchan and Fukuchan bring the guests hot towels and deliver drink orders. And since it is almost Halloween, a trip to Japan's first black cat cafe Nekobiyaka Kuro Neko in Himeji is a must.

I am currently in Russia, not Japan, so my options are pretty limited. Last weekend I paid a visit to Moscow's first cat cafe Cats & People, a place that strives to "create an island of peace with a relaxing atmosphere for people who love cats". Founded in spring 2015, this is part coffee place, part foster home for cats, as well as a community space. It promotes "social responsibility and the need for proximity to nature" and works with cat shelters and rescues around town to help homeless animals find a loving home. The original space was big enough to host only 9 cats, but this summer the coffee bar moved house and is currently a home to 21 furry buddies. (Click on the pictures to enlarge)

Living at the cafe provides animals with a home-like environment where they can hang around at will, live normal kitty lives, interact with each other, and get showered with love and attention on a daily basis. Or just sleep all day long while getting stroked behind their ears. Since the cafe opened its doors, about one hundred cats have been approved for adoption to their new families.

Upon entering, you will be asked to clean your hands with disinfectant provided by one of the assistants. Cats & People follows a one-fee-covers-all pricing system, where you pay by minute (but never more than RUB800 altogether) and most drinks and some snacks are free. They also sell fun meowchandise from postcards to stuffed toys and run many events for children and adult cat enthusiast throughout the year. For example, just this week they've hosted an evening yoga session with cats, a lecture on how to prepare your child for a pet, a workshop on how to make clay cats, and, of course, a Halloween party.

When I was visiting, there was a guest who had brought a long-eared hedgehog named Andrew (see picture above). Whereas the cats did not appear to really care about their special visitor (most of them were asleep anyway), Andrew received plenty of attention from other human guests.

Have you been to any animal cafe? Share your experience in the comments below!

#places #russia #japan #moscow

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