*WARNING: MANY CAT PUNS BELOW*
Vancouver cat and coffee shop lovers can rest easy knowing that as of Monday December 14, 2015, our city opened its first cat cafe. With a simple crowd-funding page, entrepreneur Michelle Furbacher gained enough public support to create her dream space, Catfé. The concept for the cat cafe is quite simple; it’s a place where you can enjoy a cup of coffee while a snuggly feline sits on your lap. It is a place that provides a service for those who are unable to keep pets of their own, or who are looking for a unique social experience. And if you fall in love with your snuggle buddy, you can apply to adopt them. I had a chance to sit down with cat enthusiast and Catfé owner Michelle to discuss her new pawject.
Farah Tozy: Tell meow a bit about yourself.
Michelle Furbacher: I've been a cat lover my whole life, from the magical moment in the first grade when I met my family's new kitten, through my fastidious collection of Garfield books and the "Punk Cats" poster that adorned my pre-teen bedroom wall. (FYI I would never condone dressing kittens in leather jackets and ripped jeans with guitars now, but my 9-year-old self thought it was the coolest thing ever.) But only after volunteering for the West Vancouver SPCA and the North Vancouver Animal Welfare Shelter did I really start to understand the complexities of cat behaviour. After my own cat, Peanut, passed away two years ago, I started a live-in cat-sitting business so that I could spend quality time with kitties again. Business was good—so good that I barely slept at my own home last year. Through cat sitting, I got to know a lot of different cats with different kinds of personalities, and learned even more about the feline mentality.
I want to provide others with the same experience I was looking for through cat sitting—a space that offers feline companionship for those who don’t have a cat of their own, or just really like hanging out with kitties. At the same time, I have a good understanding of what cats need, and their welfare is of utmost importance to me. I will work hard to create a safe, happy space that will feel like home to the cats until they find their forever home.
FT: Would you describe yourself as a cat enthusiast?
MF: Yes definitely! Though I wouldn’t think of myself as a crazy cat lady. I really appreciate cats and think of them as little people, with their own personalities. I wouldn’t say I love every cat, because they’re all so different. They’re little furry people to me.
FT: Why did you decide to work towards opening a cat cafe?
MF: At first it was because it was a place I really wanted to go to, so I was waiting around for someone to announce they were opening one. That wasn’t happening. I’ve heard that the ones in Japan are hourly rates for you to hang out with cats, whereas the European ones are cafés with cats hanging out; you can stay as long as you want. I actually visited a couple of cat cafes in Europe and I believe that vibe is more fitting for Vancouver.
FT: How do you envision Catfé being a part of the social furrabric of Vancouver?
MF: Because a high percentage of rentals in Vancouver don't allow pets, Catfé will be like a home away from home for cat lovers in need of some quality cat time (and) a get-away for cat lovers who have allergic partners, or for tourists and travellers who miss their cats at home or students who aren’t able to keep pets of their own. We want the kitty lounge to feel like an extension of your living room, with board games, WiFi, and a library of books. We’ll host art shows for feline-inclined artists, movie nights, readings and more. We are building Catfé for the community—a new space for animal lovers looking for a unique social experience. A place to learn about cats. A new way to facilitate adoptions. A place to spark discussion about the feline homelessness problem in the Lower Mainland, and where cat owners can learn about cat behaviour and proper cat care.
Additionally, there are therapeutic, stress-relieving benefits to spending time in the company of four-legged creatures. A purring kitty in your lap can beneficial in so many ways—(they can) lower blood pressure, improve motivation, decrease anxiety, ease loneliness and ward off depression. Some quality kitty time can improve mental health and increase compassion towards animals, and in turn, towards all creatures. Basically, Catfé will result in peace on earth!
FT: Sounds very pawsitive! What can a visitor to Catfé expect?
MF: As per discussions with Vancouver Coastal Health, we need to have food service completely separate from our kitties, and so Catfé will be almost like two businesses side by side: a cafe and retail boutique for cat lovers, and a lounge space featuring 8 to 12 resident foster cats. Customers can order food and drink from our take-out menu, and bring it with them into the kitty lounge. Access to the cat area will be free with purchase from the cafe. To make the spaces more interactive, we plan to build some window perches connecting the two spaces. I want to have a rotating artist showing their work, maybe make space every few months to put up a new cat-related artist.
FT: Unfurtunately, I don’t own a cat. What kind of atmeowosphere should I expect?
MF: Some people think cats are antisocial, but there are as many different personality types of cats as there are of people. We’ll choose cats with more outgoing and social personalities for Catfé. Being out of a cage and free to roam about (the space will be equipped with ‘cats only’ retreat areas for when cats don’t feel like basking in attention and adoration) will also allow their personalities to flourish.
We will have a cat carer on hand at all times to answer questions about cat behaviour and ensure harmony between human and cat folk. 'Dog people' may find themselves crossing over to the other side after a little feline companionship.
Catfé is located on the second floor of International Village Mall (southwest corner, overlooking Keefer and Abbott), and is open daily from 11 am to 9 pm, except for Thursdays, when they close to bring in new cats from the BC SPCA. For more information, or to make a reservation, visit Catfe's website.