Purrfect: Cat cafes spring up around the world
Cat cafes – where visitors can enjoy coffee and cake while petting cats – have long been popular in Japan, and are now springing up across the globe. A number of feline-friendly cafes have opened in Europe over the last 18 months, and there are even plans to open one in the U.S.
Lauren Pears – the founder of London's first cat cafe, which is due to open before the end of the year – said demand was going to increase.
"As cities become more densely populated - and the option of having animals becomes more rare - of course cat cafes are going to become more popular," she told CNBC in an interview.
"Animals have a very special relationship with humans, and if you can't get that at home, people are going to look elsewhere."
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The popularity of cat cafes in Japan – where there are now around 40 – is widely believed to be a result of regulations banning pet ownership in many of the country's small apartments.
Ayako Yagi, who opened the cat cafe Nekobiyaka Kuroneko Cm in the city of Himeji in 2011, said she had a cat as a child and wanted others to be able to enjoy the animals too.
"Japan is quite a stressful society, so I guess people are looking for a healing place," she told CNBC via email. "I thought it would be nice to open a place where people could play with cats, even when they can't have them in the house."
The cafe is frequented by both regulars – "people who love cats" – and foreigners who are intrigued by the concept, she said.
Indeed, Japan's cat cafes have inspired a number of foreigners to open their own versions.
Last year, Europe's first cat cafe – Cafe Neko - opened in Vienna, Austria. It was swiftly followed by the Cat Cafe in Budapest, Hungary, France's Le Cafe des Chats, La Gatoteca in Spain, and Germany's Cafe Katzentempel.
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Meanwhile, the U.K.'s first cat cafe opened its doors in May this year, in the small town of Totnes, Devon.
"I read about Japan's cat cafes – where visitors can relax along with cats - and thought it was a great idea," founder Liz Dyas told CNBC in an interview. "There's no doubt there are therapeutic benefits about being around cats, and we wanted to give people the opportunity to share that."
The cafe has a number of strict rules, including not picking up the cats, and the fact that children aren't allowed, but these don't appear to have put people off.
"We're always busy and the range of visitors has surprised us. Everyone from pensioners to students from the local universities – they say they miss their pets back at home," Dyas added.
Opening the cafe wasn't an easy process, however, given the strict health and safety requirements. "We had to jump through all sort of hoops – there are just so many restrictions," she said.
America's 'cat cafe dream'
Indeed, similar issues look to have halted plans to open America's first cat cafe by the end of the year.
In February, Melissa Asiamah - who described herself as a "young entrepreneur" - created a Tumblr blog called Cat Cafe Dream. She wrote that she was "very serious and determined" about opening a cat cafe in Boston, Massachusetts by the end of 2013.
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But Asiamah posted on the blog an email purported to be from Brandi Stoffregen from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Stoffregen highlights that regulations state "live animals may not be allowed on the premises of a food establishment," although she does advise Asiamah to contact her authority about being granted an exception to this rule.
In June, Asiamah updated the cafe's Facebook page saying she was still in the process of "making this happen," but did not respond to contact from CNBC seeking comment.
She outlined plans to fund the café through a campaign on a crowdfunding website – which is how London's first cat cafe has come into being.
Crowdfunding for cats
In February, Pears raised over £100,000 ($160,000) on crowdfunding website Indiegogo for her cat cafe, called Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium after the kitten in Lewis Carroll's book "Alice in Wonderland."
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To entice potential contributors, she offered "perks" in return for contributions ranging from a £5 ($8) ticket to the cafe to a year-long cat sponsorship worth £500 ($800), 20 of which were claimed.
Pears said she was overwhelmed by the interest in the cafe, which will be located in Shoreditch, east London.
"We had one person who gave us £20,000 ($32,000) for no equity. That was a massive help because it boosted everyone's' interest in the cafe and led to many more contributions," she said.
"People are genuinely excited about having a cat cafe in their city - our crowdfunding is in itself proof of demand for cat cafes."