Just under 20 years ago, a small experimental café was opened in Taipei, where visitors could come by after a day’s work to interact with a dozen friendly felines.
The Cat Flower Garden quickly became a star national venue and international tourist attraction, luring in locals due to the strict pet ban in rented flats in Taiwan, and visitors due to its novelty. Within half a decade, the new concept took Japan over by storm, spreading all over Asia before making its way into Europe as well as the US. As of May 2017, this wave has reached Stirling.
Cats Meow Kittea Café, located in a courtyard on Corn Exchange road just up The Back Walk, is the town’s first cat café. The lovely proprietor, Gayle Ledger, and her nine fluffs, sat down with me for a short chat before the venue’s imminent opening.
Gayle and her daughter Amy, a Stirling University student, have just recently relocated the cats to their new home. This weekend will be the first taster session for friends and family to get the cats adjusted to the increasing presence of strangers, and to work out a comfortable timetable. Following that, the café will become fully operational later this month.
The sessions will be one hour each, with a maximum of 12 people per session, and the bookings will be made online.
Gayle has big plans for the café. She hopes that it will be a comfortable and comforting space for community interaction, open for all: the elderly from care homes, students, veterans, individuals with disabilities and those suffering from mental health issues.
I tell her a bit about Brig‘s Mental Health May initiative, and ask for her views regarding a cat’s influence on one’s mental well-being.
She tells me of her personal experiences as well as the research she has come across, which I am also aware of – systematic interaction with cats has been known to help those struggling with depression, ADHD, anxiety, PTSD and autism.
The UK Mental Health Foundation advocates cats as the best companions, who also help combat stress. Petting a cat releases oxytocin, the hormone related to anxiety relief, which subsequently lowers blood pressure. This makes cat cafés an altogether therapeutic environment.
Above all, Gayle tells me, is the fact that cats don’t judge. No matter who you are, what face you put on for studies, work, or other people, whatever facade you have going on – cats don’t care. You can come here and unburden yourself of any weight or act, and simply be yourself.
Alternatively, the setting can be a great distraction from the hassle of the everyday, or any heavy conversation. Therefore, she hopes that the cats and the accepting space will be beneficial to all individuals, becoming an approachable venue for community interaction and engagement.
And indeed, sitting down in the spacious lounge/play zone area of the café, surrounded by purrs and running streaks of fur, it’s very difficult to feel anything but positive.
Upon your arrival, you’ll be assaulted by a proverbially curious pack of panthers and tigers, who will dutifully examine you. All the cats are rescue cats, who have become accustomed to each other and are now a close-knit unit. The nine’s names are easy to remember, but not as easy to match to their owners: Itsy and Bitsy, Teenie and Weenie, Huey, Louie, Dewey, Daisy and Maisy. The cats’ collar colours will help you get the hang of it.
The younger litter are in their most active age, circa five months, so there’s never a dull moment. You’ll be given half a pack of treats, at which point all the paws will flock to you, like pigeons in a Venetian piazza, climbing your legs and demanding attention. There’s also a multitude of toys, from wands to baubles, you can pick up to engage the cats with.
In the dining area next door, Gayle can serve up some filter coffee, various flavoured teas, and cake (which will quickly be spotted by whiskers). The kittens will follow you there, playing with your shoelaces or bag straps, providing constant distraction and entertainment.
It is, above all, an easy-going space. To quote Gayle, it’s reminiscent of your ‘Aunt Mary’s house’ where you’re not afraid to drop or misplace something, can take your shoes off and put your feet up with a warming cup and a purring blanket, and just chill. This laid-back attitude, as well as the positive energy of the cat family, makes for a thoroughly relaxing environment, which we all occasionally need some of.
So keep a close eye on the cafe’s website, as Gayle will start unlocking slots and taking bookings any day now; also check out the Facebook page for updates. The price per session is £8.50, and to find the tucked-in cafe, look for the bright blue flag sitting on The Back Walk road.