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At pop-up cat cafe in N.Y., you can eat, drink alongside cats

Cat haters, read no further.

Cat lovers, rejoice. Your feline fantasy is coming true, in the form of a cat cafe. For four days starting Thursday, humans can hang out with friendly cats while eating, drinking and dangling feathery toys from fishing lines.

Purina One and the North Shore Animal League, the country's largest no-kill shelter, teamed to create the pop-up cafe. They hope New York soon will be home to permanent cat cafes, which are catching on in cities known for tight living spaces and no-pet apartment buildings.

London got its first one, Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium, in March. Japan has had them for years. It also has bunny cafes for those who prefer a puffy tail to a long, swishing one. KitTea is expected to open in San Francisco this summer, becoming this country's first full-time cat cafe.

The idea is simple: Visitors pay an hourly fee or a cover charge for the privilege of lounging with cats. Lady Dinah's charges about $5 per person for two hours; it's fully booked until June.

For a little extra, you can order something to eat or drink.

"It's a surprise no one has done this here before," said Matthew Carroll, the  off-site coordinator of the North Shore Animal League, as the Manhattan cafe -- which will be free for its limited run -- prepared for opening day.

All the cats will be up for adoption. 

Eight cats roamed the event space, on a busy corner along a street near Chinatown best known for light fixture stores. There were black cats, white cats and gray cats. There were striped cats, cats with thick fur and cats with short, shiny coats.

As pedestrians walked past the walls of windows, they stared inside at the cats.

The cats stared back.

"It's weird," said Oscar Suris, a tourist who lives in Sydney, Australia. Suris could not fathom why anyone would want to cuddle a strange cat or kick a little ball across the floor for it to chase.

"It's not your cat," he said. "Plus, I'm allergic."

His companion, Tahnee Nicholson, said she understood the appeal. "I'd do it if I lived in a building that did not let me have pets. It's nice to just sit and read or relax with a cat in your lap."

North Shore and Purina see this cat cafe as more than a lure for cat-hungry humans to get their feline fixes. The bigger goal is to get all of the cats adopted, to teach people about feline health, and to encourage more adoptions, said Niky Roberts of Purina One.

Even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals seemed to find the idea palatable, as long as the cats are happy.

"PETA thinks the cats may enjoy the experience and even acquire a forever home if their safety and well-being are priorities," said the group's president, Ingrid Newkirk. "They should also never be picked up and put down repeatedly as if they were merchandise." 

When the cafe opens, 16 cats will roam it. Already, one of them has a home. A cameraman filming the pre-opening preparations stepped up to adopt one Wednesday.

"What we want to do is create a conversation about cat health," Roberts said.

First, they had to talk about human health issues.

New York, like most major cities, has a health code that bans businesses serving food from hosting most animals, except for fish in tanks. But who wants to pet a fish -- and in a tank, at that?

The cat cafe got around that problem by separating the cat-roaming area from where light snacks, tea and coffee drinks, including -- what else -- catachinos were being served up by barista Nejla Renee.

Renee used a thin stick and topped each one with a milky layer in the shape of a cat's head, complete with whiskers.

From there, visitors could pass through a set of doors into a cavernous space that seemed perfectly suited to cats and people who like them.

Scratching posts and cat houses dotted the no-carpet floor. Cat toys and cats rolled on the ground. Cats climbed on the lounging chairs and loveseats and sniffed at the snacks and mugs sitting on small cafe tables. Some took cat naps. Some washed ther paws. 

The only thing missing was the smell of litter boxes, which were artfully concealed inside wooden structures with side entrances for the cats. Also missing: hisses and howls. Only easygoing cats who get along well with others could come to the cafe.

Outside, a large sign on one window read "Cat Cafe" and "Join us for coffee, conversation, and cats!"

Normally blase New Yorkers stopped short. Some began taking pictures of the cats. Others looked confused, curious or repelled. 

"I don't like cats," one man said before moving on. 

"I have two cats, but I think it's a nice idea," said Elisa Magni, who lives in Italy and was visiting New York. "Why not?"

The cats behind the glass ignored them both.

 

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