I was sitting at a small cafe at the airport killing time before taking a flight to Japan. I was researching unusual things to do in Tokyo when I stumbled upon pet cafes. It was not the first time I had heard about animal cafes. They were everywhere in Seoul, which I had visited earlier that year, but I had never been to one.
The information you can find online about pet cafes is very standard and it depicts an establishment with super cute animals you can interact with. Therefore, I thought this time around I would take it upon myself to visit one and see if they lived up to the expectations. So, I came, I saw and I pondered. And this is my plain conclusion:
If you are an animal lover and care about their wellbeing you will be disappointed with the concept of animal cafes in general. Pet cafes are not ethical.
In this post, I will aim to explain to you based on my personal experience and research why I think it is not a good idea to visit a pet cafe and what you can do instead.
Pet cafes: expectation vs reality
What I thought a pet cafe was
When I first heard about pet cafes I envisioned myself sipping my hot green tea while cuddly cats approached me to get some yummy treats. The cat might jump on my lap for extra love and it would leave after a while to do other cat stuff. Did you have something similar in mind? Unfortunately, this is not what happens in most animal cafes.
What a pet café really is
Reality hit me when I went to Seoul for a long weekend. I saw many animal cafe signs and decided to have a look at one. When we got to the premises we saw through its double doors a room full of animal cages and a few tables. People were not sitting having a coffee, but walking around and looking at the animals in small cages. We did not go inside. I was in disbelief. Is this what a pet café looks like? Let’s go, I am not paying for this. I am NOT okay with this.
” Is this what a pet café looks like?myself when I saw a pet cafe for the first time
Let´s go, I am not paying for this.
I am NOT okay with this.”
Simply put, animal cafes are mini zoos where you pay a fee to see more or less exotic animals. If the animals on exhibit are pets, they usually roam around the area freely, like cats or dogs. However, there are many other animal cafes with wild animals and some of them will be in cages, like meerkats or hedgehogs, and some others will be chained up, like owls. Oh, and forget about your favourite hot beverage, all you get is a crappy coffee from a vending machine.
Why are pet cafes popular?
According to different internet sources, it all comes down to the human desire to have an animal companion but not being able to because
a) it costs too much money to have a pet,
b) not having enough time to properly take care of the pet,
c) not having enough room in your home to keep a pet.
Pet cafes provide an environment in which humans can interact with animals for a little while. There is research out there that says interacting with animals is good for our mental health. This is the pet effect, and initially, it sounds like a great idea. But then, businesses start to pop out and with them come good and bad business practices.
Not all pet cafes are created equal. There will always be people who will want to make money at any cost, including animal welfare. However, I believe in good people who will genuinely try to help out animals and treat them as they deserve. I know these people exist because I would totally do that. And I am sure that if you have read this far, you would, too.
Reasons not to visit a pet cafe (and one reason why you should)
Oftentimes animal cafes showcase wild animals in cages, chained up or in a reduced space where they cannot move freely. Some other times, animals like hedgehogs will be offered to be handled over and over by pet cafe visitors. Sometimes people will tease the animals with food (I saw it with a capybara and a little primate at an owl cafe in Tokyo) removing the food from the animal’s reach with they are about to get hold of it. All these actions put unnecessary stress on the animals and can have health effects in the long run.
Animal cafes indirectly support animal trade
Where there is a demand, there is a business willing to satisfy it. If people are willing to pay to have close encounters with animals, then dogs will continue to be bred in puppy mills and parrots will be taken out of their natural habitat to live in a room. Unknowingly, we may be supporting bad business practices or even illegal activities.
Animal cafes are not cafes
From an ethical point of view, this is the least important of reasons not to go to an animal cafe. It is still fair to note though that the title of cafe in this type of business is often misleading. It would be more accurate to call them mini zoos. But if you are immediately turned down by the quality of drinks served at an establishment, you will want to avoid pet cafes at all costs. Personally, I feel that calling a room with a vending machine a cafe is totally a scam.
Visit an animal cafe if…
…it is a place created to help animals and not a place that uses animals for human enjoyment. I researched humane pet cafes around Tokyo and read some inspiring stories. Some pet cafes adopt stray animals or help out NGOs to manage stray animals in the city. These are some questions to ask yourself before stepping inside a pet cafe:
- Has this cafe another purpose other than making money out of displaying animals? Maybe you find out that the cafe rescues animals or volunteers with an NGO to help abandoned pets.
- Where are these animals coming from? Are these animals being purchased, hunted in a nearby forest, imported from exotic regions, being rescued… In short, are these animals being ripped off their natural habitat or being bred for human leisure? Or are they rescued animals? Also, are these animals meant to be domestic?
- Are these animals free to move around or are they in cages? Animals need space to move around. You cannot have a raccoon that’s meant to be climbing trees inside a cage where it can barely move. If a facility cannot provide an animal with enough room to move, then they should not keep that animal.
- What happens with these animals out of business hours? Is somebody staying with them? What systems do they have in place to know that animals will be safe?
- What about the animal’s physical and mental health? Are these animals being mentally stimulated? Do they get the exercise they need, and if they do, how do they obtain it? How often do they see a vet? Do they get “rest time” or are they constantly being touched and disturbed by humans?
- Are there rules in place inside the business so that humans know how to interact with the animals?
Better options to animal cafes
If you are an animal lover and would like to do an animal related activity you need to research the country you intend to visit. No shortcut here. Below is a list of basic ideas to plant the seed and get you started.
Animal sanctuaries and parks
Some easy options that are safer and less stressful for animals are visiting open parks or hiking in the countryside where you can spot animals in their natural habitat. For example, in Japan, you can visit the deer park in Nara, where these cue animals are protected and well taken care of.
Volunteer at animal shelters or sanctuaries
Depending on the amount of time that you are going to spend in an area, you can find a place that actually needs help. Some animal shelters offer walks with their dogs to give them a chance to get out of the installations. Sanctuaries and animal rehabilitation centres will take care of animals that for one reason or another cannot go back to the wild. This may be temporary, for example, if they are recovering from an injury, or for life if the animal is permanently injured.
Let’s leave animals to do their thing. I am sure you will not ruin your trip if you do not see a caged animal or handle a hedgehog. Japan, big in animal cafes but also the ultimate quirky country to visit, has many cool options that don’t involve animal welfare being compromised.
Final thoughts on animal cafes
If someone who hasn’t read this post came and asked me if they should visit a pet cafe, my answer would be no. However, if you are willing to do your research and find an awesome ethical place whose main purpose is to take care of animals, by all means, let us know in the comments!