Friday, June 18, 2010

Would you like a kitty with your coffee, ma'am?

There is a lot of information floating around out there on the benefits of having pets. Research has shown that spending time with your beloved animal can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, decrease anxiety, increase endorphins, and generally just make you feel good. Even looking at pictures of happy animals can make you smile... just look at these and see what happens!

They're all kitties, I know - clearly I have a kitty addiction!

Many cities have programmes for the sick and the elderly, bringing animals to hospitals and nursing homes, mental health centers, and shelters, where they do everything from lift spirits to assist with physical therapy. National Geographic has a great article which says that a recent study on elderly nursing home patients now offers scientific support that brief weekly visits from man's best friend can have a positive therapeutic impact.  The article describes a golden retriever called Bo, owned by Marcia Sturm, who visits the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Elderly patients tend to have fewer relatives and visitors, and are particularly charmed by Bo. While they may be too sick for lengthy visits, some are so happy to see him that it brings them to tears. Sturm said, "You'll hear them say, 'He likes me. He's my friend.'"

The POOCH program at Cedars-Sinai is an informal one, started six years ago by licensed social worker Barbara Cowen. Cowen said that nurses have noticed that after a POOCH visit, patients sometimes have slower heart rates and they require less pain medication.

What is it about the dogs that creates such a powerful effect? It's a quality-of-life issue. It's about giving people access to what they like and enjoy.

But there are lots of people, especially in cities, who aren't able to have pets. I am very lucky to have found a rental home where the landlord is happy for me to have my two Devon Rex kitties, but many people who long to have pets simply can't, because of rental issues, apartment living, cost of keeping a pet, or even partners and children with allergies.

I was thinking about this today when I went to Hornsby Mall for some shopping. Whenever we go there, Craig and I go into the pet shop to have a look at the puppies and kittens. There are always such cute new baby animals there, and we spend ages tapping the glass windows and making gooey baby noises, along with a whole bunch of other shoppers of all ages. It seems that loads of people, from children to the elderly, love to stop off at the pet shop, and seem to get a happiness boost to their day just by looking at fluffy kittens and wrinkly puppies. Most people are not there to buy an animal, or even to stock up on any of the other products the pet shop sells. They are just there to enjoy a few minutes looking at baby animals, and everyone walks away with a smile on their face, including me.

So I thought that what is happening in Japan is pretty cool. There are many people in Japan who cannot have pets - times are tough with the recession, and as all of us city-dwellers know, there are a lot of lonely people living in emotionally empty urban spaces. According to Joanna and Paul of accidental epicurean: "In Tokyo, where flats are more like an American walk-in closet, residents are often not able to keep pets. In fact, the Tokyo lifestyle is such that one works until 9pm (or later), grabs a bite to eat and then often just heads home to sleep." But now, in Japan, Cat Cafes have been popping up all over the place, allowing people to relax with a cup of coffee while receiving the purr-fect, relaxing companionship of a kitty.

It seems that the Japanese view time spent with a cat as a respite from their hectic daily lives, and are prepared to pay a small fee for the privilege. Spending time with animals is relaxing, and especially with cats - they have a calming effect and easily pick up on emotion. Stroking a purring cat is incredibly soothing. And for about $5 to $10 an hour, you can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee and enjoy the affection of the cats when the mood suits them; just like any pet lover would if they could have cats in the comfort of their own homes. Being in the company of twenty or so cats can work wonders for de-stressing.

The article on accidental epicurean describes their visit to Neko Jalala, a Cat Cafe in Tokyo. "As I was sipping a ginger and lemon iced tea, I started to look around. Part kitty playground and part cafĂ©, there were cats on bookcases….in plush kitty beds…on stools….on upholstered cat trees and lining the walls. There was…on a footstool…the biggest Maine Coon I have ever seen and I seriously doubt I will ever see one bigger. He was the size of a dog and had a rather humourless look about him. An orange Persian with a squished up face slept and stretched and slept some more. A tabby Scottish Fold awoke from a nap and peered at us with one eye. And “Jack” a black cat, also known as the manager of the place, made his way over to us as if to welcome us to his humble operation."

I think it is totally awesome! After removing your shoes and washing your hands, you can relax or play with the cats and kittens while you have your drink. Prices are reasonable, and the rules are simple: no flash photos, no grabbing tails or waking sleeping kitties. The website bento gives a listing of various Cat Cafes in Tokyo.

These are some pics from the accidental epicurean article:

I would love to have something like this in Sydney! I don't know about other people, but I would definitely spend a few dollars to go there and play with kitties every week, even though I have two of my own at home. I wonder if the overly-extreme regulations of the anal Australian authorities would ever let anyone run a business like this? The only similar thing I could find was a dog-friendly cafe in Adelaide called Cafe De Bones, but this is just a normal cafe which lets you bring your dog along.

If I ever go on a visit to Tokyo, forget all the other touristy destinations - I will be spending my holiday money in Cat Cafes with friendly felines!

In the meantime, I am enjoying my days in my own little Cat Cafe at home with my ragamuffins...

Cleo and Rafi in their favourite sunlit chair