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Animal lovers ignorant of suffering at cat cafes

As a cat behaviourist, I am concerned about the well-being of cats in cat cafes and the ethics behind such businesses. (“AVA investigates allegations of animal deaths at cat cafe”; Dec 16)

Rebecca Ho

As a cat behaviourist, I am concerned about the well-being of cats in cat cafes and the ethics behind such businesses. (“AVA investigates allegations of animal deaths at cat cafe”; Dec 16)

Cats are naturally active during dawn and dusk, and spend 16 to 18 hours resting. In a cat cafe, they are required to be “on duty” throughout the day.

Despite having rules to not disturb sleeping cats, the movement of customers, conversations and laughter are not conducive for rest.

In Singapore, pet cats must share an average common space of 90sqm. In a cat cafe, the living area is reduced and cat density increased.

In a healthy feline home environment, high perches and quiet places are needed. As cats are the main attractions of such cafes, there are not enough places they can retreat to when they want peace.

Behavioural issues result from stress from poor living environments, forced human-cat interaction and unhappy cat-cat interaction.

Subtle signs of stress are comfort eating, refusal to play, inactivity or pretend-sleep to avoid conflict with other cats. These are often overlooked and the cats are left suffering in silence.

Most cases are referred to me due to disagreement between cats within the household. These are often households with a low cat density, where owners can give ample attention to individual cats to notice problems and seek help.

During the four to five years I was active in cat rescue work, I witnessed cats living in fear in the homes of cat hoarders and shelters.

Their guardians disguise this with the excuses that the cats are provided with food, shelter and a pinch of love. This is usually said due to ignorance, rather than intended harm.

The costs of operating a brick-and-mortar business here and of pet ownership are high. Basic expenses for cats are relatively affordable. The real cost is veterinary expenses. As cats get older, medical problems develop and these expenses increase.

Will the cafe owners foot the bill, which can amount to thousands of dollars, or just euthanise cats with treatable illnesses? In the event the cafe is wound up, what will happen to the cats?

Adoption has never been easy. The process is long and tedious, with interviews, home visits, follow-ups, et cetera. After months or even years, there would be adopters with various excuses to return the cats — a reality that few people know.

For their compassion, I thank cafe owners who have adopted unwanted cats for their business. To buy pedigree cats and add to the burden of overpopulation, though, is unethical.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority should stop issuing licences for new cat cafes. Commercialisation of cats is detrimental to their welfare.

Animal lovers fight to end cruelty in entertainment trades such as chimpanzee photography and to free the dolphins in Singapore, so it is ironic that cat lovers are embracing cat cafes.

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