Inside Dubai's only cat cafe
Ailuromania, Dubai's only cat cafe, witnessed an increase in adoption requests during the pandemic. Sisters and co-founders Iman and Allaa Ahmed Farid talk about why people are turning to pets during this time
The cats drape themselves over the furniture in Ailuromania Cat Cafe, licking their paws while perched on the high beams, or napping in their cat-sized beds. Only 10 customers are allowed at a time to adhere to social distancing rules. The cats seem unbothered by the visitors, gracefully accepting humans into their presence and occasionally accepting a pat or a head-scratch. That is, until a customer opens a packet of cat treats. The change in behaviour is immediate. The cats pool around the open packet, so fluid and quick it feels as though they have teleported. One particularly feisty feline latches onto the treat wrapper. The others sit around, unmoving except for the occasional flick of a tail. There are no fights. When it becomes obvious that the first cat isn't going to let go, some of the others in the periphery (perhaps older and wiser ones) retreat to resume their previous activity.
All of Ailuromania's cats have been rescued. "Our cats come from very different households and backgrounds - some are young, some are seniors, some are middle-aged," says Allaa Ahmed Farid, co-founder of the cafe. Her sister and business partner Iman has loved animals ever since she was a young girl. Hearing about cat cafes in other parts of the world from her friend, Iman realised her calling. "I knew that was for me and [it] would enable me to foster even more cats and give them a place to call home, until they find their forever home." The cats are rescued off the street, from shelters, or from people who cannot look after them anymore.
Iman and Allaa Ahmed Farid
CATS AND ADOPTION - BEFORE AND AFTER THE LOCKDOWN
Ailuromania is not immune to the effects of Covid-19. But this cafe had a unique problem to deal with when faced with a lack of customers. Iman explains that, in a way, they depend on the customers to take care of the cats. They provide the attention the cats have come to expect. When the cafe closed in March during the lockdown, the staff all took turns sleeping in store with the cats. "By the third month, the cats would fight on who gets to cuddle," says Iman. The reopening of the cafe in the beginning of July saw the regulars return and the cats much happier.
Two of them were even adopted in July. The number of adoption requests coming into the cafe has increased since March, but so have the number of pets to be rescued. There are nine cats that Iman is monitoring, which will join the cafe when they are ready. According to Iman, post the lockdown, people are more affectionate towards the cats and want to spend more time with them. "Many people don't know this, but cats not only have a positive effect on your mental health, but also on your physical health," explains Allaa. "Studies have confirmed that cats help reduce blood pressure and stress with their purring. So not only are they adorable, they also help keep you healthy!"
That may explain the increased affection towards cats but, although this is good, Iman is a tad wary of adoption requests that come her way these days. "I feel, with the lockdown, people started realising that having a pet would help them cope; however, this can get tricky. We like to make sure [the adoption] is for the right reasons." Iman is extra strict with the vetting process nowadays, to ensure that people will not abandon the cats after the pandemic is over. "We ask plenty of questions, we meet the potential adopters beforehand and make sure they are suitable," she explains. "The process can take anywhere between a week to a month. We make sure they are willing to make a lifetime commitment."
THE FUTURE IS FELINE
Ailuromania used to host activities before the lockdown, including Cat Yoga, a yoga class in the company of the cats, and Saturday Caturday, games organised for the customers and cats. Although they have not resumed these activities, they hope to do so in the near future if things get better with Covid-19.
Until then, the cafe remains popular among cat lovers, whose numbers are growing everyday. As staff member Anna states succinctly but wisely, "Cats are just cats."