Have you ever been to a cat café? When I visited one for the first time this year, I knew that it was the perfect place to overcome my fear. I have overcome many of my fears, but there was still one fear that still lingered like an ever persistent fly. This last fear that I had yet to get over was my fear of cats. I never had a traumatic incident with these animals, but a lack of exposure, proximity, and understanding all helped to contribute to my fear, in varying amounts. And before visiting a cat café, I never tried to get over my fear, because I always preferred the friendly nature of dogs over the ferociously independent cats. But that was all about to change when I finally stepped foot in a cat café. This is my story and how it helped me to overcome my fear.
But first, what is a cat café?
A cat café is a coffee shop with cats! The first cat café opened in,Taiwan in 1998, and the first one in the United States opened in 2014. Since then, it has attracted various people, from tourists to cat lovers.
It is just like your quintessential Starbucks except that the layout and furniture are designed to be cat friendly. You can drink your coffee, eat a cake, and study on your laptop while surrounded by cats. The cats are in an inner room, which you can enter to play and interact with these animals. You can also adopt a cat from these cafes and give it a loving home.
Clearly, there are many benefits to visiting a cat café. For the cats, the benefits are finding a new family, freeing up space at the local animal shelters, and saving the lives of cats. As for the humans, playing with cats can help to improve mood and overall emotional health. By providing emotional support, not to mention free hugs, it can uplift humans and give them a community like atmosphere.
Making the decision to go
A few months ago, I saw a posting on none other than Facebook about a “friend” who had visited one of these cat cafes. Admittedly, I was intrigued. I have heard of them before, but I have never been to one. I was a bit hesitant to go, not sure how it would turn out. But what really clinched the deal was knowing that my 5 year old daughter’s favorite animal is a cat and I knew that she would simply love to go to hang out with these animals. And I am thankful that her favorite animal wasn’t a tiger or a lion, because imagine trying to interact with one.
Once I made the decision to go, I no longer felt scared. I was a bit nervous and anxious about how it would go. I’ve never been much of a cat person, and I didn’t know if they would take to me the way that dogs have done in the past. But the important thing is that I was willing to go ahead and face my fear, just to give my daughter the opportunity to interact with these animals in real time.
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Facing my fear with a yummy treat
On that day, we arrived at the cat café. What immediately struck me was that it basically was a coffee shop, but with cats. Another thing that struck me was that it was pretty much devoid of people studying and drinking coffee, apart from the owners. From the first glance, it seemed that people were there primarily to interact with the cats, and not to study while watching cats, which is an option too.
The day that we arrived, I felt nervous. I was anxious about how it would go. I hoped that the cats would be friendly and receptive to loving embraces and interactive play. But I didn’t have much time to dwell on the fear that was buried deep within me. My daughter was super excited, hardly able to contain her joy at the fact that she would finally get a chance to see her favorite animals up close. So, I didn’t want to spoil her excitement by betraying a hint of worry or fear.
I let myself be distracted by ordering a rare treat, macarons, (Too bad they are so expensive.) and some lemonade (my favorite drink). Once I ordered and paid, we were then directed to the reason why we were there. We were led to the inner sanctum. Just before the owner opened the door, I glanced at the glass windows separating the coffee shop part from the cat area. I saw at least ten — probably twenty — cats. Some of the cats were sleeping, and some were playing. A few cats had let the other patrons pick them up. A few more were enjoying being petted and stroked behind the ears.
The (temporary) point of no return
Once we were in, one thing that I noticed above all was how comfortable the room was. I also noticed the cute furniture, soft rugs, and generally warm atmosphere. It was like a cross between a place that an elderly woman would live and a college dorm room. It was the right mix of the conservative and trendy. I felt easily at home in this space, and that is one of the reason why I didn’t feel very scared about being close to these animals.
Now I was at the point of no return. It was then that I was finally facing my fear. It would end with either a profound love of these animals, or cement the fear.
At first, I just stood and watched my daughter watch the cats. In the beginning, she too was hesitant, not sure how to interact with the animals. To help get her feet wet, I handed one of those string cat toys. First, I demonstrated how she should use it to encourage the cats to play. Soon, she was letting the bait at the end of the string toy move across the floor, until they pounced with an agility and gracefulness that is to be admired.
Soon, I picked up another one of those string cat toys and tried to tempt a cat with it. I smiled as I watched the cats scoot, slide, and even perform a triple twist in the air to catch the toy. I am not sure who was more entertained by this game — the cat, or me. Occasionally I would feel a cat or two come over and rub their bodies against my leg. Not long after, I was soon sitting on the floor with the cats. Slowly and hesitantly, I would reach over and let them sniff my hand. When they seemed fairly comfortable and at ease, I would with trembling fingers pet them behind their ears or on their backs.
After an hour
Patrons are only allowed to interact with the cats for an hour. So, after an hour, we were informed that it was time to go. When the hour was up, I looked back, almost sadly, even wanting to stay and keep interacting with them. My daughter wanted to stay longer. This experience just cemented her love for these animals, and made her realize that she wants a cat one day. I am not sure if I am ready for that, but I am confident I will be one day.
The more you face your fear, the easier that it gets. And the same was true here. Fear, no matter what it is, comes about because it is unfamiliar territory. That is why many people are scared of death, darkness, or dungeons. It is not the concept that we are scared of, but rather of the unknown when forced to look upon these entities. That is why we must be brave and face the fear by walking toward it.