Friday, February 19, 2010

Cat cafés and entrées, and folk medicine

Cats – “regular” ones, as in companion animals, and “big cats,” as in tigers, have been in the news this year. And when that happens, you know it’s probably not good news. As a matter of fact, two-thirds of it is bad, not what some of us (including cats!) would wish for, while one-third is just plain heartwarming.

Tigers are being hurried toward extinction by the Chinese, who believe in the efficacy of various tiger parts. China has tiger farms that are sometimes billed as a conservation effort, when in reality they are tiger-raising operations meant to supply the parts and tiger pelts some humans still avidly seek. Reportedly, the government is not seriously clamping down on this trade, despite saying the right things. All this, ironically, in the Year of the Tiger.

It’s estimated that 3,200 tigers still roam the world’s forests (which are also disappearing); the estimated number of wild tigers left in China is 20. Which is why India (with an estimated 1,400 tigers) has stepped in, supplying China. The numbers tell the story – which appeared in the NYTimes last month; the link follows.

Also from China come reports of a movement to stop the old tradition of eating cats and dogs. Those objecting to this practice argue that China should adopt the ways of the West, where these two animals are made into coddled pets, not eaten. One columnist correctly pointed out the great illogic of our objecting to the Chinese eating cats and dogs while we consume cows, pigs, chickens, fish, you name it.

In Japan, where landlords reportedly often forbid pets, “cat cafes” have become the in places to go for young Japanese renters who want to cuddle up to kitties. As with cafes in general, the cat cafes – reportedly 79 of them in Japan -- are places where people can meet, talk and drink coffee or tea -- while also paying by the hour to love up the cats-of-all-varieties, their chief reason for being there.

By now most people must know about the therapeutic benefits for people of having companion animals in their lives, and it’s sad to think of having to be without a wanted pet because of landlord rules. We just hope the cats are healthy and well cared for beyond business hours.

Idea: move the cats now miserably maintained in shelters to “cat cafes” or their equivalents. Invite people without pets spend time with them in a pleasant setting, and the resulting socialization could be a two-way benefit.

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