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Delhi welcomes its first cat café

Rihan Najib | Updated on October 19, 2019 Published on October 18, 2019

Catwalking: A tabby on one of his inspection rounds   -  CATSVILLE BOULEVARD

The Catsville Le Café in Hauz Khas village, run by former software consultant Minty Sodhi, makes room for the city’s felines

On weekends, there are very few reasons to go to New Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village, teeming as it is with drunk teenagers, bored hipsters and overpriced boutiques. But animal lovers finally have good reason to make the trek to the urban village with the opening of Delhi’s first cat café: Catsville Le Café.

The owner, former software consultant Minty Sodhi, seated on a gaily-coloured cushion upholstered specially with scratch-resistant fabric, looks tired but happy. She’s discussing event ideas with a small circle of friends — all of whom have three cats or more — who have gathered to celebrate last week’s launch with her. Around her, cats of various sizes and colours nose around inquisitively or watch the visitors from wall-perches with an air of supreme indifference. Two kittens are sleeping soundly inside a cosy enclosure, their arms around each other.

Minty Sodhi   -  CATSVILLE BOULEVARD

 

Opening day went smoothly enough, but Sodhi (29) is thrilled about something else. “I was able to convince a cat owner to switch to a meat diet from a dairy-based one,” she tells BLink. Contrary to popular wisdom, cats are lactose intolerant. A saucer of milk is the difference between a healthy cat and a bloated, diarrhoeic one. “It’s the small victories that make this venture worthwhile — a successful adoption, a change in perspective, being able to share advice and experience,” she says.

The group around her begins to discuss the finer aspects of the treatment of seizures in kittens, and the conversation steers into a lament against people who resist getting their pets spayed and neutered, resulting in scores of kittens and puppies being abandoned for want of homes. It’s evident that Catsville Le Café is as much a space for cuddles from friendly felines as it is an emotional support group for the city’s volunteer animal carers.

Cat out of the bag: The cafe currently houses seven cats, all of them adoption-ready   -  CATSVILLE BOULEVARD

Cat cafés are a popular phenomenon across the globe, with the first reported one, Cat Flower Garden, opening in Taipei, Taiwan, in 1998. Closer home, the Cat Café Studio in Versova, Mumbai, which opened in 2015, was India’s first feline-centric café. Though Delhi has pet-friendly cafes such as Puppychino in Shahpur Jat, the spaces are usually geared towards dogs. Territorial by nature, cats require a different approach. Besides, there is the problem of superstition.

“When I was fostering a pregnant cat, I was informed that if I kept the cat’s placenta, I’d become very rich,” Sodhi says. “Another popular superstition I’ve heard is that if you tie a black cat to the roof of your house during Diwali, it will dispel the evil eye.” The superstitions, compounded by the lack of information available on feline care, compelled her to host small awareness sessions in her home for people interested in adopting cats. After years of fostering abandoned animals, facilitating their adoptions as well as the low-cost spaying and neutering of feral cats, she began seriously thinking about the cat café around 2015. “I’d sit in the office and draw up floor plans for the café,” she says, adding that she quit her software job in July.

The hardest thing, she says, was convincing people that the venture had value. “Real estate agents laughed at me. Landlords refused to lease the space to me when they heard it would host cats,” she recalls.

Her persistence paid off. The Catsville Le Café is a three-floor establishment, which currently houses seven cats — “all of them spayed and neutered, vaccinated, dewormed and adoption-ready”, Sodhi says. Look for the sweet-natured and curious tabbies, Sunehri and Musafir, who were found in a garbage dump in Gurugram as day-old kittens. They were later abandoned by their adoptive family who left the city and didn’t want to take the cats along. Despite the stories of neglect and abuse, the cats are sociable and happy in human company.

The admission fee for the Meow Zone, where the cats are, is ₹300 per hour. The first floor is reserved for the cat boarding and daycare section, where the owners can safely leave their cats in case they need to leave town for a while. It costs ₹700 per day for boarding and ₹300-400 for daycare. A paraveterinary worker is available throughout to monitor the cats’ health. The floor above as well as the rooftop host the cafeteria since edibles are prohibited in the Meow Zone. The cafeteria is scheduled to open in a fortnight.

So far, Sodhi had to fend off people who wanted to dump unwanted animals in her café. Others came by to ask if there would be exotic cat breeds on display. On being told there wouldn’t be any, they abruptly left saying they saw enough cats on the roads anyway. She also had a few calls from women who took the phrase ‘kitty party’ literally and wanted a discounted package with food and beverages. Running the café looks like an uphill task but Sodhi is undaunted. “This is what I’ve always wanted to do, and I’m going to do it,” she says.

Published on October 18, 2019
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