Faking it at the Cat Cafe
Inside the oven, the tiny kitten turned its blind, shuddering face towards me and mewed. "I think this is going to be ok." Mom didn't sound too sure.
All night she stayed up feeding the white kitten and his tabby brother baby formula from a medicine dropper. Before we went to bed, mom warned my sister and I that the kittens might not be there when we got up. We'd found them while playing in the pile of musty hay out in the barn. They were cold, barely moving, abandoned by their mother only a few days after birth. Even after warming them in the oven, they lay very still in my mother's lap. My sister and I carefully stroked the kittens' little heads and went upstairs to sleep.
In the morning, the kittens were squirming in a box filled with old dish towels and blanket scraps. After a few days of hand feeding the increasingly active kittens every few hours, mom decided it was safe to name them. I called the white kitten Snowball, and he lived with us for the next 21 years.
Affectionate, blind and deaf, and somehow still a competent hunter who loved to bring us presents, Snowball was my first pet. Over the years, many more joined the family. Goldfish, lizards, ponies, turtles, rats, snakes, rabbits, and the dozens of half-wild, feral cats that lived in the groves and outbuildings that dotted our small farm.
Some of them ended their long lives in a crying human's lap, others went to live with people who could take care of them better when I moved away from home. Eventually, I, who had always been surrounded by animals, whose first word was "kitty," ended up petless.
It would be irresponsible of me to have pets right now. I live with another person in a single room apartment. I'm busy and almost always out. I travel every three or four months. I have two very cute cactuses named Franky and Priscilla the Prickly, and that's about as far as my care taking responsibility extends.
I miss living with animals terribly.
November stressed me out. A preponderance of assignments in a second language, a double load of courses, and a welcome but time consuming influx of editing work launched me on a mission of exploration in the outer regions of my mental stamina.
One Sunday I woke up with half a Finnish essay to write and a burning sensation behind my left eye, symptoms demanding a treatment more rigorous than coffee. So I got on the next train to Tampere.
Finland's first cat cafe popped up in Tampere this October. Kissakahvila Purnauskis is home to four cats and four lanky, playful cats in training. The demand for coffee and fluffy companionship appears to be huge. I arrived ten minutes before opening and joined a crowd. We steamed up the shop's cold windows with our breaths as we tried to spot the cats.
The cafe opened their doors early. As I waited to pay the five euro entrance fee, a low, assertive meow sounded right next to my ear. A large, black manx stared at me from an eye-level shelf. The cat made unblinking eye contact and meowed again, letting me know whose house I was in.
"Hi," I replied.
The cat stared, a perfectly round, perfectly still ball of self-possession. I knew I'd come to the right place.
Purnauskis is a cat paradise. Guests can sit in plush easy chairs or at tables while cats leap from ledge, to shelf, to tree branch above them. A rambling piece of cat furniture fills one corner. There's even an aquarium embedded down in the wall near the cats' level.
I had worried I would stick out, coming to the cafe alone. It would be strange to read, or work on my computer as in a regular cafe. Fortunately, all kinds of people visit. There were several families with small kids, couples, a group of friends, and a few lone people like me. Chatter, delighted laughter, and children's pleased squeals filled the large room. At capacity, which the cafe reached a few minutes after opening, about 24 people fit into the space.
The intense demand is problematic. This group of cat lovers in their element created a friendly, laid back atmosphere, but when I wanted to play with a cat rather than just stroke a passing back, I had to compete with other customers. The cats' happiness and wellbeing take priority here, rightly so. There are plenty of places where cats can disappear, and more where they can watch humans from far out of reach. Most of the adult cats chose this option. The not-quite-kittens enjoyed playing. They went nuts with the human kids, running in circles around the cafe, leaping on each other, and attacking the dozens of toys.
I sipped a bottomless coffee from a wrought teacup and enjoyed the show. Occasionally I petted a passing cat or got down on the easy-clean carpet to play with a kitten when one appeared unoccupied with other people. But without chasing cats around and shouldering in on other people's cat time, this did not happen often.
Spending time in a room full of kitties made me happy, but it's a far cry from pretending you have a pet for an hour. As I watched a little girl dangle a stuffed mouse above a leaping kitten, I realized I had been hoping to recapture something of that.
Understanding better what to expect, I strongly recommend a trip to Kissakahvila Purnauskis. If you're coming from outside Tampere, it's a good idea to make a reservation. The cafe's facebook page updates weekly opening hours and availability of space. It's also full of adorable cat pictures.
One day I'll be able to live with animals again. Before then I may find myself making another trip to Tampere.