My fear of cats began when I saw my childhood dog Maxi, a half German Shepard half Pit Bull mutt, shake the life out of a cat in the middle of my neighbor’s yard. I was seven at the time and have been traumatized ever since. Apparently I am not the only one. One study found that 22.2% of Americans are afraid of cats. There is even a name for it: ailurophobia.
Now, I know, given my experience, that it would seem I should be afraid of dogs, but I’m not. For whatever reason dogs hold a special place in my heart and I like to think I keep a respectable distance from cats. But after recently finding myself curled up in a ball at my neighborhood Bodega between the checkout counter and freezer all because a cat ran toward me, I knew I had to do something to combat my fear. So I decided to go to a cat café.
The first cat café, where customers sip cappuccinos and cavort with cats, sprouted up in Taiwan more than 20 years ago, and now there are hundreds around the world, including Catfe Lounge, the one I visited while home in Detroit over Spring Break. It is a non-profit organization that houses cats ready to be adopted after being in Foster Care and sits in a quaint little neighborhood in a small country like suburb.
The place sure does give off a cat-friendly vibe. The sign located in front has the outline of a cat’s body colored in black and trimmed in white. Each window, which allows a person walking by to look in and see what’s going on inside, is covered with a large black cat decal. Sitting in the windows is cat furniture and, on this day, a sleeping cat.
Sounds peaceful right? But not to me. Some might say let sleeping dogs lie. I’d say let sleeping cats sleep nowhere near me. I stood outside the building for 10 minutes trying to signal someone to come over to walk me in, even after sitting in my car for ten minutes to let my anxiety ebb.
I know this may sound strange but the fact I muscled up the courage to come to the Catfe spells progress.
Ursula, a volunteer at the shelter, came to the window and motioned for me to come inside. At that moment my fear of walking into a lion’s den of cats was greater than my fear of risking an F on the assignment in Professor Penenberg’s writing class. I decided to try it for five minutes.
After I uttered a silent prayer, I entered. Inside a bulletin board was filled with all types of cat activities and 11 house rules: “Don’t wake a sleeping cat,” “Most of our cats have claws- so beeeeee c a r e f u l,” and “Please treat cats as you would like to be treated-be gentle.” I didn’t plan on being here long enough to touch one, so none of these would apply to me. In the, though, these rules would end up applying to me along with two others— “visitors must use hand sanitizer upon entering the Catfe” and “ask our volunteers questions!”
It didn’t take long for Dew,, a female cat named after a soft drink, to saunter up, look at me with her big cat eyes then sashay away. I watched her walk away from me and admired her beauty. I had never thought of a cat as pretty, but Dew was coated with beautiful black shiny fur and a white strip under her neck that gave her character.
The volunteer Ursula, who greeted me at the window, said Dew liked me because she doesn’t do that often.
“That’s crazy because I am deathly afraid of cats,” I said, “which is why I stood outside the window for so long before coming in.”
“Well,” Ursula replied, “there are definitely cats in here.”
I told her I was trying to face my fear of cats.
Ursla said just the fact I came inside was a big step.
According to Ursla, The Catfe lounge housed 15 cats that day. Lucky for me, only four were up and walking around: Stanley, Penelope, Twinkie and Dew. Stanley, a brown and black striped feline, was more of a cuddler from what Eric, another volunteer at the lounge, told me. Penelope resembled a tiger also and Eric said she has trust issues with people, so she was more standoffish. Twinkie, who was all white with two tan patches on his body, was the most playful.
I didn’t play with any of the cats, though. Nor did I pet any, let alone hold one. I was too scared they’d jump on me if I stared too long, but also because as I took a seat next to Eric, my attention quickly went back to Dew as I observed her drinking water from the cat fountain. Something about Dew stood out to me.
Eric noticed my fixation and as we talked about how to ease my anxiety with cats he said “Dew does that to everyone.” Dew was a sassy cat that knows she’s cute. I told Eric that her confidence was what made me like her.
After an hour, as I wrapped up my visit, Eric told me if I ever want to know if I should be fearful of a cat to pay attention to the tail. If it is moving up and down the cat is probably agitated and leave it alone. He also told me cats are more afraid of you than you are of them. That’s why “Cats choose you.
While driving home from The Catfe Lounge, I called my dad, who is a cat lover, and asked him to see about adopting Dew.