Though the first cat cafe opened in 1998 in Taiwan, the joy of petting a kitten while munching on a cookie and sipping coffee—with latte art poured in the shape of a cat—didn’t gain widespread popularity until the early 2000s. Then the trend took off, with Japan leading the cat-cafe boom: There over 50 cat-specific locations in Tokyo alone. The US has dozens of them, too, and it seems that everyone was trying to get in line at the next best cat cafe and maybe even adopt a new pal. The first dog cafe in the US opened in 2015, which seemed like a natural progression, followed by a few rabbit-and-coffee joints. However, soon after came the deluge of animal cafes highlighting creatures rarely seen inside, let alone kept as pets. From snakes and other reptiles to owls and sheep, the animal cafe craze continues.
Harry, the hedgehog cafe in Roppongi, Tokyo, gets its name from a play on the Japanese word for hedgehog, “harinezumi,” (literally “needle mouse”). The cafe looks like any other blonde wood and terrarium-heavy coffee shop except for the large glass pen in the center that houses many hedgehogs. Visitors can pay by the hour to play with any of the palm-sized creatures, and while there does not appear to be a big emphasis on human snacks, patrons are invited to buy a special serving of food—live worms!—for their spiky new friends. It comes with a pair of tweezers to hand-feed the animals.
No, it’s not the Hogwarts Owlery. It’s one of Tokyo’s owl cafes, where visitors can pet, photograph, and even buy owls (this cafe sells them for between $1,300 and $13,000). With assistance from staff at the cafe, visitors can also don thick gloves and perch owls on their arms. Though not quite as relaxing an experience as a cat cafe, it’s probably the safest way to get up close and personal with owls.
Thanks Nature Cafe is a sheep cafe located on the ground floor of a building in Seoul, South Korea. Sheep freely to roam about the enclosed outdoor space, and visitors are invited to interact safely with the animals as they choose. The venue also has an indoor cafe component with a full menu of food and drink, which the sheep also tentatively explore when fewer people are in the space.
This cafe in Yokohama, Japan, functions exactly as a normal cafe—other than the fact that patrons are surrounded by reptiles. Reptiles from turtles to bearded dragons explore the space, crawling through the plants and up the walls, sometimes dropping directly onto a table. Unlike many other animal cafes, the reptile cafe in Yokohama has no cover charge to enter, though patrons are required for buy at least one drink as they roam around the cafe.
Considering that most dog and cat cafes function as cage-free non-profit rescue and adoption centers for older and abandoned pets, the concept of getting to know one’s future furry companion in a cafe setting is right on. Of course, the best way to become comfortable with a new pet is to rub them with one hand and cup a coffee mug in the other, just as you would in your own home. While the non-domesticated animal cafes seem to be more like elevated petting zoos and curated spaces to take selfies with rare creatures (many of which don’t even serve coffee), hopefully some see these spaces as a way for comfortably learn more about animals. Perhaps if visiting humane animal cafes were a more typical social activity, folks would be more inclined to respect the environment. However, with the way things are going, it also feels like it’s only a matter of time until someone tries to open a unicorn cafe.