photos: Michelle Furbacher is opening Vancouver's first cat cafe for cats (and humans) this spring. Photo: Carlos Tello.

On the prowl for Vancouver's first Catfé

It's poised to open this spring, but where will it land?

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Big ideas often arrive when we least expect them. The ancient Greek physicist Archimedes, 
for example, discovered how to measure the volume of irregular objects while taking a bath.

Vancouver graphic designer Michelle Furbacher’s big idea didn’t strike in the bathtub. She was online when she stumbled upon
 a YouTube video of a cat café in Japan, where coffee shop patrons socialize with feline friends while sipping cappuccinos. A lover of both cats and coffee, Furbacher
was inspired by the twinning of the two worlds in the video. She set to work investigating how she could make it happen closer to home.

“I wanted to be able to go to a cat café,” she says. “But no one else seemed to be doing it. So, I just declared that I was going to do it.”

Furbacher has loved cats for
 almost as long as she can remember. Feline companions have featured strongly in her life ever since her parents brought one home when she was a child. But when her last cat passed away, she felt she was not emotionally ready to care for another one. So she started a cat-sitting business to enjoy the companionship of cats without having to commit to one full-time.

And that led to the realization 
that a cat café would provide a great service for Vancouver residents like her. There are hundreds of people who love animals but aren’t ready to own pets, or can’t have one in their homes. Many local rental apartment buildings, for example, don’t allow pets.

Furbacher plans to call her cat café the “Catfé.” She envisions it as an extension of a living room —a place so cozy that costumers will feel like they haven’t left their own homes. Catfé will feature eight to 10 cats for companionship. It will also offer Wi-Fi and a small library.

“I am trying to create a different, unique, social experience for Vancouverites,” Furbacher explains. “It’s like a casual space where you could go and hang out with cats.”

Furbacher also wants to raise awareness of all the homeless cats that roam
around the Lower Mainland. In 2013,
the Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association (VOKRA) saved over 1,800 cats from being euthanized. And the CBC reported last August that there are 20,000 homeless cats in Surrey alone.

Catfé will work in association with VOKRA, which will provide the café with cats. Starting a new business from the
ground up has been an enormous learning experience for Furbacher, who has been working on the Catfé concept for just a year. Going into it, she didn’t precisely know how much work that would entail, she confesses. Complex regulations around mixing food and animals have forced her to tweak the original idea more than once.

Now, the plans are solid, and the last big obstacle before opening the doors is securing a Catfé location. When a location is confirmed and Catfé opens, she will quit her current job to become the café’s administrator.

“I’ve been at my [current] job for almost nine years, so I’m kind of ready to move on and do something different,” Furbacher says.
Despite her professional motivations, Furbacher’s main objective with Catfé is to be of service to her community, she says.
“I know there’s a large community of people who are really interested in cats. I want to do it for them.”

Catfé is expected to open its doors— location still pending—late this spring.

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