When a Spanish friend told me that she’d visited the country’s first dedicated cat café in Madrid, I assumed she was pulling my paw, but not so. Gatoteca, which serves as the headquarters for the Society for the Rescue and Adoption of Cats (ABRIGA), operates an open door policy for cat lovers to come and commune with an assortment of friendly felines strewn decorously about the place.
For those seeking a regular coffee and kit kat or even a cat-nap, it’s the purr-fect venue as entry is timed in half hour sessions at a cost of €4 and guests can stay as long as they like. Refreshments – non alcoholic only – are free of charge in this self service café that opens from 10.30am until 10.30pm seven days a week with all monies raised spent on caring for abandoned pets. No doubt visitors who speak Cat-alan dialect will have an unfair advantage but most of the furry inmates will apparently make do with cuddles in place of stimulating conversation.
One of Gatoteca’s aims is to educate people about cats and to end associated negative stereotyping of them as aloof, mysterious and cold-hearted loners. For that reason it has inaugurated Festimiau, an annual cat festival which celebrates the role cats play in our lives. Until Sunday the café will be running workshops about how to handle and care for cats in the hope of setting the record straight, showing them to be loving, loyal and valued companions.
Of course literature has surely played a key role in the way cats are perceived in society often depicting them as sly and solitary creatures. As a child I revelled in T S Elliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats with the likes of Macavity the Mystery Cat and Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat. And what about Dr Seuss’s Cat in the Hat and the memorable book series about Orlando the Marmalade Cat? Lewis Carroll created the grinning Cheshire Cat while the Tom and Jerry cartoon series launched in 1940, cast Tom as the treacherous feline with needle sharp claws who tried in vain to catch the wily and Houdini-like Jerry the mouse. Even Andrew Lloyd Webber immortalised cats in his eponymous musical. Of course certain idioms do little to advance a cat’s PR image, what with ‘fat cats’ and expressions such as ‘cat got your tongue’ and ‘curiosity killed the cat’.
So all in all, it’s good news that Gatoteca might give an increasing number of Spaniards paws for thought by helping them to learn to love the abandoned furry felines hanging out at the café. In turn I hope that Madrid’s wily and whiskery street urchins milk the opportunity for all it’s worth.
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