A haven for humans craving furry feline company, a cat cafe in Dubai also doubles as an adoption centre for some of the United Arab Emirates' many strays. The Ailuromania Cat Cafe, which was the Middle East's first cat cafe when it opened in 2015, hopes the relaxing properties of its 25 rescue and shelter cats will help find them their forever homes.
"Anyone who is stressed just has to find a cat. All your stress will go away," says Omnia Fareed, whose two cat-loving sisters Allaa and Iman started the cafe after university, taking inspiration from similar establishments in Korea and London.
The cafe's original residents were strays taken in by the family over the years. Now Ailuromania hosts cats from a government-run animal shelter in the neighbouring emirate of Ras al Khaimah, hoping to increase adoptions.
The cafe's name Ailuromania is a play on the Greek-derived English word for a lover of cats: ailurophile. The cafe has regular customers who come seeking relaxation from the stresses of life, or because they cannot keep a cat at home.
"They are so cute, they love playing," says visitor Shaasthra. She said she appreciates how the cafe looks after the cats' welfare by advising people not to hold them or wake them up. Another regular visitor, a street cat who would stare in through the window, was also invited and eventually adopted.
Since Dubai began lifting covid-19 lockdown measures last summer, the cafe re-opened with capacity and sanitisation restrictions.
Dubai has a large number of stray cats, with many abandoned on the streets by their owners. In 2018 UAE authorities made it illegal to abandon animals, but animal welfare activists in Dubai have for years called for a large-scale trap-neuter-release scheme and feeding programmes to bring numbers down humanely. In August, Dubai municipality issued a circular restating a policy of fining anyone caught feeding strays, saying it increases the spread of diseases.