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Tokyo cat cafe sees more adopters, but worries people may abandon pets after pandemic

The shop owner of the Neco Republic Tokyo Ochanomizu branch, left, meets a family that adopted one of its cats, in the capital's Bunkyo Ward on May 18, 2020. (Mainichi/Naotsune Umemura)

TOKYO -- A cat adoption cafe in the capital's Bunkyo Ward has been receiving nearly twice as many inquiries as the same period last year since the government announced a state of emergency for parts of Japan on April 7 -- presumably because people are spending more time at home due to the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The Neco Republic Tokyo Ochanomizu branch says that nine of the 25 cats up for adoption have found new homes. Furthermore, individuals wanting to adopt cats have apparently been increasing at other Neco Republic cafes in Tokyo and the western Japan prefecture of Osaka.

At 5 p.m. on May 18, shop owner Junko Uchikawa met a 49-year-old woman who hoped to adopt a cat and her 18-year-old daughter for the second time. While the two guests stroked a black striped-cat, Uchikawa carefully explained how to feed the animal and the dangers of it running away, among other ways to take care of the feline -- such as checking the cat's weight to prevent obesity and to make sure that the windows of their home don't remain open.

"With the coronavirus, we never know what will come tomorrow, but please take care of the cat until its last day," she asked the family. Four cats had already found new homes in the previous three days.

However, Uchikawa worries about people abandoning the cats after the pandemic ends. Up until recently, people visited the cafe to pick the feline that suited them best before adopting. Since the coronavirus state of emergency was declared, the cafe has been closed, and people are now looking for cats they like from the cafe's official website and other online sources.

Asaka Kawase, 45, head of Neco Republic in the central Japan city of Gifu, which runs six cat cafes, says she is glad more people are taking the cats home, but worries once the coronavirus pandemic is over that such people may abandon the pets without much consideration because there are less opportunities for the cats and humans to meet before adoption.

For that reason, shop staff must meet a person at least once before adoption to confirm information such as their family structure, home layout and who they can leave their pets with when they are away. Employees check if a potential owner is properly taking care of the animal, such as feeding it and cleaning the cat litter, during a two-week trial run with their potential pet.

It is unclear when the cafes in Tokyo can reopen as the state of emergency has not been lifted for the area. Shops are currently receiving donations of cat food and other supplies, but medical expenses and rent for a cafe building piles up to about 50,000 to 100,000 yen a month. Neco Republic has stopped accepting new cats from protection groups, though it wishes it could.

"At this rate, our burden will increase and we will not be able to accept new cats up for adoption," Uchikawa said with a sigh. Neco Republic is asking for donations and selling cat-related goods and other items at its online shop to prepare for the reopening of its stores.

(Japanese original by Ryotaro Ikawa, Tokyo Bureau)

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