How a Dubai cat cafe is surviving quarantine with 25 felines

The co-founders of Ailuromania Cafe and their staff have been taking turns living in the venue with their rescue animals

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It's been a hard couple of months for most restaurants and cafes.

In order to stem the spread of the coronavirus, UAE food and beverage companies stopped accepting dine-in customers towards the end of March, and have only just gradually starting re-opening this past week. While it has been a challenge for most establishments, for one Dubai venue, it wasn't just business at stake – it was also the lives of its 25 pets that consider the cafe its home.

Ailuromania Cafe, which first opened in 2015, is Dubai's first cat cafe. Located on Jumeirah Street, it's a place where customers can enjoy a cup of coffee or tea while playing with 12 rescues. Over the years, the number of cats has increased as the cafe has rescued more dumped felines. So, when co-founders and sisters Iman and Allaa Ahmed Al Aulaqi first started hearing about Covid-19, back in February, they were concerned about more than just their business.

"I had a feeling it was going to get bad – it was spreading so fast across the world," saysIman. "And one of my first thoughts was obviously, 'what can I do about the cats?'

“At first, I thought about bringing them to my home. But cats get stressed when you move them, and I already had some shy cats at home. So I started thinking about ways to minimise their stress. We have an empty space upstairs, above the cafe, where we have been having our yoga sessions. So I came up with the idea to move them there, with myself, my sister and our two staff taking turns looking after them. They’re used to human beings being around and can’t be alone all day.”

This meant that every day, one person would have to spend 24 hours with 25 cats for company. Iman thought she would get some push-back from her sister and staff members when she floated the idea – but they were very enthusiastic and supportive, something she is very grateful for, she adds.

“We’ve been taking sleeping bags. We have Netflix, play music. Honestly, it has been very rewarding. I’m a very homely person who doesn’t mind spending my time indoors anyway. And spending time with cats is just wonderful. It is de-stressing.”

I had a feeling it was going to get bad – it was spreading so fast across the world. And one of my first thoughts was obviously, 'what can I do about the cats?'

During her turns to cat-sit, Iman spends the time feeding the cats and looking after their general well-being, learning to play the piano, working out and binge-watching shows. As someone with five cats at home already, she had no issue being with or even sleeping in the same room as 25 of them.

“I can sleep even if they are fighting over me! However, my sister isn’t the same, so she opted to sleep in the cafe downstairs,” she says.

As of now, Ailuromania Cafe remains closed, with a tentative opening scheduled for after Ramadan, although the co-founders will continue to keep a watch on the situation. In the meantime, the sisters have been paying for all expenses, from staff salary and electricity to the care of the felines, out of their personal savings. The expenses for a single cat comes up to roughly Dh100 per month, says Iman.

When asked if there was any way for people to help, she says the cafe is always looking for people who are interested in adopting any of the cats. She adds: "Those interested in helping out can also buy an entrance ticket now for a future visit to the cafe."

“I think, with everything happening, this is a good time to remember what we are grateful for and step outside our comfort zone,” she says. “It is a good opportunity to help others, help organisations supporting animals, help the community as a whole. It’s a chance for good karma to come."