What It’s Really Like to Work in a Cat Cafe

·Managing Editor
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Cats sleep 18 hours a day. You can’t make them play when they don’t want to play. (Photo: Jo Piazza)

The cat cafe was out of scones. That was the first thing Aliya Charney told us when we entered KitTea in San Francisco for a half hour of cuddling cats and drinking Japanese tea. 

Charney, a cheery red-head is a cat wrangler at KitTea, San Francisco’s wildly popular cat cafe in Hayes Valley.

“Hi welcome to the cat lounge. Feel free to walk around and grab a cat. A lot of them are sleeping so don’t be offended if they don’t want to play,” Charney says with a smile.

The cats are indeed asleep on a Thursday afternoon, but they are happy to crawl into a stranger’s lap and nap there. There are nine cats, all but one of them kittens. Charney knows all of them by name—Banjo, Bonnie, Dizi, Eric, Genie, Sookie, Willa, Harmony and Zoe. Each of the cats is available for adoption and they will live here until they go straight to their forever homes.

Reservations are recommended and cost $15 per half hour. Each visit comes with a bottomless cup of tea or an entire tea sampler tray.

“You have the best job ever,” I said to Charney.

“I know,” she responded, obviously used to people telling her this. We sat down with her, and several cats, to find out what it is really like to work inside a cat cafe.

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Cat Wrangler Aliya Charney at Kit Tea cuddling with Zoey. (Photo: Jo Piazza)

Yahoo Travel: What did you do before you became a cat wrangler?

Aliya Charney: I graduated from UC Berkeley where I was heavily involved in animal welfare. I led a trip to Oregon to work with chimps and farm animals but cats are my favorite. I grew up with cats. I had cat siblings. I found out about KitTea after I graduated. I contacted the founder to let her know I was interested in helping out doing volunteer or full time work. When they opened we were in contact again and now I am a cat wrangler.

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YT: What does it mean to be a cat wrangler?

AC: I am in charge of the cat room which means I take care of the cats and the people.

YT: Who is more difficult to deal with?

AC: [laughs] The people. 

YT: It’s a pretty great way to get cats adopted. Do you think it is better than meeting a cat in a shelter?

AC: When you go to a shelter you don’t experience the cats’ behavior or attitude right away because they are locked in cages or the spaces they have are small. This is a great way for potential adopters to come in and interact with a room full of cats and see how the cats do with eachother and people. You really get a sense of the cats.

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A tea sampler is included in the reservation. (Photo: Jo Piazza)

YT: You charge by the half hour. How long do people usually stay?

AC: You can extend it. We have had people stay for two hours.  We have regulars. We have people who come in every week and we know them by name. It feels like a nomal café but it is anything but normal. 

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YT: What’s the best part of this job?

AC: Getting to hang out with cats and interacting with the people. Everyone who comes here loves cats and it is a pretty laid back clientele. You wouldn’t come here if you didn’t like cats, We don’t have a lot of negativity in the space. I also love watching people walk past the window and go “Oh my god. Cats!”

YT: Is this the best first date spot in all of San Francisco?

AC: YES! In the evenings we get tons….you can tell they met online and are meeting for the first time. 

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YT: Are there ever any issues between the cats and the people?

AC: Not really. The kittens are so young they  aren’t afraid of people and don’t have negative experience with humans. So having kittens is easier than adult cats.  I think the biggest issue is all the cats sleep at the same time. When people come in I give them a talk and say “cats are very entertaining but they aren’t here to entertain you. This is an environment of peace and zen and you can have your cup of team and sit with a cat on your lap but we can’t force a cat to do anything. You can’t make them play when they don’t want to play.”

It’s a cat’s world. We are just allowed to visit. (Photo: Jo Piazza)

YT: Do you see people come here to de-stress?

AC: We have people who say they come here instead of going to therapy. It is very relaxing. In the afternoon we get great sunlight ad everyone is very relaxed drinking their tea and petting a cat. It is wonderful.

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