Creative health permit process gives paws, not pause

Our friends at the Regional Animal Services of King County (RASKC) deserve a treat – they’ve helped increase the pet adoption rate in King County by 20 percent in a single year. RASKC attributes some of this success to the several cat cafés located in our area.

But, these cat cafes raised some questions for us. We’ve heard about horses in coffee shops, but cats in cafes? Is that okay? We called our Public Health Veterinarian Beth Lipton to get her perspective on these establishments.

We’ve been hearing a lot about cat cafés in King County. Why isn’t Public Health doing anything about them?

Actually, Public Health has been involved in helping permit cat cafés since 2015. We helped King County’s first cat café, Seattle Meowtropolitan, become permitted through both our Pet Business program and our Food Business program. It’s unique to have an establishment that is jointly permitted, so it took a little bit of creativity. We think we were able to discover solutions that help keep people and their four-legged friends healthy, safe and protected from disease.

How many cat cafés are in King County?

We permit four cat cafés, three of which are jointly permitted by our Food Business program and our Pet Business program and one that is only permitted by our Pet Business Program. Given that we are at the forefront of this trend in the United States, I expect this number might grow! Many people find spending time around cats to be relaxing and fun, and these cat cafés help the kitties find homes.

So what do you do to make sure felines and food don’t mix in an unhealthy way?

A cat café like Seattle Meowtropolitan consists of two distinct spaces– one that serves food and one that houses cats. The Food Business space must meet all the usual food safety requirements and undergo inspection at least twice every year. The animal shelter space must meet all of the Pet Business requirements and undergo inspection at least once a year.

But, because these spaces are in the same facility, we make sure that specific measures are in place to prevent cross contamination. For instance, cat café staff are only allowed to work in either the animal shelter or in the Food Business during a shift. Additionally, garbage from the animal shelter (like kitty litter) can’t pass through the Food Business. We also ask that cat cafés display signage encouraging patrons to wash hands or use hand sanitizing stations, and that they make those facilities available.

It’s great that more cats are finding ‘furever’ homes. Any advice to new cat owners?

I wouldn’t be a veterinarian if I didn’t take the opportunity to remind new cat owners to make sure their furry companions are vaccinated, dewormed, and examined by a veterinarian. In many cases, disease prevention in pets translates to disease prevention in people.

We’re happy to support RASKC’s mission of protecting people and animals, and we are proud to be a part of such innovative (and fun!) projects.

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