Cat Cafe Neko No Niwa, Singapore's first-ever cat cafe, will be closing its doors for good by May 1, 2022.
Tan Sue Lynn (Sue) and Samuel Isaac Chua (Sam), the owners of the cat cafe, had been toying with the idea of shuttering for some time, but it was the passing of one of their beloved male cats, Baloo, that solidified their decision of closing Cat Cafe Neko No Niwa's doors for good.
The owners did not expect the 13-year-old Baloo to pass this soon, nor this fast, as the feline's bloodwork was "perfect" for a senior cat, and they figured that it had at least a few years left in its runway.
However, Baloo started displaying a "worrying change in his behaviour" late in 2021, and shortly after, the cat retired and was adopted by a female cafe staff, who was eager to spend time with her "favourite boy".
Little did they know that Baloo's health would take a drastic turn for the worst, and the cat passed away just three weeks into its retirement on Dec. 23, 2021, after it was diagnosed with brain tumours.
Impacted by Covid-19
Sue told Mothership that Covid-19 was one of the reasons for the cafe's closure.
She said it has had an impact on the cafe's business operations, such as grappling with several near-empty, or completely empty months in the past two or so years.
When Mothership went to the cafe at around 4pm on Mar. 10, it had five patrons and two staff.
Cats (and human owners) not getting any younger
The other reason was that the cats were not getting any younger.
Over the course of the two-year pandemic, the cats in the cafe have grown to be nine to 13 years old currently.
Sue pointed out that the first two human years of a cat's life is equivalent to 24 cat years, after which, one human year is equals to four years in a cat's life.
Having done the math, this means the cafe's cats are roughly aged 52 to 68 in cat years presently.
Since the average lifespan for a cat is between 12 to 18 years, all of the cafe's cats are in the later stage of their lives, and Sue said she would like for these felines to live out their retirement years in a comfortable home.
"Time waits for no man and cat," quipped Sue, who admitted that Sam and herself were not getting any younger either.
As such, Sue said the pair have no plans to relocate or reopen the cafe with new kittens, other than to bask in the company of the cafe's cats in the future.
Singapore's first cat cafe
The idea to open a cat cafe in Singapore was first sparked off after the pair made several visits to cat cafes in Japan.
And as cat owners themselves, Sue said they experienced firsthand the joy and therapeutic benefits being around cats would bring.
This was something that the pair felt Singapore could benefit from – having its own cat cafe – especially during a time when mental health was not widely talked about yet at that time when they started, Sue said.
However, the implementation of the idea had its challenges.
While the pair conceived the idea earlier in 2012, Cat Cafe Neko No Niwa only opened its doors to the public around one year later on Dec. 25, 2013.
This was because there was no such thing as a cat cafe back then, and Sue said the owners had to spend around a year to convince the various authorities on the then-novel concept of a cat cafe.
Cultivated strong and loyal fanbase over eight years
Fast forward to 2022, the cat cafe has spent the last eight or so years calling the second level of a shophouse building at 54A Boat Quay home.
Through the years, the cafe has drawn plenty of patrons, both local and foreign, many of whom have turned into the establishment's loyal fans.
It has also garnered quite a reputation amongst tourists during the pre-pandemic era, and is rated 4.5 out of five on the online reviews platform Tripadvisor where it is one of the top few go-to spots in Singapore.
Just take a look at the cafe's Instagram page and it's easy to see why the cafe is so popular, and how it has amassed a 13,000-strong following.
This is in part due to the 10 full-time resident cats aged between nine to 13 years old that eat, play, sleep, and get up to all sorts of adorable antics in Cat Cafe Neko No Niwa, which translates to "cat garden" in Japanese.
This perhaps explains the bittersweet response to the cafe's announcement of its plans to close, where many of the cafe's past patrons expressed that they were sad to see the cafe go, they also agreed that it is time for the cats to enjoy their golden years.
The patrons also took turns sharing how the cafe and its cats has impacted their lives and thanked the cafe for its service and the memories.
Sue disclosed to Mothership that ever since the cafe announced its closure, she has received an outpouring of love and support from the public.
She said that "seeing these comments and messages" still rouses a slew of emotions.
According to The Straits Times, the cafe has also received an increase in bookings, with some of these patrons even flying in from various parts of the world just to see the cafe's cats for one last time.
Cafe's cats were adopted
Besides the adorable cafe cats, another possible reason why Cat Cafe Neko No Niwa has made such a profound impact on the cat community could be due to its focus on feline education and outreach.
Sue said: "We were clear from the beginning that we will not be 'just a cat cafe', but also an advocate for cat adoption, responsible cat ownership, as well as a resource centre for better cat care by providing workshops and sharing knowledge."
Unsurprisingly, the cafe lives up to its name and all of the cafe's 10 cats were adopted through one way or another.
Besides serving as an intermediary between its cats and patrons, the cafe also conducts quarterly workshops covering proper cat care and are actively involved in various local cat communities.
These include community cat feeders, cats fosterers, rescuers and adopters, Cat Welfare Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA Singapore).
Many of the cafe's supporters said they have benefited from Cat Cafe Neko No Niwa's workshops, and some even said the cafe had swayed them to adopt, instead of purchasing, their cats.
Sue said: "Cat Cafe Neko no Niwa has made such an impact on so many lives, cats and humans alike... we are happy with our achievements and the positive difference we have made."
Cafe closing by May 1, 2022
The establishment will soon be vacating the premises come May 1, 2022.
"We (Sue and Sam) are obviously sad that we have to call it a day," said Sue when Mothership asked her how she and Sam felt about the cafe's impending closure.
Her words bore an obvious tinge of reluctance despite her also having told Mothership that she and Sam have "kind of internalised" the upcoming closure.
For those who are wondering what will happen to the cafe's 10 cats, Sue said they have all been accounted for already.
Some of the cats will be adopted by the cafe's staff, while the rest will return home with her and Sam.
"It was our privilege."
However, this will not be the last that patrons will see of the cats, or hear from Sue.
This is because she promised that she will continue to post regular updates on the cats' and on general cat care information on the cafe's Instagram page, much to the relief of many.
Asked if she has any parting message to her supporters, she said: "We thank everyone who have joined us on this journey, and we are deeply grateful for your love and support through the recent difficult times. It was our privilege to have been part of your lives in so many ways! Thank you for loving our cats and loving what we do. "
She added: "Stay tuned as we recap the fond memories, milestones and achievements of the first cat cafe in Singapore!"
Sue recommended those who would like to pay the cafe a final visit before it closes to make a reservation beforehand.
Cat Cafe Neko No Niwa
Address: The second level of 54A Boat Quay
Opening Hours: Wednesdays to Mondays, 11am to 9pm, closed on Tuesdays
Nearest MRT: Clarke Quay
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Top image from @nekononiwa/Instagram