Lauren Pears is bent over her iPad. She is talking about cats. Pears does that a lot. From memories of her own favourite pets to the relationship between cats and technology, by way of literary references and psychological research, there seems to be no feline avenue that she has not explored.
This is because she is in the process of setting up London’s very first cat café in Shoreditch, in the style of the world-famous Japanese phenomenon.
“In 2009 I went to a cat café in Tokyo,” she says in her soft Australian accent, “And I wondered if you could do it here. It’s something I thought of in a ‘Oh wouldn’t that be cool’ way, then late last year I thought why not try it and find out.”
The first cat cafes opened in Japan in the early noughties, and are a haven for anyone who lives in a city and misses being able to own a pet. The furry friends live at the café itself (Pears intends to have around 10) and customers can then pay to play with them. Cats can be famously temperamental, however, which inevitably poses the question of how well the animals will really interact with so many different people coming and going.
“Cats really like spending time with you, but on their terms,” says Pears. “I think for the café there’ll be some cats who will lap up the attention and others who just won’t be interested. Cats are as disparate in their personalities as people are, so until we have our animals we don’t really know how it’s going to work.”
The chirpy red-head from Brisbane took to crowdfunding website indiegogo in November 2012 in a bid to raise £108,000 – the amount she needs to get Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium up and running. When we meet she has already raised £40,000, but there are just two weeks left before the site’s time limit for raising the full amount of funds runs out.
“Do you know what – I have crowdfunding fear,” she says, looking momentarily worried, “You can compare the numbers in two ways: on the one hand we’ve still got £70,000 left to raise in 14 days, which is a lot, or you can look at it and say of the 4000 followers we have, if they all paid £20 each we’d be finished.”
Her unerring ability to see the positive side is striking – though not nearly as striking as the fact that she is still working full time for PlayStation while setting up her new business.
“My mum was a big animal lover, so we would always be adopting dogs and cats and turtles,” she says of the fact that her every spare moment is currently being consumed like so much Whiskers. “My sister was just as bad. She would always be like, ‘Oh this cat followed me home’ and we never really knew if they followed her home or if she was just picking them up.”
Pears grew up in a small town in Australia, the youngest of four siblings. She studied games development at university, then saw her industry drop out from under her with the economic crisis of 2008. After a brief stint as a web developer, the 30-year-old followed her work to London three years ago. She doesn’t intend to leave technology completely behind, however, and her face lights up when asked how she sees it being incorporated into the café.
“We’ve been looking at making a twitter hashtag interactive cat toy, so even when you aren’t in the café you can use the hashtag to activate the toy and watch the cat play with it via a webcam.
“I would love to be able to do it myself but I know that there’ll be so many other things that I have to do that I’d be better off letting someone else do it.”
After spending nearly an hour discussing her new venture, the cruelty of declawing and how cats make the perfect dating accessory, we part with a hug, and she apologises for only being able to fit me in on a Sunday evening.
“Will you come and visit?” she asks.
If the cats are as much fun as Pears, it will be hard not to.