Jack's Cat Cafe is located fifty metres down a quiet street in a suburb of Hoi An, Vietnam. There are no billboards outside the cafe to advertise the cafe, there's a simple name-plate over the gate and a string of bicycles lean ouside in the lane. Ring a bell, and someone unlocks the gate where shoes are removed - to be replaced with thongs - and visitors are ushered inside the grounds.
Founded by Emma and Phong, Jack's Cat Cafe had its beginnings in 2012 with their first rescue, Jack, "a beautiful, loving girl who showed us that there were many cats and animals in need for someone to be there for them". By the end of 2012 Emma and Phong had ten rescued kittens in their care and the number was growing.
The cats are endearing creatures, and each has its own story. Some are gregarious attention seekers who'll lounge pleasurably in the company of visitors. Others, while happily lapping up the attention of visitors, won't have a bar of their feline companions. Princess belongs to the latter category, a former show cat who remonstrates loudly when encroached upon by other cats. Not that she's able to to hear the din she creates ... she's totally deaf.
Princess ... was a show cat. We went to rescue her; she literally couldn't walk, she was tied up on a short chain, she had no fur.... She's doing fantastic now.
How many volunteers do you have at the cafe at a time?
Our ideal amount is 4. This means all the work can be covered well and I can be there to manage but also concentrate on other projects and also on the cats who need special attention or new rescues.
What sort of duties do volunteers undertake?
Volunteers will get stuck in with all different duties. For the first hour all volunteers will help me finish the feeding and cleaning of the whole property, including the garden. This involves sweeping, mopping, changing litters, garden work, picking poop and generally scrubbing the place down. Next we prepare for the cafe to open and continue running the cafe for the next four hours. Answering the door, talking to customers, taking orders. The general work of a cafe, just also involving managing over 60 rescue too.
Do you seek specialist veterinary skills from volunteers or are they mostly animal lovers without specialist training?
We do ask our volunteers to fill out a simple application form, this is just to get an idea of any past experience especially with animals. But the majority of the work is pretty basic and just needs simple training. Vet experience or past animal care definitely has an advantage.
Your information kit mentions volunteers come for a month. What's your reasoning behind the specific need for a commitment of this length of time?
We ask for a month minimum due to the training required. It takes a lot of work for me to train new volunteers each time they arrive and so for less than a month would not be worth the time for me. Also they can build a good relationship with the cats and actually really feel the benefit of volunteering with us.
How difficult do you find the cat/dog trade here in Hoi An? Is it something that by and large is accepted locally?
It is extremely large scale here, especially the dog and cat theft here. It is a daily issue we encounter, from risk of our animals being stolen to the local pets being stolen too. The dog meat restaurants are accepted and pretty normal here but the issue of animal and pet theft and the brutality involved is not accepted and becoming a big issue throughout Vietnam.
What sort of government responses to the industry are in place, and are they working?
Unfortunately none. The dog meat trade is legal. The only issue that is a concern is the theft of pets and the violence involved. The locals are beginning to rebel, so it won't be long before the government will need to step up.
What hopes do you have both for the future of Jack’s Cat Cafe and for yourself?
We hope one day we won't be needed and my phone will never ring. We hope that animal welfare laws and education will make a difference to the cat and dog welfare in Vietnam. Until then we will continue with Jacks Cat Cafe and our charity Vietnam Cat Welfare to continue rescue, rehabilitation, sterilisation programs, and very importantly more education programs to the younger generation that will ultimately make an impact throughout Vietnam.
And among the animals, do you have favourites?
I do! Well I have secret favourites, I try not to let the cats know which they are but I can't help it. Some cases I will literally spend weeks to months rehabilitating or bottle feeding to keep them alive so I build up a bond with them. Also some of the rescues are generally shyer than the others and don't need the attention as some of the more needy cats. They all have such different personalities, so I take each cat as they are and they all need different things from me.