Rats might be the last thing you'd expect to see in a cat cafe. There's plenty of evidence and anecdotes out there about how these two species are sworn enemies. But at Brooklyn Cat Cafe, kittens and rats have surpassed the odds and developed an unlikely friendship. You might even say that they get along purrfectly. And yes, it's just as cute as it sounds.
At any given time, Brooklyn Cat Cafe, open since May 2016, houses around 25 adorable cats and two equally adorable rats. If you're not someone who likes rats, Remy and Emile will do their very best to change your mind. The two rats, named after the animated characters in "Ratatouille," are sweet, fearless, and every bit as captivating as all of the cats roaming around the space. And they also have a very important job as companions and caretakers for sick kittens.
It all began with a kitten named Ebony. Ebony tested positive for feline leukemia, a contagious virus, which meant that the cafe had to keep her separate from the other kittens. But without any playmates, Ebony became lonely in isolation. So the cafe began to look at other species that could keep her company.
They found their solution with a rescued rat, who they appropriately named Ivory. Upon introduction, the pair became instant friends and could frequently be spotted playing or cuddling together. Unfortunately, most kittens who are diagnosed with feline leukemia don't have very long lives ahead of them. When Ebony passed away, Ivory made new friends in the cafe's kitten terrarium. And when Ivory passed away from old age, the cafe knew they needed more rats.
That's where Remy and Emile come in. The two young rats were rescued by Helping All Little Things, or HALT, a small animal rescue serving New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. HALT works in conjunction with shelters and other animal rescues, so Remy and Emile were able to find their way to Brooklyn Cat Cafe to follow in Ivory's footsteps. And they quickly proved to be just as playful with the kittens as their predecessor had been.
"I don't think the relationships that we discovered are unique," said Anne Levin, executive director of Brooklyn Bridge Animal Welfare Coalition. "But I think most people in the public aren't aware that there's a potential for friendship across different species."
The relationship works particularly well because both parties are so similar in size. "The rats aren't going to attack the kittens, and the kittens aren't big enough to hurt the rats," said Levin. Remy and Emile aren't scared of the tiny kittens, so they don't run from them in the same way that a rat might scurry away from a cat in a bodega.
A sign on the rats' cage explained that the kittens sometimes believe that rat tails exist primarily as a play toy. It makes sense, given kittens' affinity for similar objects like yarn and charging cables. Luckily, Remy and Emile are OK with this, as long as the kittens play gently.
Having two rats, especially two as sweet as Remy and Emile, has drawn a lot of attention towards Brooklyn Cat Cafe. "It's funny because a lot of people know us for our rats, not our cats," Levin said with a laugh.
A lot of people know us for our rats, not our cats.
However, some visitors to the cafe definitely still have to be convinced that not all rats are scary and ugly. In New York City, most people are used to seeing rats in subway stations, perhaps dragging around an entire meal meant for a human (see: pizza rat). And no one wants to see an unwelcome rat scamper across their apartment. Brooklyn Cat Cafe hopes to give those hesitant guests their first positive rat experience with Remy and Emile.
"We'll take them out and hold them here, and people will see how they interact and how nice and sweet and affectionate they are," said Levin. "So we've had people who have never touched a rat and have pet [Remy and Emile] and find that they enjoy the experience."
The cafe often receives inquiries from people about adopting their rats, but they've grown attached to Remy and Emile and wouldn't want to give them up. Levin is trying to work with HALT to foster two additional rats, who would be up for adoption. "I think it would be nice to have that ability to show rats here, because small animal rescue organizations need fosters," she said.
Another sign on the rats' cage gives a list of 11 reasons why rats make great pets, ranging from the fact that they're even cleaner than cats, to a cheerful noise they emit that sounds almost like laughter. Rats also love to form a bond with their human.
If you're not quite ready to commit to having a rat in your house yet, you can visit Remy and Emile (and all of the kittens too!) at Brooklyn Cat Cafe. Admission to the cafe is $5 per half hour, and you can book reservations for a specific time on their website. Outside of their normal operating hours, Brooklyn Cat Cafe also holds special events, like yoga classes with the cats and educational workshops.
But fair warning: if you go for the cats, you might find yourself falling in love with the rats.
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