Rescue cats cafe has to press ‘pause’

Run-in with city council forces Pimlico’s La Maison du Chat to close

Friday, 15th April — By Tom Foot

Florence Heath

Florence Heath: ‘Plan remains to bring in Ukrainian cats’

A CAT café has been forced to give up its rescue cats and press pause on its attempts to help lost pets driven from their homes in Ukraine amid licensing confusion.

La Maison du Chat in Moreton Street, Pimlico, opened in 2020 but has now been closed for the past two months after a run-in with Westminster City Council.

At any one time the café has up to 10 cats in residence: they join customers for tea and cake, some are later adopted.

In January alone, the café helped seven cats rescued from around the world to find new forever homes. But in February disaster struck when city council inspectors visited and said, to stay open, the café would have to install a new door which the owner estimated would cost £20,000.

Café owner Florence Heath had to find emergency foster homes for the cats and shut up shop.

She said: “I was completely destroyed. We opened just before Covid and were not eligible for any grants, so I’d already spent all my reserves. I finally thought things were picking up and then this happened and everything catastrophically failed.”

All the cats Ms Heath takes in are rescue animals.

Florence Heath in Maison du Chat

Many have been flown over from Tunisia, Ms Heath said: “Often they’ve been abused, but the vets don’t have the resources so they’re living in rooms of 30 to 40 cats.”

She added: “I always take the cats that are overlooked, maybe the ones who do not have the looks, but have such great personalities.”

After closing up, the war in Ukraine began and Ms Heath co-ordinated a donation drive, shipping pet supplies over to Poland.

She said: “We did what we could and my plan remains to bring in Ukrainian cats as the next batch of adoptees.”

She has also set up a crowdfunder to allow the café to stay afloat while waiting for the next inspection. The café has two permanent members of staff, four part-time and eight volunteers, all from the local community.

Ms Heath said: “I just want this to stay open as a community space. We have so many regulars and people who just pop in to decompress. We are not trained therapists, but our cats are.”

She added: “The inspectors were concerned cats might escape, but they had seen our plans during our application in the summer of 2020, and they’d said our set-up was fine at the previous inspection. So it was completely out of the blue. We’ve never had a cat escape in the past two years.”

Calvin McLean, city council director of public protection and licensing, said: “Animal welfare is our top priority and, while we recognise that the operator is committed to the wellbeing of her cats, we need to ensure that the requirements of the relevant legislation are adhered to. While this is not something that the licensing authority can take lightly, we are working with the owner to help ensure that the cats can return to the Maison du Chat as soon as legally possible.”

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