Animals are pets for many and therapy for some. Maybe you’ve met people emotional support animals before, that it is a pet prescribed by authorized mental health professionals to people with disabling mental illnesses.
In addition to emotional support animals, there are also animal-assisted therapy sites that attend to those with specific mental and physical health needs. In Malaysia, we have Dr. Dog, an animal-assisted therapy (AAT) program, and Petpositive, an AAT organization, to name a few.
What you would notice with many AAT programs, however, is that dogs are usually the animals that are used. On the other hand, while this KL concrete jungle cat shelter does not claim that its cats are trained in AAT, it seeks to fulfill a similar purpose.
It is not a pet cafe
A CAT Children’s playground, you will find a site that offers emotional support and affirmations to aid in physical development and sensory needs. It was generally designed with the needs of children with autism, Down syndrome, speech delays, cerebral palsy, and ADHD in mind.
“Most playgrounds are overloaded with sensory inputs that are very difficult to manage for someone with special needs, who most often suffer from sensory processing problems,” shared Dr. Khew, founder of the playground.
Dr. Khew himself has a PhD in animal behavior, specifically in the field of human-pet relationships, and opened the yard in 2018 after years of research, planning and conceptualization.
The touch of a cat’s love
Prior to CAT Playground, Dr. Khew had opened Country Cat Cafe in 2014. It was one of the first cat cafes to open in Malaysia and was where Dr. Khew witnessed the therapeutic power of having a safe space. to play with cats.
As more cat cafes began to appear, Dr. Khew realized that most were made primarily for fun and for-profit, which he did not entirely agree with.
So it went ahead and came up with the idea of a playground that could help educate the public about raising awareness about special needs. Enough was invested in the idea that put RM200K as start-up capital.
In the playground, in addition to cats, you will find play equipment, toys and accessories for interacting with cats, and a quiet area with a relaxing sensory atmosphere.
But visitors aren’t the only ones having a good time, as the playground also has sliding wheels, climbing walls, food mazes and hammocks for cats to enjoy. As it is also a playground for cats, visitors can bring their own well-behaved cats to play in the area as well.
The entrance fee to your cat coffee is 15 RM for one hour of play, which is located inside the abast of most cafes which can cost between RM7 and RM18 for half an hour or the first hour of your visit.
However, more than just a playground, the site also serves as a center where professional occupational therapists plan autism-based and sensor-based therapy programs, which are run by certified physiotherapists.
Parents can choose to send their children various programs that cost between RM315 and RM735 per month, depending on the number of sessions of 90 minutes per week.
Meet the kittens
As of now, there are 11 cats in the yard, most of whom were rescued and some who were taken in. The playground is not a shelter, but only welcomes cats after controlling their behavior.
While children with mental disabilities are their target market, working young adults and families are often the ones who frequent their playground the most, Dr. Khew noted.
“Families who come will bring their young children, which we encourage, as interacting with animals can help build more affectionate and affectionate behavior in our children,” he explained.
This is a feeling shared by Farm In The City founder Dato Allan Phoon, the reason he opened the zoo to pet it was so he could help children and their families cultivate a sense of familiarity and affection for animals.
Before the MCO, the playground earned an average income of RM10K-12K per month and, in the good months, could go up to RM15K. But Dr. Khew clarified that profits were not his main focus.
“It’s not a for-profit project. We are doing this to help the community so that there is a general place where people with mental disabilities and everyone else can visit. ”
However, since the beginning of the pandemic last year, they have suffered drastic losses and have had to bear the costs of the playground out of their own pockets.
“All overheads, such as rent, salary, utilities, food, and medical bills, added together are a big monthly cost,” Dr. Khew said. And with movement restrictions, they see almost zero revenue every day.
Now, the team has turned to social media and crowdfunding sites for help, as debts and costs have become increasingly overwhelming. They have recently closed some fundraising campaigns to raise money RM10K i RM8K, but with 11 cats and a team to take care of, those funds will quickly run out.
At times like this, it is difficult for a niche business like this to thrive seeing as it cannot provide its services remotely to the target audience.
While crowdfunding could cushion them a bit from the pandemic, to earn extra income, CAT Playground could consider partnering or outsourcing their cats to counseling or therapy centers that are interested in incorporating animals into their services.
At the very least, the well-being of the cats would be assured and the team can focus on managing their own loads.
- You can find more information about CAT Playground here.
- You can learn more about other Malaysian startups we’ve written about here.
Featured Image Credit: Dr. Khew, founder of CAT Playground