A cat café loved by Londoners could close forever after the owner was told she can’t have cats amid a “nightmare” battle with her local council. Owner Florence Heath has been fighting to save her business La Maison du Chat, Pimlico, after Westminster City Council told her she couldn’t keep cats there.
Florence, 40, said the council gave her planning permission to open the café in 2020 but things came to a halt in February when a Westminster licensing officer told her she could not keep animals there without installing a third doorway.
Florence said the disruption meant she was closed for two months and she is struggling to stay afloat after re-opening three weeks ago without the cats. She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “I’m just keeping cats – they aren’t tigers. It just feels quite out of proportion.”
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She added: “It feels like we are training our staff to be zoo keepers. Obviously we want to make sure that they’re looked after properly and they are in good health but it’s about proportionality. I think the people in charge of these things don’t really understand the effects on people’s lives.”
Florence claims a new door would have cost her £20,000 but the council later told her it was no longer necessary after councilors argued her case. But she is still waiting for permission to get the cats back after re-applying for an animal license at the cost of £900.
A fundraising page set up to help Florence with the rent and bills for the business has so far raised over £6,000. She said: “It’s been amazing that the community has supported us so much. It’s already a massive boost and it’s why I’m still fighting.”
Florence opened the business in December 2020 in a bid to rehouse homeless cats and create a space for locals struggling with anxiety and social isolation. She added: “I’m still struggling because we still haven’t got cats back in. At a time when businesses are already struggling because of Covid it’s the last thing anyone needs. We don’t really have customers coming in at the moment because people come in to see the cats.”
The council’s cabinet member for communities and public protection Aicha Less said: “In order to ensure the safety of the animals and the public, cat cafés require a licence. Unfortunately, despite the council’s advice, this premises opened without obtaining the appropriate licence. The council is supporting the café owner to obtain a license and we hope that the cats are able to return to La Maison du Chat as soon as possible.”