AVA not renewing Cuddles Cat Cafe's animal exhibition licence amid probe

Cuddles Cat Café's store front, located on the third floor of *Scape youth mall. (Yahoo file photo)

[UPDATED 7:30pm, 17 December 2014: Added AVA's stance on licence]

Cuddles Cat Cafe, which has been hit by allegations of mistreatment of its 20 cats, will not have its animal exhibition licence renewed amid an ongoing probe, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said on Wednesday.

"Cuddles café’s animal exhibition licence will not be renewed as investigations are still ongoing," an AVA spokesperson said in response to queries by Yahoo Singapore.

Earlier in the day, the same day as the expiry of the cafe's licence, the outlet's owner announced he is putting up his business for "a takeover".

In a lengthy Facebook status on the cafe's Facebook page on Wednesday afternoon, Jonathan Tan said it would be "in the best interest" of the cats to be kept together under a new owner. 

He asked interested parties to drop him a message, while expressing regret that events have "unfolded to reach this stage".

Apart from admitting to the deaths of seven of the cats he kept at his home, in observance of the AVA's limit of 20 at his premises, Tan also said his negligence regarding a cat at the café that had ringworm led to "a few" ex-employees and two other cats being infected with it.

Additionally, three of his kittens — two ragamuffins and a ragdoll — suffered from irritable bowel syndrome due to over-feeding of wet canned food.

Tan also admitted to failing to train his employees adequately to look after the cats and the café, while adding that AVA officers have taken fur fungal culture tests on all the cats at the café as well as his own home.

Following a report by Today on Tuesday that eight cats at the café had died before it opened, Tan posted a lengthy status update on Facebook on Tuesday afternoon acknowledging that seven felines had died, explaining that the deaths were caused by sterilisation procedures for three and a severe virus for the other four.

Tan's status explained in detail the unique circumstances surrounding each of their deaths, but his post was met with scepticism by readers, who left comments questioning his motives and the measures taken to ensure the cats were in good health.

Tan had previously rallied fans of his café together to petition the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to allow him to keep up to 50 cats in his 2,500 square-foot premises, after they only allowed him to house a maximum of 20. Back then, he had said he kept 18 cats in his own house, although he told Today he had 10.

Tan's announced move to surrender his business also comes after a previous prospective staff and a former employee, in separate social media posts, raised issues over staff training and pet handling.

In a post dated 6 December, a blogger going by the moniker Ezza Jay accused Tan of discriminatory hiring, basing his selections on looks instead of experience with cats.

She, alongside the former employee, who asked to be referred to as Emily, claimed that Tan did not actually train his staff in proper handling of the animals, directing them to watch YouTube clips on showering them, for instance.

Speaking to Yahoo Singapore on Tuesday evening, Emily also alleged that Tan neglected to send his cats to the vet when they showed signs of illness, in one instance delaying bringing a cat with diarrhoea to seek medical attention for four days.

Visitors to the Cuddles Cat Café who spoke to Yahoo Singapore also detailed observations of customers feeding human food to the cats, using cat feed to lure them out of hiding places and carrying them, and they were not stopped by staff.

These practices, said Emily, were dangerous as the kittens, who were aged between six months and a year old, were being overfed, but Tan chided her for telling her colleagues to "hold back" in selling the cat food to customers, who used it to lure the kittens to them to feed them.

"Some cats suffered diarrhoea from the wet food, and one of them vomited," she said. "I expressed my concerns that the cats were being overfed, but Jonathan dismissed me."

She said he explained that technically, given the energy needs of a cat, the cafe can feed them all a total of 30 cans of cat food a day — a figure that translates to an additional $4,500 of additional revenue a month.

"The only reason they cannot sell the wet food to patrons anymore is the AVA's new regulations," she added.

Emily also revealed that Tan had planned to exceed the AVA's limit on the maximum number of kittens he could house at his café all along, saying that he was continuously buying new cats in anticipation and keeping them — sans AVA approval — at his house.

Meanwhile, Yahoo Singapore has contacted AVA for more information about its ongoing investigation into the allegations surrounding the Cuddles Cat Café. It told Today on Monday only that it was investigating "various allegations".

Yahoo Singapore's repeated calls to Tan's mobile phone have gone unanswered.