Russia as a country is controversial, peculiar, interesting and different. And so was the raccoon café located in St Petersburg, the second-largest city in Russia. There you get to pet and hold raccoons that you would normally see only in the wild. I visited St Petersburg with my fellow journalism students just before Corona hit and changed everyone’s lives. One of us did some googling on places to see and discovered that there is a raccoon café in town. Without further thought, we emailed the company Enotovil and booked one-hour visit for the group.
Spoiler alert: Even though they call themselves “a café”, there will be no coffees and cakes ;).
Then came the raccoon day
The day came, and a group of 10 students found it’s way into the right building. We got clear instructions on rules on how to behave and signed a paper written in Russia promising to follow the rules. We saw a wall of mobile phones broken by the raccoons and learned that they could pull your hair and scratch you. There was a bit of hassle with the paying part since they first tried to charge us 200 rubles more per person than originally promised in the email. Well, we luckily had the email and all sorted out in the end.
Then we entered a room that looked like an imaginative kids’ playground. It had colourful wallpapers, big windows, a climbing tree, a water pool and toys. Then the raccoons came, and oh my, they were bigger than I had expected! They were clearly used being around people and especially around their caretakers who tried to make them make contact with us. At first, it was really fun and interesting to follow their behaviour since I’ve never seen raccoons in real life. Animals looked cute and well taken care of.
The ethical side
Yet after a half-an-hour, the excitement wore out a bit and I could not help thinking the ethical side of the place. We learned that the raccoons were abandoned pets or actors used in commercials and that they would not survive on their own. Fare thing. I still felt that those wild creatures might not enjoy constant petting and cuddle sessions or sounds of excited children. I’m sure that the caretakers would observe closely the stress levels of the animals in those cases.
The place left me with feelings of controversy; the animals seemed to live in good conditions but still, some sanctuary with more natural surroundings would have been a better option. I know that Russia has different laws and customs when it comes to wild animals. It is not my place to judge. I just encourage everyone think twice if you are going to an activity that includes animals in one form or another. Perhaps I should have done that too.
What do you think of these animal cafés?