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TAIPEI, Taiwan — Pipi already dines well.
The plump, black-and-white street cat lives near a night market in a neighborhood of Taiwan’s capital where volunteers have fed and taken care of strays for years. But Pipi and his fellow street cats got an upgrade of their dining situation recently with the “Midnight Cafeteria” project.
Launched in September, the “cafeteria” is actually 45 small wooden houses painted by Taiwanese artists and scattered across Taipei. The idea is to give the cats a place to rest while making feeding them less messy.
It began in math teacher Hung Pei-ling’s neighborhood, where about 20 neighbors are helping stray cats in addition to their full-time jobs.
“We want to push forward this philosophy that you don’t have to be part of a very top-level association or something that takes up all of your time,” she said. “You can just be one person doing something a little bit at a time, a little bit and taken all together, you can achieve a lot.”
Hung began volunteering after a good friend rescued and raised a stray cat. For five years, she has worked with other cat lovers in the neighborhood who buy the cats food, help clean the houses and coordinate with residents who may have complaints.
Hung also helps capture injured cats and cats that need spaying, takes them to get veterinary attention and then returns them to their haunts.
The wooden houses in Hung’s neighborhood were hand-painted by a local artist Stefano Misesti and feature smiling felines as well as street food that is loved in Taiwan such as stinky tofu. In addition to food bowls, one houses basic medicine for the cats. Neighbors have brought small cushions as well as decorated cardboard boxes to add to the houses.
Started by Chen Chen-yi, a researcher at the Taiwan Animal Equality Association, the cat houses help ensure stray cats get fed well and local residents do not have to deal with a mess. They also raise awareness about the spaying program and the condition of stray cats.
“In Taiwan there are a lot of people who feed strays, but often they leave a mess and then the public becomes annoyed by it and they become annoyed with strays as well,” he said.
The cat houses were a multiteam effort. Chen applied for a grant from the Taipei city government to fund the project and then connected with a local ward leader as well as volunteers to carry it out.
On a recent Sunday, Pipi and two of his friends were enjoying attention from Hung and another volunteer who came to feed them. After eating at the cafeteria, they settled in for a lazy morning nap.