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Sam Cook column: Hanging with Pauline and Jacques in Scotland

EDINBURGH, Scotland — Pauline is hanging loose. The Maine coon cat has draped herself over a protruding lip of wood just wide enough for her belly. She's an ample feline with a thick coat of gray fur and long, pointy ears typical of the breed. Her legs, fore and aft, dangle in mid-air. Her head, too, hangs low, but her yellow eyes are wide open, scanning the room.

She looks like a well-worn sweater that someone hastily tossed over the back of a dining-room chair.

I had some idea of what Phyllis and I might encounter on a recent visit to see our kids in Scotland: the North Sea, guys in kilts, cheery pubs, lots of lochs.

But I had not anticipated spending an hour at Maison de Moggy, a cat cafe in the heart of Edinburgh. No, I did not. But there we were, the whole family, as a gift from our kids, who had been there once before. (Moggy is a British term for cats.)

For 8 British pounds per person — about $11 U.S. — 10 of us humans were permitted to spend an hour in the presence of a dozen cats at this domicile of cat habitat.

We were given a quick orientation before we were permitted to enter. The Maison has its rules: You may touch or pet the cats if they permit it. You may not pick up a cat. You may engage the cats with various toys — if the cats choose to participate.

Cat nannies — friendly humans — milled about with us to answer our questions and make sure we stayed within the guidelines.

Pauline, a Maine coon cat, hangs out at the Maison de Moggy cat cafe in Edinburgh. Sam Cook / News Tribune

The cats did mainly what cats everywhere do — not much. Pauline hung out. Coco Carbonelle, a "stunning British shorthair" according to her profile, slept in a crib-like structure at eye level. Jacques, a "rare Norwegian forest cat," lay curled upside down in a basket near the floor.

In an uncharacteristic burst of energy, Guillaume, a chinchilla Persian, launched into a couple of back flips chasing a feathery object dangled by one of the cat nannies. It was a real crowd-pleaser.

We humans were also permitted to purchase tea, coffee, hot chocolate and various pastries.

Outside the cat cafe, passersby would stop on the sidewalk and peer through the windowpanes to watch Sebastian (full title — "Sebastian de la Creme") sleeping in a suspended basket just inside the glass.

Our kids were raised with cats but are now catless. I suspect the appeal of the Maison de Moggy is the same for them as it is for other catless cat-lovers — they just want to spend some time in the presence of cats. Cats are soft. Cats purr. Cats are fascinating. They may lower one's blood pressure. Just watching a cat sleep in some bizarre position seems to create an aura of peace and tranquility.

Cats, like dogs, remind us of their relatives in the wild. Watching Pauline slung by her belly with appendages all a-dangle brought to mind a leopard we saw sleeping draped over a tree branch on the Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya.

Personally, when it comes to cats, I really like Labrador retrievers. But I'll admit it was quite pleasant hanging out at Maison de Moggy for an hour on a January morning in Edinburgh.

After a while, Pauline slunk to the floor and went looking for some kibble. Just like a leopard on the prowl for a Thomson's gazelle.

Sort of.

SAM COOK is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or scook@duluthnews.com. Find his Facebook page at facebook.com/SamCookOutdoors or his blog at samcook.areavoices.com.

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