On an afternoon in June, Nguyen Thanh Binh, 24, received a phone call altering him to a cat stuck in a drain on Hanoi’s Ngoc Hoi Street for four days.
Arriving three hours later kitted out with medical supplies, Binh commenced rescuing the cat from a Red River sewer.
“The cat fell down from the ninth floor of a residential building before getting stuck in the sewer. She nearly drowned trying to keep her head above water for four days,” Binh said before taking Mia (Sugarcane) to the vet for a check up.
Binh inspects one of the rescued cats. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Hue.
Though the feline’s health has improved, her chronic pneumonia is here to stay.
Mia is among 200 cats that have been rescued and treated by Binh, from northern Ninh Binh Province, in the last six years. He is currently the owner of Ngao’s Home, a cat cafe and rescue center for injured felines in Hanoi’s Thanh Xuan District.
The man found his calling six years ago when he was admitted to Hanoi Architectural University. Once, to learn more about the “cat industry” in Hanoi, he traveled to a local market in Ha Dong District, known for selling cats and dogs.
The 18-year-old Binh, hoping to adopt a cat, thought he would get one from a fancy store. But the reality of a dozen felines shoved inside an iron cage shocked him to the core.
After the horrific experience, Binh started nursing his dream of one day opening a home for abandoned and injured felines.
Distributing his number among rescue teams across Hanoi, he stood ready to take in cats in need. Residing in the university dormitory, however, he was often forced to send rescued felines to his friends’ places, or find them a new owner himself.
In his third year, bored with studies, he decided to quit university despite opposition from his family.
All the wooden tables and boxes are made by Binh. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Hue.
“All I wanted those days was to run a cat cafe and save needy animals, so why wait,” he said.
Estimating the coffee shop would cost him around VND200 million ($8,630), Binh decided to work at several welding and engineering facilities, design companies as well as other cat cafes in Hanoi to save up and gain experience. Besides, he took in several cats while staying in a rented studio, without the landlord’s acknowledgment.
After almost three years, Binh opened Ngao’s Home in February 2020.
His cafe is unique, Binh said, since most of the rescued cats carry injuries.
The cat lover remembers all of his felines’ history: Vau was attacked by an airgun wielded by cat thieves, Long Ruoi was bitten by a pitbull, Chot lost her eye from a gunshot.
“They have their own stories, but all have injuries,” Binh commented, adding many had been saved from manholes and slaughterhouses, among others.
Feeding and taking care of more than 20 cats, Binh jokes he is like a “househusband” caring for his “furry children.”
His cafe, Ngao’s Home, opens from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. Here, customers can come to pamper the “veterans felines” as well as treat their wounds, under Binh’s supervision.
But sometimes, he closes the cafe unexpectedly, worried his charges would get tired.
“Cats are like humans, they can get tired. If I see they are unwell or sleep more, I will close the cafe, I cannot force them to ‘work’ just because I want to make money,” Binh said with a smile. He also cooperates with many vets in town, who support him in treating injured felines before they embark for a new home.
This cat displays an airgun injury, inflicted by pet thieves. Photo by VnExpess/Huyen Vu.
Using his experience in architecture and design to make the cafe’s furniture to save money, Binh encountered the Covid-19 impact right after opening Ngao’s Home in February.
Closing the cafe twice in the last few months, he still had to spend money on food, medicine and medical fees for his cats. Regardless, these challenges could not stop him from pursuing his passion.
Currently, more clients are turning up, especially after several international and domestic news agencies ran his story.
“I have been to many cat cafes, but this place is special. I can play with the cats and treat their wounds myself here,” said Quynh Anh, 17, a loyal customers who now works as a Ngao’s Home volunteer.
Living with his grandparents from the ages of 1-6, Binh spent many hours caring for his furry friends, some of which had been abandoned, stuck, or lost.
Ngao, living with Binh since he was a child, was one among seven of them. When he moved to Hanoi to start university, he sent Ngao to his grandparents, who later told him the cat was hit by a car and died.
The teenager burst into tears and cried like a baby.
Naming his cafe Ngao’s Home in tribute to his old friend, Binh hopes to save more cats from the same fate.
Apart from running the cafe, he plans to operate more service like cat bathing, and trimming to fund his future rescue initiatives.
“I cried like a baby on the street and blamed myself for not arriving earlier to save the cat,” he recalled after failing to rescue a cat hit by a vehicle. The poor feline died in his arms.