Annie the Owl organiser's life 'made hell' by misconstrued event

Outcry from thousands via Facebook said to be based on wrong information

Louis Dore
Thursday 09 April 2015 15:50 BST
Owls sit on display at Tori-no Iru Cafe in Tokyo
Owls sit on display at Tori-no Iru Cafe in Tokyo (Getty Images)

After a cat café and a cereal bar, the idea behind the latest novelty eaterie appeared to be simple: drinking cocktails and eating good food in the company of owls. But the owner of the new venue due to open today has revealed the venture has made his life "hell" due to bad work by journalists and misunderstandings from animal rights campaigners.

Seb Lyall organised the Annie the Owl pop-up event in which a temporary smoothie bar is set up in central London with six owls on view to the customers.

Unlike the owl and cat cafés that have caused such a stir in Japan, however, patrons will not be allowed to pet the animals. Nevertheless, Mr Lyall said animal rights activists and press reports have made the assumption the owls would be touched or stroked.

In Japan close contact with animals is a novelty for those denied the opportunity of owning a pet because they live in apartments where they are barred. The first cat café was opened there in 2005 with owl cafés following in 2012. Customers are free to stroke and hold cats, rabbits and, to a lesser extent,owls.

But in Britain animal rights groups have expressed anger at the concept of an owl café and have formed a protest Facebook event and a petition which currently has more than 29,000 signatures.

Mr Lyall is now expecting a protest on Friday when the pop-up Annie the Owl event gets underway and has brought in extra security, and contacted police to warn them of his fears.

"It's made my life hell. It's been personal, my name is everywhere. I get calls and I don't want to give my address away," he said.

Mr Lyall said guests were never told they would be able to touch the owls but since the event was first announced it has since been forced to postpone, strike alcohol from the event and change location due to public pressure. The charity that was formerly benefitting from the event has also withdrawn from association, and a new owl sanctuary, which wishes to remain unnamed, will now benefit from the event with a contribution to fund a disability ramp.

"No promises were made to the guests that they would be able to touch the owls, the only promise was that you could see the owls, seated, with a drink. Now it's a smoothie, because alcohol was controversial," said Mr Lyall.

Seb Lyall says he will now ‘not make a penny’ from the event
Seb Lyall says he will now ‘not make a penny’ from the event

"We'll have security. We've notified the police, the ambulance service, everything. We're prepared as we know of a planned protest, protesting something they don't know anything about.

"We made mistakes, we initially were going to serve two cocktails, thinking two cocktails wouldn't get anyone drunk or cause any trouble. People then thought it was going to be a pub or a club, which is of course not what the event is."

He said he will lose money by staging the event, regardless of the publicity, due to its small size. More than 60,000 people applied for 1,300 tickets.

"The ticket sales make only £15,000, the venue cost £6,000, the owls cost £6,000. That is £12,000 gone before you take into account the food, the staff, the logistics, everything," he said.

Mr Lyall says he has had to bail out the event with sponsorship from other ventures.

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