Why isn’t anyone talking about the problems with Uberkittens?

Remind us why a taxi app is renting out live animals, again?

cat looking at cars

Do you ever feel like the only person on the planet who has a problem with something?

That’s how I feel every time Uber dusts off its Uberkittens promotion and starts singing it from the rooftops. It’s how I feel when I see people squealing “OMG KITTENS!” in response. It’s how I feel when I see the hashtag trending. All day. Again.

If you missed it, Uberkittens is a semi-regular promotion Uber does in the US and Australia, where they deliver you a kitten – or several – to play with for 15 minutes, for a “snuggle fee” of $30.

The kittens are from shelters (who get the $30), and come with a shelter representative to make sure they’re safe. Which is all well and good, except for one thing: has anyone asked the kittens if they’re OK with being shunted to random people’s offices to have unfamiliar hands foisted all over them?

No. Obviously not.

From my unpopular perspective, there are three major problems with Uberkittens:

1. Kitten welfare

Firstly, kittens have much weaker immune systems than adult cats and stressful situations only exacerbate that. I can’t think of many things more stressful than a random person who doesn’t speak your language bundling you into a car, driving you somewhere you don’t know and handing you over to strangers you’ve never seen before, can you?

Sadly, many shelter kittens have been abused or neglected at human hands. It’s impossible to know what happened to a kitten before it was dumped on the shelter’s doorstep, and assuming it’s fine to be handed over to a random person for ~OMG PLAYTIME~ in an unfamiliar environment is downright irresponsible. It’s all about the customer, not the animal.

Plus, if the kitten doesn’t behave as expected – say it gets frightened and bites or urinates – or it’s just not as ADOWWABLE as the customer expected, what happens then? Will it be treated kindly, as a living creature that’s probably been through things we know nothing about? Or will it be treated as the commodity Uber are pitching it as, a service to be rented that did not fulfil what the customer’s paid for?

Live baby animals are not products. They should not be available on demand like a bloody taxi.

2. It puts all the emphasis on kittens

Image: Uber

People who want to rescue a cat but insist on a kitten make me angry. Do you not realise that they grow into the same damn thing? Do you not understand that there are thousands of adult cats needing homes too? Why do you have to have a baby one, even though it’s going to need a lot more medical care and be a whole lot more work that you probably can’t be bothered to put in?

Oh right, because it’s cute.

The fact that Uber focus on kittens and not cats for this promotion just perpetuates the idea that if you’re going to rescue a cat, it’s only worthwhile if it’s a baby. Once they’re not tiny anymore, who cares, right? No one’s going to pay $30 for that.

3. It’s all presented as virtuous and good for the cats

How could we possibly be annoyed with Uber for attempting to drag their much-maligned brand out of the mud by renting out live animals? Don’t we know that they’re shelter cats, not pet shop cats? Don’t we know that a volunteer comes with them to make sure no one throws one down the stairs? Don’t we know that most of the cats can actually be adopted if the customer takes a shine to them?

Firstly, by Uber’s own numbers only 30 kittens have ever been adopted from this initiative. Uberkittens has been running since for three years, in two countries, with more than 50 cities involved in the US campaign alone.

Thirty. Kittens.

That’s a LOT of kittens that went through all the stress of Uberkittens for nothing, and Uber unsurprisingly don’t mention how many got returned like a jumper that didn’t fit after they turned out to need more than cuddles.

Also, if you’re the right sort of person to give a rescue cat a forever home, you don’t need an app to bring it to your office for a 15-minute test drive. You’ll be able to do your research and go and talk to the shelter yourself, because you know that’s a lot less work than, I don’t know, caring for an animal for its entire life. In short, if you need someone to deliver a kitten to your desk before you’ll consider giving it a home, it’s better off without you.

I don't want to be at your office any more than you do. Image: iStock/Sallyfelton

Uber responds

We contacted Uber for comment, and received the following from UK rep Alana Saltzman:

“UberKITTENS is always run locally with a shelter partner who makes sure to select healthy kittens and plans and supervises every delivery. Kittens only participate in a limited number of trips and shelter staff are always present and monitoring their safety.

“This year’s UberKITTENS was the largest yet and we’re glad that Uber can use its platform to support local adoption efforts for all animals. UberKITTENS is about connecting cat lovers with adoptable kittens in a fun and Uber way in order to foster adoptions and facilitate giving back to local shelter partners.”

Did the word “delivery” make anyone else cringe there? These are live animals. 

We also spoke to UK cat charity Cats Protection and Nicky Trevorrow, Cats Protection’s Behaviour Manager told us:

“Whilst we are in favour of highlighting unwanted kittens in need of homes, we have concerns about this method on the grounds of cat welfare. Cats are a solitary species that like to control their own environment and territory and many would find it stressful to be transported and introduced to a number of strangers. If they are already anxious, then this is likely to increase their fear of travelling or social situations. Raised stress levels could affect feline health, causing conditions like cystitis and a lowered immune system, increasing vulnerability to infectious diseases. Kittens already have a weaker immune system than adult cats.

“If people in the UK want extra kitten or cat contact, then there are many opportunities to volunteer at one of Cats Protection’s branches or adoption centres, which are looking after thousands of unwanted cats and kittens in need of homes. A taxi service would be far more useful to help owners take their cats to be neutered at the vets, reducing the numbers of unwanted kittens in the care of cat charities.”

Maybe I’m not so alone in wishing Uberkittens would get left on a doorstep somewhere, then.

If you’ve like to help cats and kittens in shelters, you can buy something from Cats Protection’s Amazon Wishlist, or text NCAC99 to 70070 (they’ll text you back to ask the amount).

Main image © iStock/payphoto

Holly Brockwell
About Holly Brockwell 291 Articles
Tech addict Holly founded Gadgette in 2015, and won Woman of the Year for it. She's firmly #TeamAndroid, has ambitions to become a robot, and beat all other Hollies to her awesome Twitter handle.