While cat cafés have been in the public eye for a long time — starting in Taipei in the late ’90s and more recently spreading to Canada — a new trend is sprouting legs in South Korea, which may interest those on the other side of the dog-cat divide.
On the face of it, dog cafés make a lot more sense. If you’re going to pay to interact with animals, would you rather be in a room full of independent, human-hating cats or surrounded by man’s best friend?
There are also drawbacks, however. Because of dogs’ natural appetite and attempts to eat whatever they can find, dog cafés tend to err more on the animal side of their name to forsake dining options, though most do have a selection of drinks available.
The most popular of its type is Café Gaene in the Myeongdong district of Seoul. For a small entrance fee you get unlimited time with the dogs and a drink of your choice. Lids are provided to keep curious noses and tongues out of your cup.
As with any animal-themed attraction the treatment of the creatures is always a concern, but in Café Gaene these are quickly dispersed. As you step inside the door—perhaps fearing for the worst—you’re immediately hit by the smell of disinfectant, and throughout your stay you’ll notice the workers quickly tidying up any messes that the dogs create. When they’re not attending to these puddles, they’ll be playing with any spare dogs, showing that this is more than just a job for them. The dogs’ shiny coats and well-fed (but not overfed) physiques attest to their well being.
While animal cafés may seem like an odd concept to most Westerners, in Korea, like in Japan, most city dwellers live in towering apartment blocks. While space is one issue for keeping pets, strict landlords are another reason many live without animal companions. Having a pet is rare, so a café where you can play with dogs or cats is the next best thing.
As well as good conditions for the dogs, for the customer things are great too. You’re given a blanket to protect your clothes from fur—lint rollers are also available for use when you leave—and are invited to sit on the floor. Normally you’ll have your first furry visitor within a minute, although during busy times this may take a bit longer. Then, for as long as your lap remains comfortable, you’ll have a companion lazing with you and looking for strokes. If you see a different dog that takes your fancy—and there are all kinds of breeds, sizes and ages wandering around—you can give your legs a quick shuffle to make space for whoever’s taken your eye. During quiet periods, you’ll find you’re more in demand and you may have up to three dogs crowding around you and others carefully watching for an opening they can exploit.
Before you know it, you’ll have spent a couple of hours playing with the Pugs, Dachshunds, Shih Tzus and more. Meanwhile, in the cat café, you’d probably still be sitting eyeing the cats from afar, wondering what they’re secretly planning.