In the words of my best friend Chelsea upon hearing my account of this experience, “I don’t even know what to say.” And really, I don’t. Snoopy got us into this, pointed the way to a hole in the wall up a very steep staircase in an alley off the main drag in Myeongdong. The cafe is small and has been modeled to resemble the interior of a provincial farm house.
We, eyes adjusting to the artificial light, stumble through a wooden fence and approach the bar to order drinks. At once, we are enveloped by a veritable bevy of dogs. They leap and paw and jump, as excited to see us as we are to see them. I am immediately peed upon. Moments later the barista produces a chart with pictures of each resident dog. “These two,” she explains, pointing to the headshots of two identical pugs, “pee.”
The waitress continues to demonstrate that others jump and bite and bark. Some don’t even like people and just want to be left alone. There is also a small pig, dressed in a traditional Chinese New Year gown, that dislikes hugs. We are informed that there is a 10 minute wait for a table so Lisa and I take a lap to find the pig. Turns out he’s not that hard to spot as he’s the only animal wearing clothes and we both take a knee to pet him. Moments later, Lisa is also peed upon.
Attendants materialize to clean up the mess and to pat dry lisa’s sodden boot. They spray the area down with a disinfectant that fills the cafe with a sterile odor, one which lingers and never quite becomes familiar enough to forget. I throw an encouraging look Lisa’s way: we belong now? Lisa’s nonplussed, “Atleast they’re leather.” And I know what she means is at least they’re waterproof.
It’s our turn now and we’re led to a corner table, a tiny cubby already occupied by a small black dachshund and a sleepy maltese who doesn’t even notice that we’ve sat down. Two additional dogs immediately jump up and sit in our laps. We settle in, pleased with the present company. Latte in hand I watch the couple at a neighboring table poke a disinterested English Corgi with a straw. On my other side, three girls in high-school uniforms squeal as a large waffle-colored greyhound lumbers up onto their table and sprawls out, knocking a cluster of bejeweled cell phones to the floor. One of the attendants immediately appears at their table to scold them for raising their voices.
On the other end of the cafe one of the dogs is becoming increasingly vocal, offended by the advances of an affectionate Yorkshire terrier. Now other dogs join in and howl and yip. They begin to chase one another, whipping even the docile dogs at our laps into a frenzy. They trace circuits around the cafe, running furiously between table legs, upsetting drinks and jumping from lap to lap. The school girls to my left start to scream. They stand on their chairs terrified, trying to avoid being trampled. Clients at other tables behave similarly. Lisa and I watch as the attendants nonchalantly go about their business, welcoming in new clients and cleaning the floor accordingly.
Their lack of concern surprises me. As the fervor subsides, I begin to wonder what desire this place fulfills for those clients still perched precariously on chairs and stools above the throng. What about the proximity to this perceived danger is so attractive.
I don’t get it and neither does Lisa. We rise to leave as the maltese and dachshund return to claim their places. A new group of customers is led to the corner and we squeeze out the narrow front door, letting the hinged wooden fence slam shut behind us.