Interview with the Owner of America’s First Dog Cafe, Sarah Wolfgang at The Dog Cafe
For animal lovers, the idea of going out for some coffee and a roomful of dogs is really a dream come true.
Asia in particular—especially Japan—has caught on to the concept of animal cafes, offering everything from cat and dog cafes to rabbit, bird and snake cafes.
The idea hasn’t been lost on the West, with more and more cat cafes opening up in the U.S. And now, according to The Dog Cafe in Los Angeles, California, it is the first dog cafe in America. Opened on April 7, the cafe offers coffee and adoptable rescue dogs in a 900-square-foot lounge environment. Dogs can roam freely while guests hang out and get to know them.
Find out more about The Dog Cafe and the inspiration behind it from owner and founder Sarah Wolfgang.
The Honest Kitchen: How did this idea for a dog cafe come about? What inspired it?
Sarah Wolfgang: I grew up in Korea where there are a lot of dog cafes. I became really involved in the animal rescue world and when I moved to LA, I felt there was a need for a place to meet adoptable dogs that was open and inviting. I combined the two ideas together and was able to open The Dog Cafe.
THK: What is The Dog Cafe’s mission?
SW: To rescue dogs that are often overlooked and find them their lasting forever homes.
THK: For how long and in what ways have you been working to protect and care for animals?
SW: I’ve been working on rescue work for a long time. I started getting really involved while I was in 8th grade. One of my biggest inspirations and mentors was Tim Vasudeva (currently president of RSPCA South Australia). He really showed me the ropes of helping dogs in need. He always had a soft spot for older dogs and dogs that were often overlooked, and I think that really rubbed off on me. I was able to see senior dogs and special needs dogs in a more positive light. Puppies get all the attention, but senior dogs are just the best.
[Animal rescue work has] always been a passion of mine. Early in my high school years, I formed a project company called Project: RASN, which stood for Project: Rescue, Relocate, Rehabilitate, Rehome Animals with Special Needs. We flew many special needs dogs from Korea to all over North America so that they could get the help they needed in order to find their perfect forever homes.
THK: How did your experiences in Korea help shape your views?
SW: A lot of people see abuse and neglect cases and they really shudder at the thought of everything happening. I’ve seen some of the worst cases back in Korea and it truly is heartbreaking. But, I think people forget to realize that dogs are resilient and forgiving. With the right love and care, even the most neglected dogs can become the most valued member of any family.
THK: Do you plan for this to be a prototype for more dog cafes to come?
SW: We’ve had such a positive experience, we would love to expand and help out the many dogs who need homes around the country, as well as help change the way people perceive shelter animals.
THK: What shelters are you working with?
SW: We work closely with the volunteers at South LA Animal Services to pick the best dogs for our program, and also visit other local shelters.
THK: Will the dogs stay at your facility until they’re adopted?
SW: All our dogs are with us until they find a home; they don’t go back to the shelter. We’re working to provide each dog with a foster home until they find their forever home. For those waiting for a foster, our facilities will act as a halfway house until they have a foster or are adopted.
THK: You are hosting dogs that may be less adoptable, correct? Are you providing training or anything like that to help encourage their adoptability?
SW: We really strive to take out dogs that would benefit from the socialization and exposure our cafe has to offer. We work with a private trainer to train the pups who have behavioral issues, as they prepare to find their forever homes.
THK: How does this kind of socialization help the dogs?
SW: A lot of the dogs we bring to our cafe have not been socialized correctly. They’re often abused or neglected and are afraid of human contact. Constant love, care, and positive reassurance provide the pups with the confidence they need.
THK: What are the rules of the cafe? What are some tips for visitors?
SW: One rule is to not do unto the dog what you may not want done to you. If the customers have any questions regarding certain dogs, our employees are always nearby to answer and educate the community about reading dog language and approaching a dog.
THK: What is the adoption process if someone wants a dog?
SW: First step is to come to the cafe to see if one of our dogs is a good match for you. If you feel one is a good match, we ask that you speak to one [of] our doggie supervisors (who know the dogs the best) to see if your lifestyle fits into our dog’s lifestyle. If we feel it’s a great fit, we’ll encourage you to fill out an application online. We will then get back to you within a week. Once we feel our pup and you are a perfect match, we’ll do a mini home visit to ensure the dog is going to a safe environment. We then hold a 1-2 week (longer if needed) trial adoption period. If all goes well, we finalize the adoption by transferring paperwork to the new adopters. The whole adoption process usually takes up to one month.
THK: How many dogs will there be in the lounge at any given time?
SW: Anywhere from 8-14. We cycle our dogs in and out of the lounge depending on what we feel is appropriate for their needs.