The life of a pet can be lonely. Your owners leave you at home all day to go to work to play with other, bigger companions. Even when they’re around, their behaviour can bewilder and upset, and you pine for a companion your own size. But the grossest sin of all is when they go out to enjoy a big lunch and a latte and never take you with them.
This is what South Korean entrepreneur Yong Seung Lee cottoned onto after moving to Phnom Penh. Back home, Lee’s mother owns more than 100 dogs; it seemed unfair that they could play together while other pets had to stay home alone. In early September, along with the help of his girlfriend, store manager Joy Jung, he set up Ebada Pet Cafe, a playground for pets, owners and animal lovers alike.
The concept isn’t new, though Lee and Jung put their own spin on it. The world’s first cat cafe opened in Taiwan in 1998, and the phenomenon has spread across East Asia, with Tokyo now home to at least 39 – as well as a “goat cafe”. In September, Paris said bonjour to its first cat cafe, and proposals in London for the capital’s very own version were given the go ahead in the same month.
Phnom Penh’s own “pet cafe”, at Number 35 of Boeung Keng Kang’s Street 306, is a comforting experience. Walk in the gate and the inhabitants bound up to greet you, with yaps and jumps indicating their glee to see a potential playmate.
On an afternoon earlier this week, Jung outlined the concept. “We thought if we opened a pet cafe, it would be good for pet owners because usually people can’t take pets into cafes. We thought we would make it free for dog owners to come and bring pets that can play and chill with the others,” she said.
She added: “Usually the pets just stay at home, so they don’t know how to get along with others. They need a social life just as much as humans!”
For Jung, this is standard thinking. South Korea responded to the trend with dog cafes, which are now part of the furniture in major cities such as Seoul and Busan. Jung said: “In Korea, kids want to have dogs but their parents say no, so a lot of them come to pet cafes and really like it.”
As opposed to the single “dog” or “cat” cafe, Ebada proposes the “pet” cafe. Dogs, all pure breeds imported from South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam, dominate the main cafe, but there are also two cats. Originally, the two cats and six dogs lived together. It didn’t work out. “The cats get stressed,” said Jung.
For now, a white ball of fluff lies atop a wooden structure in the centre of the cafe’s garden. It’s a tiny, two-month-old kitten and it lies motionless. Two miniature pinschers – brother and sister, but also, Jung said, “husband and wife” – bound up and down the steps of the structure, seemingly trying to assess whether the kitten is dead or alive. It’s an awkward situation. Thankfully, plans are under way to create a separate cat cafe upstairs, according to Jung.
The food and drink is pricey, to make up for the lack of cover charge usually in place at such establishments: coffees are around the $4 mark. The food is mostly Korean sandwiches and snacks. But watch your plate – the dogs’ energy knows no bounds.