Dog Bars Heavy Petting in Hong Kong

Cafes offering dogs and cats for guests to stroke are proving a hit in densely populated Hong Kong where people don't have enough room to keep their own pets and where the frenetic pace of everyday life leaves humans in dire need of creature comfort.

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Dogs dressed in the traditional New Year suits, pose during the performance from the dog circus of Japan in Hong Kong Friday, Jan. 27, 2006.
AP

Dogs dressed in the traditional New Year suits, pose during the performance from the dog circus of Japan in Hong Kong Friday, Jan. 27, 2006.

Hong Kong smells of the ocean and of fresh fish in the streets around Victoria Harbor, and on a Friday night at 10:30 p.m. the hustle and bustle is so intense that it sometimes feels like the city is being evacuated. Around Hennessy Road no one is standing or walking, everything is flowing and gushing, it's a stream of faces, taxis and light. It's midnight on Causeway Bay, the center of Hong Kong Island, the streets are bright as day with facades covered in neon advertisements in Chinese, Japanese and English. I'm heading for "Mad Dog Come," Cannon Street, third floor. Miss Yeung is the manager, her first name is Wing Shan but she calls herself Florence. The little woman with jewellery in her hair says: "I hope you will like your choice."

Mad Dog Come. From the street the doorway looks like thousands of others in downtown Hong Kong, a staircase that could lead to brothels, manicure studios, or Shanghai restaurants as large as train stations. I go up three flights of stairs, then reach a glass door which resembles the entrance to a doctor's office.

I ring the bell. The door opens. I step into a bright room and am greeted by Martin, Quinton, Jeepsy and the other Fox Terriers, Huskies and Retrievers, seven dogs bark and jump up and and sniff the guests, on some nights the animals wear sport shirts and princess dresses. This Friday most of them are naked, so to speak.

Pet cafes

The first cafes with household pets as hosts opened two years ago in Hong Kong, it was cats at first, now the dogs are coming in force, not least because the Chinese Year of the Dog has just begun. Mad Dog Come has only been open a few months, it followed "Doggy on the First," "Good Dog Café" and "Dog One Life." The guests are young, sport iPods and the latest trainers. The cafes aren't licensed to sell alcohol so the young people are sipping ice-cold shakes through straws and seeking warmth, comfort and closeness.

They spend their time stroking, petting and laughing as they bark out orders. They kneel down and put their arms round the dogs which now and again trot off to lie on the balcony, panting as though they need to take a break from so much human affection.

Hong Kong is so densely populated and the apartments are so tiny that it's impossible for most people to keep pets. Yeung comes from an old established Hong Kong family. Her parents were born here, her father was a bus driver until he took early retirement, she has two brothers, also grown up, but they all still live together in a two-bedroom, 56-square-meter apartment. Yeung says things are much better than they used to be. When she was a child, her family of five had 17 square meters of space to live in, then 30. "Now it's relatively wonderful," she says.

The busy streets of Hong Kong's commercial Causeway Bay district.
AP

The busy streets of Hong Kong's commercial Causeway Bay district.

The retrievers lick their guests' feet, Martin the Fox Terrier stands on the balcony, his front paws on the railing. He's silent, he sniffs the air as he gazes down pensively at the nocturnal bustle of Causeway Bay. Maybe it's the close confines of the city that alienates humans from their environment. Maybe they seek the company of animals, because the controlled proximity in doses contrasts with the constant stress of having to live in the city cheek by jowel with strangers, day in, day out. Who knows.

"My boyfriend came here four times last week," said Yeung. "He said: I'm coming to pet the dogs again." She laughs. She sips on her chocolate cookie flavoured shake.

"I told him: You can pet me too if you like," she says. "But he only laughed."

Mad Dog Come. The Year of the Dog has started.

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