Friday, November 17, 2006

A Dog Cafe

Patrons smoke and gossip into the night. Some sip cafe latte from sleek china cups. Others pant and drool and lick the floor.

All are valued customers at Mexico City's Bow-Wow Deli.

The tiny corner cafe in an up-and-coming residential neighborhood caters lovingly to dogs, although people are welcome, too.

Inspired by similar establishments in Japan, it may be the surest sign yet that this developing nation of more than 100 million people -- and countless dogs -- has one leg planted squarely in the First World.

The spare decor is understatedly chic. Whimsical sales displays hold $100 hand-woven dog collars imported from Germany and rhinestone covered leash grips.

The menu offers gourmet coffee, green tea and, for four-legged foodies, homemade ostrich liver biscuits and cakes with mashed-potato icing.

Some clients may have a pedigree, others a hazier though no less noble lineage. But the rules apply to all -- no leash, no service. Brawling and excessive barking prohibited.

Owner Miki Nakai, a 36-year-old dog lover from Japan, married a Mexican chef she met studying English in New York and moved to Mexico with him six years ago.

"He is a chef for humans," she emphasizes.

They adopted a stray African greyhound with a delicate stomach and Nakai began cooking for him because he had trouble digesting store-bought dog food. She researched canine nutrition on the Internet and bought books on the subject.

"It's the same as when you have a first baby. You become very sensitive about food," she said.


On his birthday she baked her dog a cake. Then she started baking them for friends' dogs. Soon she was selling them to order. She uses flour, egg and pureed and strained liver for flavor. No preservatives, baking powder, milk, sugar or chocolate, which can be tough on dogs' digestive tracts.

She is strict about freshness and quality.

"They're better when they're fresh," she explained.

Until now it seemed there was little market for such animal extravagances in a society where many dogs subsist on crusty, leftover tortillas and pets are often abused and abandoned.

But since Nakai's cafe opened in September, the public has, well, lapped it up.

"It foments a new canine culture, where people see their dogs as members of the family, not just pets that they have to leave at home or in the car whenever they go out," said client Tatiana Montoya, a computer technology consultant and president of Mexico's Jack Russell terrier club.

"For now I'm not thinking of having children, I'm happy with my dogs," Montoya, 28, said of Maya, her Jack Russell, and Jackie, her beagle.

Still, Nakai is not insensitive to the notion that her shop reeks of First World decadence -- with bags of dog treats and cakes priced at about $5 per bag, a few cents more than the legal minimum wage for a full day's work in Mexico City.

"Sometimes I feel so guilty. In Mexico there are people who cannot afford food," she said. "But at the same time, there are people like me who are not rich, but they want to do something special for their doggie, even if it is just one day a year."

Copyright © 2006 Reuters Limited.

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