The Business of Dog Rescue

By Jessica Burtch

February 9, 2015 4 min read

Late January brought something new to the trendsetting City of Angels. Pup-Up was a five-day pop-up shop that commingled caffeinated drinks with homeless dogs to raise money for a permanent version of itself. Grounds and Hounds provided the beans, Perkup Mobile Coffee Truck served the brew, and Wags and Walks brought the "pup": dogs in need of permanent homes. Sarah Wolfgang is the brains behind Pup-Up and, if all goes well, will be the owner and operator of The Dog Cafe — the first of its kind in America. Puppuccino, anyone?

While the concept is warm and fuzzy and the opportunities for wordplay infinite, the mission is decisive. Wolfgang wants to shake up the way America shelters its homeless dogs.

Anyone who's ever been inside a city or county animal shelter can understand why Wolfgang would want to make a change. The dogs are kept in cages — close but separate. If they're lucky, they get a short walk. They can see each other and smell each other, but they can't interact. No meeting. No greeting. Very little playing. And the noise — it can be deafening. The endless barking, the mindless days and the cramped confinement take their toll. Wolfgang argues that the unnatural nature of the shelter environment temporarily alters the personality of some dogs, making them seem less adoptable and decreasing their chances of ever getting out.

Wolfgang talks about being struck by the "open environment" of the animal shelters in South Korea when she volunteered there. That's the kind of world she aims to create for the dogs at her cafe. As it stands, the cafe will comprise two separate but side-by-side spaces: "Dog Zone" and "The Dog Cafe." Due to health department regulations, dogs cannot roam the space where food is prepared. But "Dog Zone" will be populated with free-range pups (and on-hand trainers) and furnished with sofas to maximize lounging, sipping and snuggling.

The concept is sound. Not only does this framework provide socialization and stimulation for the dogs, inarguably maximizing their adoptability, but it gives potential adopters an opportunity to interact with the dogs in an environment that's relaxed and friendly, rather than rife with anxiety. Think a first date in the park versus a first date in the penitentiary.

The concept is also proven. For the past six months, the Aloft hotel in Asheville, N.C., has been having rescue dogs greet hotel guests in their lobby. To date, 20 dogs have moved out of the lobby and into their forever home after a chance encounter with a guest.

Leslie Brog, who runs a rescue in the LA area, told NBC News, "Sometimes when they're seen behind bars in shelters, it's hard to imagine this could be your family pet. But when they're in venues such as these, it's uplifting."

The idea isn't entirely new. It builds upon the formula rescue groups have employed for years. Secure safe home environments (a.k.a. foster homes), pull as many dogs from shelters as you have homes for, and feature them at adoption events in or near popular public places: outside trendy coffee shops, at weekend farmers markets, at outdoor shopping malls, en masse in public parks. The dogs interact with the people and each other in supervised but open spaces, and millions have found homes this way.

Businesses like Aloft and The Dog Cafe just asked the next logical question: Why can't a business also be a temporary home?

Jessica Burtch was the longtime editor and writer for Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis. She is an even longer-time lover of dogs and critters in general. Follow her @sicaleigh. Email her at [email protected] Read more at


Like it? Share it!

  • 0