Deliveries from the dog farm were becoming more and more sparse. So sparse, in fact, that old Mr. Kim had to roam the streets of Seoul, looking for stray dogs. Oh, he went for his nightly walks anyways, he always had. It was good for the arthritis. It was better to continue to think of it as a walk for health than a mission to find some meat. There weren’t too many dogs out on the street, and when he eventually lured one with the dried seaweed he kept in his pocket, the meat never turned out as good as the farm meat. He once checked on one of his customers just as his spoon had hit a piece of metal in the dog soup. “What is this?” The customer, a prestigious doctor, had demanded. “A surgical device? Was this someone’s pet? Where are you getting your meat?” Mr. Kim had tried to deny it and ply the doctor with complimentary soju, to no avail. The doctor stormed out. “I don’t know what kind of business you think you’re running,” he had yelled.
Mr. Kim didn’t know either. People had started making pets of dogs, he heard, they thought they were cute. The government made moves to shut down the dog farms and instate shelters in their place. Mr. Kim had tried to go to one of these shelters and offered good money, but he was turned away immediately. “These are not for meat!” The worker, a young girl, had also yelled at him. A young girl with the gumption to yell at an old man, trying to make his living? This was not the Korean way. The land was changing. It seemed like everyone was turning against Mr. Kim. People used to love his dog soup, girls used to show respect.
It was on one of his nightly walks that Mr. Kim noticed a new establishment with a lighted sign. “Dog café,” it read, and was accompanied by a picture of a steaming cup of coffee. Is this the new business model? He eagerly wondered. Well hey, he could get a coffee machine, if that’s what it took. He wondered where they were getting their meat. He took off his hat and stepped inside.
The cafe was full of freely roaming dogs, but they weren’t farm dogs. They were fluffy, had bows. Many of them were too small to provide much meat. Happy looking customers drank coffee and fed the dogs. There were some young couples on dates and an older woman, alone. People feeding their food? Were they fattening the dogs up? Did they like to see the animals first and choose which one would be butchered for their meal? Or sprinkled into their coffee? Mr. Kim inquired at the cash register. The young worker replied that, “No, sir. The dogs are fun for couples.” The worker cast him a sideline look. “They’re also good company for lonely people.” Mr. Kim was a lonely person, so he ordered a coffee and sat down. A dog immediately approached him, looking for treats. Mr. Kim cast him a hateful glance and the dog wandered off to another customer, who showered him with affection and treats. Mr. Kim himself was hungry. He had been living off the vegetables and broths he used to make his increasingly meatless soups. He sighed sadly.
The people were stroking the dogs the way his wife used to stroke his forehead before she passed away. They were cooing at the dogs like he imagined she would’ve cooed at their baby, had it not been stillborn. Another dog wandered his way, a puppy. He wondered whether he could walk out with it. It was small, but he could spread the meat far. Less meat was better than no meat. He glanced at the worker. The worker was stationed next to the door and smiled at him. No chance, then, for an escape. The dog whimpered and pawed Mr. Kim’s pant leg. He pushed the dog away, and the puppy pushed back, pressing his head into Mr. Kim’s wrist. His fur was much softer than the farm dogs and his skin had many folds that Mr. Kim guessed he would grow into as an adult. Mr. Kim batted him away again. This time, the puppy stood on his hind legs and mouthed Mr. Kim’s hand. Mr. Kim felt a little less lonely then, and that made him feel all the more alone. How long had it been since someone welcomed his arthritic touches? And here was this little dog, clamoring to get closer to him. Mr. Kim began to cry. “So it’s you,” he told the puppy. “You’re the one whose been ruining my business.” The puppy rolled over, seeming to indicate that Mr. Kim should rub his stomach. “Well of course, I should’ve known you’d have demands. After all, what’s more natural than a five-pound puppy shutting down an old man’s business, and then telling him what to do with his hands, too.” Nevertheless, Mr. Kim complied.