Elementary school teacher Katey Hartsock legitimately did not intend to adopt an animal when she surprised her husband with a visit to a new dog rescue and lounge in Washington State. 

But of course, that’s exactly what ended up happening.

“One of my coworkers got tickets for her birthday but couldn't make it. When we pulled up my husband said, ‘Katey we are not going to get a dog, don’t even start.’”

But that tide turned when Hartsock and her husband were greeted by nine tiny puppies at Are You My Human? Dog Rescue and Lounge.

“We were like, are these dogs stuffed animals? They were so cute. And you just go in and sit down and you just get covered in puppies,” she said. “And then a puppy fell asleep in my husband’s arms.”

Happy adopters Will and Yael Peet with their new pup, Bashere.

One of the nine puppies, Guava, really stole their heart. With a black and tan Coonhound for a mom and a big old question mark for a dad, the mitten-pawed pup was the kindest of the bunch. 

Hartsock and her husband visited almost every other day until their adoption was finalized a week later. 

Now sharing a home with the inquisitive pup—their first dog they’ve owned together as adults—the couple is smitten. And being a modern dog, Guava even has her own Instagram account. 

“She loves water. We have a little kiddie pool and she loves zooming through it. She’s very smart. And of course, we let her sleep with us,” Hartsock says. “We love her so much.” 

A Growing Chorus of Adopters

Hartsock is just one in a growing chorus of pet lovers going to the newly opened dog lounge just to check it out—but leaving with a furry friend. 

The 1500-square-foot retail space in Bellingham, WA, which used to be a jewelry store, now has lineups before opening with people clamoring to cuddle with the adoptable pups.

Partnering with both local and out of state rescues—some strays come all the way from Texas—the business gives dog lovers space to meet and greet adoptables in a friendly, pressure-free setting, whether they’re looking for puppy snuggles or a new family member. 

Adoptable dogs play in the cafe.

There are couches and comfy seating throughout but most days you’ll find people sitting around in a safely distanced campfire circle just playing and interacting with the puppies. 

The business has been a huge success right off the bat: 12 dogs were adopted out in the first five weeks of operating, including seven Coonhound-cross puppies from the same litter as Guava; Missy Mae, a three-year-old Cockapoo; a two-year-old Bull Terrier named Stella; Snow White the tiny Maltese; Ron the Chiweenie; and a Yorkshire Terrier, Bella, who was surrendered after her owner passed away.

They’ve had 1,500 guests—an average of 300 each week.

An Unorthodox Operation

The dog cafe is run by California transplant and father-of-five Devin Parks and his wife Samantha. But this is far from a regular dog rescue operation. 

Every night after the cafe closes all of the dogs go home with Parks, each of the pups treated like they are a cherished family pet. None of the animals are kept in a crate at night. 

If you think this sounds like a handful for the cafe owners, you are absolutely correct. At one point there were 14 dogs at Parks’ suburban house, nine of them puppies. That’s in addition to their five kids, ranging from ages five to 12, plus three of their own dogs, a pocket Pit Bull, Kuechly the Rat Terrier, and Stella the Bull Terrier.

“It’s totally organized chaos,” says Parks. “There’s a lot going on but all the kids are helping.” 

Devin Parks and his pack of adoptable dogs.

Parks describes his oldest son, Trevor, 12, as his “second-hand man” who has been helping manage things at the cafe. They’re also redoing the outdoor space at their home, including adding dog runs and “castles” for the pups to enjoy. 

The goal of the operation is noble from Devin, who used to manage PetSmart stores in Oregon and Bellingham, Washington: Treat the dogs like family—not products—before they are placed into their forever homes.

“The dogs will always feel at home with us. They will always feel like they are a house pet, interacting and
being loved by our family,” he says. 

Katey and Kris Hartsock and their adopted pup, Guava.

Devin is used to being very, very busy. In addition to having the cafe open seven hours a day, six days a week, he also works at Costco from four am to nine am on weekdays. After his shift he goes home to pick up the dogs and heads to the lounge. The cafe is closed on Mondays for adoption day, but he’s still processing dogs and driving them to their new homes. 

“I get about four hours of sleep a night. That’s about the time frame. Starbucks is essential,” he says. 

And as for the mess associated with more than a dozen dogs in their home, that’s not a problem. The Parks’ have owned a cleaning business for the past four years. 

“No mess is too big,” he jokes. 

Different motivations 

What has really impacted and inspired the Parks are all the reasons people have chosen to come into their new business. 

That includes people who have a family member at home who has a dog allergy, so it gives them an opportunity to safely get their dog-fix. Or college students who are homesick for their pets they had to leave back home. Especially during finals, it gives them that little refresher to stay positive and free their mind of stress, says Park. 

But the people that inspire them the most are the people who have just lost their own pets. 

“They are ready to heal from that previous loss. Those are the more intimate, tender moments we see, where people just want to quietly have the dogs on their lap,” he says. 

Park’s motivation for starting the cafe began years ago when he had to give up a family pet when his daughter was a baby. Now he essentially has dozens of family pets and, understandably, as a result has become very choosy about who can adopt. 

He prides himself on a business model where dogs choose their humans and pets and people come together organically, versus people just buying their dogs. 

“I care so much about these dogs. I want to raise them right so they will be the best dogs for someone else,” he says. “Someone special.”

While the cafe has seen a large litter of adorable puppies come through that anyone and everyone was clamouring to adopt, the Parks haven’t shied away from taking in dogs that are harder to adopt. 

Ron Weasley, named after the redheaded wizard in the Harry Potter series, was a Chihuahua/Daschund mix who was not going to win any beauty contests. The young dog had been hit by a car and had mange, so was missing a lot of his hair. And beyond that, the little dog just didn’t like anyone.

“He was only a year-and-a-half old but saw some weathered times for sure. Ron had hairless spots and a limp and some traits that aren’t as eye-catching to people.” 

But after two weeks in the cafe, a mom came in with her teen. The girl’s emotional support dog was dying of cancer, so her mother wanted to prepare her for the loss. 

And this little dog that didn’t really like anyone—to the point where he would nip at people—saw the teen and just laid there. It was a match Devin said quite quickly turned into a permanent adoption. 

“When I dropped him off [at their house] he closed his eyes and he was at peace,” said Park. 

Making People Into Believers 

Katey Hartsock and her husband didn’t set out to rescue a shelter pup. In fact, they had planned to purchase a Bernadoodle through a breeder later this year. 

But she says the choice to adopt through the cafe became a natural one, once she and her husband saw that there were so many great pups just waiting for their forever homes. 

“There’s already a dog out there in the world just waiting to be adopted. We’d rather adopt than buy now, 100 percent,” she says. 

And just like Park, Hartsock is now a believer that the humble cafe is a conduit for rescue dogs to find their perfect forever homes. 

“It’s kind of a second chance for some of these dogs,” she says. ⎯