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A Dog Café Has Created Connections And Community During The Pandemic

Clifford and his owner, Amanda Rong, are frequent "patrons" of StarPups Cafe in Toronto.
Amanda Rong
Clifford and his owner, Amanda Rong, are frequent "patrons" of StarPups Cafe in Toronto.

While others learned to make sourdough bread and do TikTok dances, Toronto resident Kaya Kristina's quarantine activity was to start an eatery — for dogs.

It's called StarPups Café.

Kristina lives next to High Park, a popular park in the Toronto area. Six years ago, she noticed that many dogs returning from a trip to High Park looked tired and thirsty, so she began leaving a bowl of water on the front yard of her house for the thirsty canines.

"I started getting little notes in my mailbox saying like 'Thank you so much, our dog appreciates this so much,' " Kristina says.

When the pandemic started, Kristina decided to give her menu an upgrade. From dog biscuits to beef liver bites – to a treat of the day curated by the manager, Kristina's dog, Molly — StarPups Café now has more offerings than you can shake a stick at, although if you want to try, the café also features a "stick library," a pail full of sticks of all sizes.

Kristina says she is by no means a morning person, but she wakes up every day at 8 in the morning to stock up the shop.

"In my dreams if I'm sleeping late, I can think those dogs are out there looking at my house," she says. "And it's heartbreaking."

Kristina's hard work isn't going unnoticed. Neighbors have shared thank you notes and pictures of their dogs. Kristina started an Instagram page called High Park Pups to share pictures of her satisfied customers.

As word spread, so did her number of furry customers. She says lately, it's been busy. Depending on the weather, Kristina says she gets between 30 and 50 dogs a day.

She has unwittingly started a community of neighborhood dog owners.

"They'd see each other on the Instagram and like, then they'd meet each other in the street and introduce themselves and be like, 'Oh, I saw you on the Instagram,' and now they have walking partners," she says.

StarPups is about more than the dogs, she says. It's the people behind the dogs, and the connections they've made. For Kristina, who at one point hadn't seen her family in 8 months because of the pandemic, those connections are really important.

"I miss my parents, I miss my family, I so badly wanted a hug from somebody, and I was like, I don't know when the next time I'm going to get it is," Kristina says. "And I think I personally have healed through this, too, because of the feeling of like, OK, I have a community now."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ziad Buchh
Ziad Buchh is a producer for NPR's Morning Edition and Up First. In addition to producing and directing the broadcast, he has also contributed to the show's sports, tech and video game coverage. He's produced and reported from all over the country, including a Trump rally, and from the temporary home of Ukrainian refugees.