16. April 2019 Lucie Poláková

The Dog Café

A great part of my university life are undoubtedly various university societies. By a chain of coincidences in the beginning of the academic year, I joined the Enactus society (among couple of others). It’s an international network of university societies focusing on social enterprise. Each branch introduces several new projects a year in different areas which eventually all compete in the international Enactus competition. As I mentioned in my first post, we’ve gained a lot of inspiration from the training weekend in November, but the idea of a dog café has begun to form long before that. The concept is similar to the popular cat cafés, however, in our case, visitors can enjoy their coffee with the presence of dogs.

Social enterprises aim to somehow benefit the society or certain disadvantaged social groups. We were also supposed to address specific questions from the Enactus forms. The original idea has therefore changed several times within those 5 months. Our first vision was to open a permanent café with dogs from a local partner dog shelter, popularise dog adoption and support the shelter. The only problem was that all the Enactus rules, guidebooks and forms only mention the impact our project will have on people and questioned how we’re going to measure this impact – our idea had too little people and too many animals. The next step was to then focus on mental health and the positive impact of pets on wellbeing. This time the problem came from the partner shelter – they suddenly ended their partnership with us. Despite all the problems and hours of researching information and organisations, we came up with the last and official version:

A one-day event called the Dog Café Pop-Up, mental health workshops from an NGO called SANE, therapy dogs from two different shelters, all of that in a vegan café. One of our goals was to find out how successful our project could be and assess its future potential. The team consisted of 8 UCL students, we worked on the project for over 5 months and despite a minimum marketing budget, the response to our dog café was overwhelming.

We managed to completely sell out all tickets in 4 hours, raising a total of £1800 (all of that was distributed amongst the partner charities). Our Facebook event page went viral thanks to major London culture companies such as Timeout and Secret London advertising it. Thousands of people were liking and commenting the Dog Café and we barely managed to answer all queries regarding possible future events. We were even approached by some huge British and international media companies (ITV, BBC Radio 2, AFP…), who wanted to interview us about how we are bringing both dogs and mental health together.

As the 24th of February was approaching, we were all quite nervous and excited at the same time. We were excited to finally see everything coming together and we kind of also wanted to be done with all of it. Last emails, phone calls, venue touches, and the big day was here. Most of it went according to plans, all the visitors complimented on the well-behaved dogs as well as the idea itself, and the whole atmosphere was only slightly disturbed by the ever-present cameras and microphones of the TV and radio companies. We kept getting lots of feedback for couple of days after the event and our last job was to finalise all documents for the Enactus competition. So far, we’ve progressed to the national round, we’ll see what happens there. 

The whole project was an extremely valuable experiences and I’m glad I could be part of something this big. I’m proud of what we achieved with our team and hope that the project won’t vanishes in the future – we still have some plans for this year but who knows who’s going to take over our Dog Café next year with most of our team members leaving.
 

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