Picture this: You’re in a coffee house. Wanting to buy some food, you pick up a menu and look for what catches your eye. However you can’t seem to decide between the DogNut’s, Pupcakes or Pawty Rings. You look down to the consumer of these snacks – your Pug. What would she want? Something tells you a Pawty Ring will do the trick, along with a Pugguccino of course. After purchasing, you turn around to face the rest of the room and you smile because the whole coffee house is filled with Pugs.
Sound a bit like heaven? I thought so too, which is why I was eager to meet with Anushka Fernando, the founder and owner of Pug Café. We met in a local bakery in Guildford, and when I say we, that includes Bertie the Pug! Bertie is the inspiration for Pug Café, and when he’s not taking a stroll through the rolling Surrey hills, he’s modeling for River Island, being interviewed by The Telegraph and taking part in music videos. However, at two years old, Bertie has been through a lot in his little life.
Before getting Bertie, Anushka understood that Pugs are a unique breed and because of possible health issues, can require lots of time and money. So she poured over textbooks until she knew the breed inside out, and made sure she bought Bertie from a really good breeder. Unfortunately, buying a Pug is a little like Russian roulette and the odds were not in Anushka’s favour. At 4 months old Bertie developed a paralysis of his hind legs overnight due to a condition called Hemivertebrae. This meant Bertie’s spine was malformed, causing spinal pressure and consequently neurological issues. He was quickly transferred to Fitzpatrick Referrals (also known as Supervet) to have a life-saving operation in which part of his vertebrae were taken out and replaced with metal rods. During his long rehabilitation period, Bertie had to be crate rested, meaning he couldn’t socialise with any other dogs.
‘Bertie’s been through a lot but his disabilities haven’t stopped him. We call him RoboPug. He’d never be able to get on an airplane because he’d get stopped,’ Anushka jokes, gently stroking Bertie on her lap, who is eyeing her cupcake. ‘He is so friendly and loves other dogs yet he missed out on vital socialisation. That’s why we set up a Pug meet up, which then turned into Pug Café.’
Having seen lots of Pugs out and about where she lived in Guildford, Anushka decided to organise the first Pug meet up in her regular coffee shop, Esquires. Following what felt like an overnight surge in interest, the morning coffee Pug meet up has now branched out into around 12 other pop-up locations nationally under the name Pug Café, with thousands of people attending. Whether the attendees are regulars (‘crazies’ as Anushka calls them) or new to Pug Café, you can be sure they all have one thing in common – their love for anything Pug. Anushka and her partner James like to enjoy the event too, by mingling with other Pug owners and taking lots of photos. If they see anyone who doesn’t really know what to do or feels a bit nervous about going up to someone else’s dog, Anushka and James are at hand to help by introducing them to another super friendly dog owner.
‘People think it’s generally chaos but it’s really not because they’re such small little dogs,’ Anushka says whilst Bertie puts his front paws on the table in the hopes of becoming closer to the cupcake.
And what if a Pug decides to go to the toilet? ‘James and me have a little laugh about it, especially if it’s code brown. We have all that stuff on hand to deal with it, so we can disinfect and make sure it’s all gone. It’s always funny.’ However Anushka ensures me she always makes the owners aware that they must toilet their dogs beforehand.
Despite Pug Café being an enormous success for Anushka, there have been and still are challenges. In the beginning, the vast amount of interest in a short amount of time meant Anushka had to deal with taking on the stresses alongside her other full-time job. Even after leaving her full-time job and returning to freelancing, she can find it tricky to manage her time. Most of her time is spent on Pug Café, doing all the social media, marketing, PR, content and actual event organising. Anushka is very much a one-woman band and she is no stranger to the occasional meltdown that working alone can bring.