Passions unleashed

A cat owner risks it all for the sake of a dog—and a meal they'll never forget.

The assignment, should I choose to accept it: Visit a restaurant that serves dogs and their owners at the same table and review it, using as few puns as possible. I realized the potential for problems immediately. You can't review a dog restaurant without a dog, and Butterdish the Impenetrable, my aging, virginal cat, is highly intolerant of my having any sort of relationship—even professional—with a canine. Doggy Diner

1007 Harris, Bellingham, 360-756-0295 daily 9am-7pm AE, DC, MC, V; no alcohol, leashes required The Impenetrable One denies that dogs should even exist, much less deserve anything nice. She's like an old Afrikaner absolutely convinced of the superiority of her race; I'm sure she'd resort to genocide if she had the technology. Despite her arrogant speciesism, I love her, her bigotry a burden that our otherwise blissful relationship must bear. The problem remained. I needed to take a dog to lunch, but if the peace was to be kept in my happy home, then this meal, like an extramarital assignation, must be kept secret. I'd have to be careful about slobber on my collar and doggy dander on my clothes. My friends Jeff and Arden just moved to town with their dog Gomez, a huge male Doberman. And while being party to dishonesty made them uncomfortable, they granted me a date with him. The Doggy Diner is in Fairhaven, that old Bellingham hippie neighborhood long-gone gentrified and, more recently, doggone (oops!) cute. It's owned by the folks who run the Colophon Cafe next door, a well-established local hangout for students and caffeinated bibliophiles. The human food is produced in the Colophon's kitchen. This place is a fair haven for vegetarian dogs who were famous women in previous lives. It's for their masters who believe in alternative medicine, microfiber overcoats, and toothbrushes for their four-legged friends. These are the folks who eschew the horrors of vivisection and the monotony of kibbly monodiets. It's a place for vegan humans who can't stand handling meat for their omnivorous wootsies. People who talk to their dogs in multisyllables congregate here, alongside those who can discuss pet acupuncture with a straight face. This is an establishment for people who love their dogs as much as, if not more than, themselves. Concha Brionez, the mutter d' (sorry!) and waitress, sat us down and brought water bowls for all. On expense account and feeling magnanimous, I ordered a round of San Pellegrino, which Gomez lapped up with great enthusiasm. Surrounded by happy dogs and their owners, there's nary a hint of discord between the leashed patrons of diverse breeds. Springers lay down and supped with Labradors, and pugs with poodles. There's never been a fight. "It's nobody's territory, so nobody's territorial," says co-owner Taimi Gorman. "Besides, everybody's getting fed." If you inventoried Gomez's personality, you'd surely mention trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, and kind, but you'd be remiss if you didn't put "hungry" at the top of the list. His lack of discrimination is no doubt good for his body and mind, but it's made him somewhat wanting as a critic—no pressing morsels against his palate to make thoughtful judgments. He uncritically inhaled the Canine Cookies (carob chip, garlic cheese chews, peanut butter "Pups," $1.50 for two) and, showing no preferences whatsoever, swallowed each Mutt Muffin (banana apple, carrot, 85 cents) in a gulp, raising an eyebrow as if asking, "Next?" I interpreted my companion's eagerness as a four-star rating, though no other comments were forthcoming. The dog entrees are wholesome enough to be eaten by people and priced accordingly. (I must admit it's hard to sit down in a place where dogs eat expensive human food without being reminded of Tent City on Beacon Hill, where homeless humans eat cheap dog food.) The food from the people menu was the good, steady stuff you'd expect from the Colophon, though the menu names were a little off-putting, like the Three Dog Salad Platter ($7.50) or the Arf-rican peanut soup ($4.09 for small, $5.15 for large, comes with bread). The Diner also features, no real surprise, a gifty pet boutique specializing in cute. There's tchewable tchotchkes, formal wear, studded fetish fashions, Harley Davidson T-shirts and bandannas, sunglasses, and St. Christopher's medals—all for dogs. Which gave me pause to consider my left-behind kitty: Cats are not welcome here. They try to tone down this blatant speciesism in a part of the boutique called Kitty Corner, which sells stuff like cat's pajamas and all varieties of catnip. But it's tokenism, plain and simple. "We can't guarantee a cat's safety," Gorman says. "If one comes by, he's on his own." (I shuddered, thinking of segregated lunch counters in Mississippi in the '50s.) Birthday parties are catered complete with human and canine cakes, sparkling water, and, yes, cigars (made from oatmeal and peanut butter in a yogurt dressing). They even do weddings; however, no one's been married yet. The (I'm serious) nuptial packages ($89.95 for a basic ceremony to $199 for the real doozy) feature such perks as limousine service, a red carpet, and cakes for the lucky dogs and humans. Gorman has become a minister in anticipation of such an occasion. Same-sex marriages? "I'll marry any two dogs who feel strongly for each other," she asserts. How about a dog and a cat? "Only with premarital counseling," she laughs. Although Butterdish suspects nothing, Gomez and I won't be seeing each other anymore—my guilt's too strong. We can't help but stare longingly across the table—me with eyes full of what might have been, and Gomez with pure Mutt-Muffin love.

 
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