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How San Francisco’s economy has gone to the dogs


Let’s say you wanted to take your dog out on Union Street one day after work. So first, you pick her up where you left her that morning. Moulin Pooch is a “dog boutique and villa.” It would be nice to stick around for “Yappy Hour,” but she’s been there all day, so how about a change of scenery? At Pet Grooming Headquarters, a tiny shop a few blocks away, your dog can get a bath, a haircut, and a nail trim. Then, all fluffed up, it’s time for a treat. Le Marcel Dog Bakery, has 60 different treats for dogs and even birthday cakes.

This is just one street – one tiny slice of the dog services the Bay Area has to offer. There’s a dog-u-mentary photographer and an animal communicator. There are dog reiki practitioners and dog massage therapists. There’s a newspaper called Bay Woof, a pet taxi, and a raw pet food delivery service. There are at least 300 members of the San Francisco Professional Dog Walkers Association. And while we don’t know the total size of San Francisco’s dog economy, we do know what prices these services can... fetch. Your dog’s day out, which really uses just a few of these services, would cost about $120. And many new business owners are finding that there’s seemingly endless demand.

Doggie Daycare

Anna Gil knows the name and temperament of every one of the dogs who frequent her business, which is between 80 and 100 of them most weekdays. She owns Dogpile Dogs, a pet boarding and daycare business housed in a 22,000 square foot lot behind a fence in the aptly chosen Dogpatch neighborhood, near the Caltrain tracks. The dogs spend most of their time hanging out in big outdoor yards.

Just a few years ago, Gil was a corporate attorney. And she needed somewhere to bring her basset hound, Truman, while she was working.

“I got Truman my dog, the basset hound, and realized I didn’t have anyplace to take him for daycare,” says Gil. “So I did the research for finding a daycare, every day I took him there, I realized there were things I wanted in daycare services. So I started thinking about that, setting it up in my mind what I wanted for Truman. I also realized their life is too short and I wanted to spend more time with him.”

“I retired from Genentech to open this place, and my life savings essentially is into this place. So I’m very grateful and thankful that it did work out.”

That was in 2009. Today, she’s got 15 employees, and she says she gets 50-75 applicants within two days of posting a job. She doesn’t advertise, but has attracted so much business that for a while she had to stop accepting new dogs, just to keep the numbers manageable. And she’s earned enough money to start expanding.

“We’re going to open a senior oasis for the dogs. Sundeck, gentle sloping steps, wide so they can sleep on them, slope down to the yard space, trees and plants, and we’ll just try that out.” Gil says details like this matter to her clients. “We have people bring in dogs on medications, on Prozac for example if they’re anxious. We have very high end treats that we’re instructed to give for dogs, organic foods not just organic treats. There’s a new line of dog food that’s dehydrated human grade foods, vegetables and meats that are all human grade, USDA choice meats in there.”

“The collars and jackets that are on these dogs are all just the best, they’re designer labels, they’re Gucci, any high end designer that you can think of. We have dogs coming in with very nice cashmere turtleneck sweaters with pearl buttons on them. Not everyone: some people with dogs, that have nice very practical raincoats or jackets on rainy days.”

Startups Notice

All this investment in dogs’ health and happiness has even gotten Silicon Valley’s attention.

Ben Jacobs is the CEO and cofounder of Whistle, the first company focused on using technology to keep pets healthy. Whistle is a dog activity tracker – a little device you can attach to your dog’s collar that records how much she’s moving around each day.

“It’s waterproof, it goes wherever your dog goes,” says Jacobs. “It’s constantly measuring your dog’s activity with a very sensitive accelerometer. A Whistle’s job is to take all of that raw data, ultimately millions of data points per dog, and translate it into the way you already think about your animal.”

In other words, to help dog owners and vets keep better track of what’s normal – so they’ll know when something’s wrong. The app looks like a Facebook or Instagram feed, with entries saying how much your dog walked, photos you can share with friends, and warnings when you’re going off-track. Jacobs says this reflects what they learned from surveying 3,000 potential customers around the country: “The number one concern for any owner is their well being and their happiness. It’s phrased in terms of health but also emotion.”

And our emotions influence how we use our wallets. For dogs at least, money might be able to buy happiness. Whistle’s got $6 million in startup capital, two dozen investors and advisors, and around 20 employees – and they haven’t even officially launched yet. When they do, they’ll be among the first to the dog startup market. But not the only ones. AngelList, an online marketplace that connects startups with investors, lists 57 dog-focused tech companies around the country. Half of them joined just this year.

Crosscurrents San Francisco