Dog hotel owners want better law enforcement 

Kennel owners are barking over strict but sporadically enforced business laws in The City that leave some feeling they’ve paid big sums to comply while others get off the hook, with potential health and safety consequences for dogs.

The fracas occurs in a town with an estimated 120,000 dogs, according to the San Francisco city government Web site, and a wealthy population spending more than ever on its pets.

Entrepreneurs have been taking note, with several new dog-boarding businesses opening to cash in on the opportunity, including the high-profile Wag Hotels chain.

But a large number of dog boarding houses already in existence are not following rules regulating where a kennel can be located, nor getting a mandatory department of health kennel permit for their business, Reigning Dogs & Cats owner Susan Rouse contends. She said her 20- to 30-dog shop at 1766 Mission St. invested more than $30,000 just to put in the required draining concrete floors, and she resents others who have skirted business expenses along with the law.

Mark Klaiman, part owner of Pet Camp, agrees.

"Floor drains can be expensive. Proper ventilation can be expensive," Klaiman said. "It seems to me that facilities that do not do that are at a competitive advantage and may, potentially, be putting animals at risk. We have a group of small businesses in San Francisco that are actually asking for enforcement."

The San Francisco Department of Public Health is charged with requiring the permits and inspecting the kennels. It relies on complaints from the public to prompt investigations into businesses that haven’t gone through the proper permitting, principal inspector Andrew Jin said.

"When anything comes to our notice … we go out there the very next day," he said.

The business owners contend it isn’t enough.

Enforcement efforts do exist: O-Paws dog-walking service owner Jonathan Tracy said he had to stop boarding dogs eight months ago because someone complained, correctly, that he was operating in the South of Market, an area not zoned for dog boarding. He has been seeking an appropriate building since, with no luck.

He sees other problems with San Francisco’s industry, including that lack of real estate.

"I don’t think The City has come to terms with changes in the industry," he said, noting that many dog walkers care for dogs illegally overnight. "If they really want to enforce it, it would be a nightmare."

Rouse said she would like to see the San Francisco Department of Animal Care and Control take over licensing of dog boarding. ACC’s Director Carl Friedman, while a facilitator for talks on the issue, said his agency is not suited to enforce zoning or public-health issues.

He recommended that pet owners ask to see business and kennel licenses before boarding animals.

The San Francisco Small Business Commission will review the laws, enforcement and other dog-boarding issues at a meeting 5:30 p.m. Feb. 12 in San Francisco City Hall, Room 400.

E-mail Kate Williamson at

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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