At this Sacramento kennel, even scooping poop is green

Robert Espinosa swears this dog is green.

Robert Espinosa swears this dog is green.

Photo By Anne Stokes

Given the name Grateful Dog, one might picture a couple of dedicated pooch enthusiasts passing the house bong across an old overstuffed couch, methodically slouching toward dog consciousness before communing telepathically with their four-legged friends, while wisps of Jerry Garcia guitar solos noodle away bucolically in the background.

But a visit to the canine day-care facility, located at the cusp of Sacramento’s Midtown and Alkali Flat neighborhoods on the northwest corner of 17th and E streets, reveals that Grateful Dog appears much less rooted in stoner counterculture than it does in a prosaic bond between man and mutt, set inside a clean, well-lighted facility where sustainable business practices are the order of the day.

According to proprietor Robert Espinosa, it’s the only truly green doggie day care in town.

“Everything is recycled or recyclable,” he explained, “organic cotton, hemp, local harvest—that kind of thing, and we only sell things that are made in North America. All these meet that kind of criteria in some way or another: beds made out of soda bottles, organic cotton and hemp leashes and collars. … And all the treats and food we sell are made in America or Canada, high-quality stuff, not made in China.”

Espinosa is an affable fellow whose clean-shaven head and pierced ear don’t give the impression he’s down with the tie-dye tribe, although he’s by admission a devoted Deadhead. He’s also attuned to pooches, which an overly friendly medium-sized specimen with short gray-and-white fur and gray eyes that greeted him brightly made quite apparent.

“That is a pit bull,” he explained. “Or, if you want to get technical, American Staffordshire terrier. Her mother rejected her, and we saved her.”

A Bay Area native who relocated from Emeryville, where he learned the dog-care trade, Espinosa explained that Grateful Dog is friendly to even misunderstood breeds, preferring to make placement decisions on a dog-by-dog basis.

Inside the inner sanctum, a boarding room—once somebody’s office—contains a mattress. This is where Espinosa, or one of his eight employees, sleeps whenever there are four-legged overnight guests in the room.

On the other side of double doors is a large warehouse area, which on this day erupted into a chorus of arfs, woofs and yips. About 10 dogs had the run of one of the room’s two sizable fenced-in yards; they seemed rather contented to give any human visitors a stemwinder of a report, albeit in dog language.

“We’re very different than other places,” Espinosa pointed out. “All of our boarding is cage free.”

Grateful Dog opened on February 14 of this year and, like everyone else, Espinosa is gambling that an economic recovery will arrive in time to keep his business thriving. When that happens, Grateful Dog seems to be well-positioned to take advantage of a societal shift wherein people without children actively parent—and outright pamper—their pets.

“That’s what’s made us successful, this shift in how you treat your dog,” Espinosa explained. “People want their dogs to have this kind of experience all day; they want them, when they have to board, to not be caged up—because dogs are social animals, they’re much more comfortable when they can interact.”

Whether an environment that enables butt-sniffing trumps one where frustrated hounds in cages dream of a whiff of tail is something for scientists to determine, but pet owners intuitively know the answer. And Espinosa wagers that some of those doggie moms and dads will insist on patronizing green businesses, where even the doggie bags used to dispose of excrement are biodegradable.

Grateful Dog is open seven days a week; there’s someone on site 24 hours a day. Its capacity, according to Espinosa, is 40-50 dogs. Grooming services are also offered, and there’s a self-serve area where you can wash your dog. Prices are posted on the firm’s Web site at