Mini sofas and Wag cams

Joel Leineke

Photo By Larry Dalton

If you have a dog or cat and are looking for a place that will make them feel right at home when you’re out of town, you’re in luck. Wag, a 34,000-square-foot pet hotel in West Sacramento, promises to give “guests” affordable luxury treatment. When Joel Leineke, president of Wag, was approached by his now co-founder, Ritu Raj, to open a pet hotel, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity. His passion, commitment and love for animals is the beginning of his mission to “transform the pet-care industry.”

What does Wag stand for?

Just Wag. Our ad agency came up with it. Wag your tail—that’s it! It’s not an acronym for anything.

How do you refer to the pets?

They’re our guests, and we call them by name.

How did you get started?

I was a partner in a construction company for several years, and then we sold that company in 2003, but in the middle of that, I was looking for something else. It wasn’t all what I wanted to do. The other fellow [Ritu Raj] that I started this company with mentioned this idea to me one day, and we started looking into it. It looked like it would make a good business. We did some research, and last year in September, I started out full time, and we raised a bunch of money, and we launched the thing, and we were able to tie up this property in May.

What inspired you?

I’ve always been a dog owner and dog lover. Whenever I traveled, I’ve never been happy with where I could put my dog. But now my dogs are as spoiled as can be. We started thinking of it and thought there’s really a demand from people [for pets] to have a real upscale facility. From the idea of building a pet hotel, it became “let’s build a chain of hotels"—a whole family of hotels—and raising the bar for pet-care quality in the industry.

Is Wag the only pet hotel in Sacramento?

It’s probably the only one of its kind. There are a bunch of other boarding facilities, but I haven’t seen all of them, so I couldn’t comment on how nice some of them may be. But I’m not aware of any that are on the scale or quality that we have done.

What advice would you give to someone who aspires to open a pet hotel?

Oh my gosh! It takes more time and more money than you’ll ever imagine. We spent about $2 million on this building.

Do you plan on opening any more facilities?

This is our first, but we’re working on three more in the Bay Area for next year. Probably the following year we’ll open some in Southern California, but our current plan is to open about 15 over the next four years.

What type of certification is needed to open a pet hotel?

The American Boarding Kennels Association has a voluntary accreditation. We’ll be doing that. But we are inspected by the Yolo County animal control. However, there’s no other particular certification required. Our manager of guest services has his degree from UC Davis in animal science, we have some certified dog trainers on staff, and we’re sending some of our staff to grooming school.

What are the requirements for pets to be admitted?

The pet that would fit us best plays well with others, is somewhat socialized—although a lot of people don’t know if their pets are socialized; we introduce them, and they do just fine. Our playgroups are supervised. Other than that, we require basic health immunizations for a pet. We would not take a pet that’s aggressive toward humans, just because we can’t risk our staff’s welfare. If the dog is aggressive toward other animals, we have a specialized care program, which means the dog gets out and gets individual playtime and attention.

What are the standard rates at the hotel?

We have different sized rooms. For the smallest rooms, they are $28; for the medium and large rooms, they are $32 and $35; and we have mini suites, which are very nice stainless-steel glass rooms, and they’re $44. Our luxury suites have flat-screen TVs, little mini sofas, artwork on the walls and Web cams that we call Wag cams. The luxury suites are $55.

What type of treatment do pets receive?

We like to think of ourselves as the next best thing to being at home. But a typical day at Wag: A dog gets up in the morning, and they get their breakfast. They get taken out for an hour of group play. They come back to their room, rest and settle down for a while for a midday nap, and then they go out in the afternoon for another hour, and they come back and get dinner. Also, our swimming pool just opened.