Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dog Whisperer of Dogpatch: Meet Anna Gil of Dogpile Dogs

Anna with Baxter and Truman.
The first thing you notice is how quiet it is.  There is hardly a sound although in reality there are often 60 dogs playing, sleeping and having an overall excellent time at
Dogpile Dogs.

Opened in late 2009, owner Anna Gil and her ten employees have not only been providing a loving and safe environment for dogs of all breeds, but also giving peace of mind to dog owners who live throughout San Francisco.

The peace of knowing that their best friend will be taken care of in cage-free, off leash dog daycare nirvana in 8900 square feet of indoor space and 2200 of sunny, outdoor yard space.

And if an overnight stay is needed there are plenty of comfy cots and human supervision to get them through the night without you.

Gil's impressive background include degrees in law and molecular biology as well as positions as a lawyer at Genentech and law firms as well as positions as a scientist and researcher at such lofty institutions as Oxford University, Harvard University and MIT among many others.  But the unassuming Gil only revealed the extent of her background when asked for her resume.  Today, as is every day, was about the dogs -- or "canine guests" as Gil prefers to call them.

When we arrived for our interview a neatly dressed and petite Anna greeted us calmly and introduced us to her two best friends -- Truman, a seven year old basset hound and Baxter, a senior citizen corgi, shepherd mix.  Soft classical music played and dogs of all sizes and breeds played nearby.

Anna is a calming influence on all the "guests".

Why do you do what you do?

I've always loved animals.  I started out my college studies intending to be a veterinarian but switched to biology after I realized I didn't have the temperament to deal with sick animals and their owners who would give their entire savings to make them well.  It broke my heart!

After my last dog died I didn't get another pet for a long time.  When I finally got Truman I spent a long time trying to find a place for him to stay while I was at work.  At that time I was working long hours as an attorney so I barely got to spend any time with him. 

But he was constantly on my mind.  I was always wondering if he had clean water, if he was too hot or cold or was with someone who would be good to him.

Dogs teach us so much.  I finally realized that I wasn't spending my time the way I wanted which was to be with him.  So I made it a goal that when I was able to retire from my corporate job I would open the kind of dog care facility that I always wanted for him but could never find.

I wanted to offer drop-in daycare, 24 hour seven days a week of human TLC, filtered water and a super clean and healthy environment for the dogs.  And no cages!  We have lots of cots for the dogs to lounge on and huge indoor and outdoor areas for them to roam around and play in.

Although I don't decline any breeds, I do require a temperament evaluation for all prospective canine guests and we always monitor the dogs for any concerns such as aggression towards other dogs or humans.

But we don't use any special tools to make the dogs behave -- no shock collars, rattles or squirt guns.  We only use our voices and our bodies.   

Our employees are so important in achieving this goal.  They are trained in just such calming moments -- a soft voice, a gentle hand on the side of the dog -- I truly believe that dogs can read the energy in the room whether it be of a dog or a human.  Even the puppies respond to a calming moment.

Why Dogpatch?

I did research and searched for just the right place for more than four years.

I wanted a large space with an indoor and outdoor area and I hoped to find something in a sunny neighborhood in San Francisco that had easy access to the various freeways.

Many of the large industrial warehouses that are empty now are contaminated sites.  So it wasn't that easy to find just the right spot.  I was so happy when I found this location.  It used to be a POM distribution center so there was no contamination plus it was zoned for kennels.  It was very clean and big enough so I could get right to work setting it up.

I designed the space so that it can be changed if needed.  I can see and hear everything in the space even though it is very large and more importantly, so can the dogs.

One day I hope to start a program that rescues senior dogs and maybe even dogs with special needs.  That's why there are a lot of low ramps and all the play structures are low to the ground.  

Every month our business grows a bit although I am committed to growing slowly.  We haven't advertised yet and most of our business comes from word-of-mouth referrals.

Currently we average more than 60 dogs per weekday, more than 30 dogs per weekend day and more than 20 dogs per night.  I wanted to build a community of dogs and people and now we have enough regular canine guests that they teach the new ones how to behave.  A true pack mentality!

Who is another fascinating person in Dogpatch?

I enjoy the owners of Piccino and the workers at their coffee bar.  Every morning I get a boiled egg for Truman and Baxter.  They are all so great at creating a welcoming ambiance.

I just love the community of people of Dogpatch.  I love how unpretentious it is here.

What's an interesting story that has happened to you in Dogpatch?

One of our customers has three dogs and their dogs are frequent guests here.  This couple noticed that one of the street lights was out in front of our facility.  They thought it was unsafe to not have the light so they made phone calls and called on all their relevant contacts to get it fixed for us.  And they got it fixed!  Amazing!

So what would you be doing if you weren't giving your heart and soul to your canine guests every day?

I'm doing it!  Anything else would also be dog related.  I mentioned the programs I want to start for senior and special needs dogs.  Perhaps I would also bring to market some dog related inventions I've been tinkering with.  Maybe even write a book.

But the dogs have taught me how to live.  They have taught me that life is short and every day should have a bit of fun in it.  I'm having fun!

Why call your place Dogpile?

I was talking to a friend about how I needed a name for my new venture.  I said I wanted a name that would indicate a fun, relaxed environment where at the end of a fun day the dogs could form a dogpile -- where they can nestle together.  And he told me that I already had the name -- Dogpile!

Okay then, what's the biggest dogpile you have seen?

Our small dog record is 12 and for the bigger dogs, 9!

Article Written by Patricia Kline, Photos by Scott R. Kline


  1. This is a great article. I have been taking our dog Dakota to Anna for over a year and a half. This women is amazing. And Dakota loves it at DogPile. I would never go any where else. Thanks for letting everyone know what a great place this is.And how special Anna is.


  2. Thanks Tanya! We think (and so does our dog) Anna is amazing!

  3. Great article! Cute photos-love the family portrait of Anna, Truman, & Baxter. I agree with all the praise for Anna who is the heart and soul of DPD. I would recommend the place to anyone who wants a home away from home for their dog. Coraline, my Silken Windhound has been going there since she was a pup and every day I am grateful that she is being so well taken care of while I have to work long hours at a nonprofit. Everyone I've come in contact with there is very respectful and caring towards the 4 legged guests. DPD is one of a kind and I hope it will be around for a long, long time.

  4. I've taken my dog to a number of facilities in the Potrero Hill area and this is by far the most dog-friendly with its outdoor area and wide open spaces inside and out for the dogs to roam. And Anna is the best - in terms of caring not only for the dogs but their owners. – Robin Evans