Talking with The proprietor of a camp for cats and dogs


Name: Mark Klaiman
Age: 51
City: San Francisco
Position: Co-owner of Pet Camp, a day care and overnight facility for dogs and cats in San Francisco


J.: When did you open Pet Camp?

Mark Klaiman: In 1997. The idea came from my wife, Virginia Donohue, and my trying to think of something that would let us take our dog to work. In a classic “be careful for what you ask for,” we now get to spend our days not only with our own dog, but also with 150 others.

Mark Klaiman and Zambi

J.: How does it work?

MK: We wanted to design a place that we would want for our own dogs. In San Francisco, people don’t have big backyards, so the natural place to take your dog is to a dog park. We wanted to create a dog-park environment for your dog when you are not home. When we opened Pet Camp and we offered group play where dogs could socialize, the industry went crazy. They thought this was nutty and dangerous. Of course, now everyone does it and it’s completely mainstream. It’s great. But from a competitive point of view, we’ve had to continue to evolve and keep pushing things out there. It’s a great challenge to have.

J.: You welcome only dogs and cats; how many can you accommodate at one time?

MK: When we first opened, we could handle 70 dogs and 20 cats. Today we have two buildings and can handle about 170 dogs and 85 cats.

J.: Vacation and holiday times must be the busiest for you, right?

MK: Pet camp is semi-seasonal. We work when no one else does. Summer and winter break are our busiest times. Summer is like a marathon and Thanksgiving and Christmas are like sprints.

J.: Do you have pet overload, or do you also have some at home?

MK: We have three dogs. We also have four children — 13-year-old triplets and an 11-year-old. Our house is chaos. I have a Newfoundland (Zambi) who weighs 115 pounds, my older son adopted a 25-pound Spaniel mix and my younger son recently decided to bring in a Great Dane mix. He’s about 110 pounds right now and he’ll fill out a bit more. All our dogs are rescue dogs.

J.: Are you a dog person or a cat person?

MK: I was probably a dog person, but I feel pretty confident that I’m both now.

J.: Is it easier to deal with the pets or with their people?

MK: It’s easier to work with the dogs and the cats than with the people. Part of it is who we are here. We all choose to work with animals because we like them, because we communicate with them better. The dog or cat clients always warn you first before they do something; humans don’t always warn you first.

J.: Is it hard to say goodbye to your campers when they leave?

MK: The bond that the counselors, not just me, have with the campers is phenomenal. We have thousands and thousands of pet clients and people clients, and we have almost none who we wouldn’t want to see again. Recently I got a letter from a client whose dog had passed away, not only thanking us for the great care, which is of course heartwarming, but with all these pictures of the dog. You get attached to them in ways that you never thought would happen.

J.: Are you anthropomorphizing animals by calling them “campers” and offering them so many services?

MK: Since I have both dogs and children, I am pretty clear that there is a distinction. I don’t think we are adding to the anthropomorphizing of dogs and cats. I think we are providing services that people need, certainly in the city. Some of these things are convenience factors, like the pickup and drop-off or training or bathing. Some of it is comfort factors, like the camper cameos (photos of boarded pets posted online). We don’t provide free Wi-Fi for the dogs, because I don’t think they’re going to use it — whether it is free or not. But I do recall the day we got a phone call from a cat parent who said her psychic said she needed to talk to her cat, so I held the phone up to the cat’s ear.

“Talking with …” is a j. feature that focuses on local Jews who are doing things we find interesting.


Renee Ghert-Zand
Renee Ghert-Zand

Renee Ghert-Zand is a Jerusalem-based freelance journalist. She made aliyah from Palo Alto with her family in June 2014.