Winnie Kenney, who moved to San Francisco from Nashville earlier this year, works at Google’s campus in downtown San Francisco. That’s nice for two reasons: she doesn’t have to commute 90 minutes each way to Mountain View on a Taylor-Swift-tour-size bus, and the Embarcadero is just across the street, offering sublime views and a two-acre park.
After lunch, Googlers like Winnie escape from the glass-enclosed conference rooms and are reminded of why they live here. They hit the salty 70-degree air clad in what’s known as Pata-Gucci: puffy base layers, stretchy cargoes, and shoes made from recycled plastic bottles, toting pinging phones, rainbow-striped Google badges, and low-key optimism. Winnie has the badge and a super-positive outlook, but not a phone, because she doesn’t have thumbs. She’s a dog, in fact. More precisely, she’s a Doogler.
Dogs at Work: A Love Story
Twenty years ago, a Leonberger named Yoshka was Google’s first Doogler. The champion show dog, who died in 2012, belonged to Urs Hölzle, Google’s eighth employee and senior vice-president for technical engineering. Yoshka was the subject of a blog and kept an office on the third floor. Today, a popular café on Google’s Mountain View campus is named after him, and he’s remembered as a true stud. (In fact, his lineage lives on.) He paved the way for a tech culture that is less dog-friendly and more dogs-nearly-everywhere.
Today in San Francisco—the city named for the patron saint of animals—dogs are so commonplace (and believed to bolster morale and ensure longer workdays) at companies including Lyft, Airbnb, Zynga, and the countless start-ups housed at dog-friendly WeWork that it’s unremarkable to see a golden retriever sitting at the cereal bar. (Lyft regularly hosts “yappy hours” and dog-fashion shows.)
But the culture that has emerged around dogs in San Francisco, where they now outnumber children, is truly state of the art. Pups are welcome nearly everywhere (even with no-pets-allowed landlords) if the pooch is declared an emotional-support animal, which was the case for every dog I encountered for this story. The city’s demographic is skewing younger and richer, and people are staying single for longer, having fewer children, and procuring dogs.
In fact, according to the San Francisco S.P.C.A., which includes four board members from the tech industry, the city is experiencing a shortage of rescue dogs. The S.P.C.A. is widening its mission to include helping low-income citizens care for the pets already in their home. Several tech legends have started their own charities: Peoplesoft’s Dave Duffield founded the rescue charity foundation Maddie’s Fund, donating his home, currently on the market for $28.5 million, to the nonprofit. (The home has an on-property dog spa.)
Jana Lee, who works at the Kinship venture capital fund (which targets pet care and recently hosted a dog-centric hackathon at Tech Crunch), has seen a benefit not just for the city’s pups but also for their parents. “Dogs are humanizing the tech community here,” says the 40-year-old dog parent to Chihuahuas Dave and Steve. “The tech community in San Francisco has always had this reputation of being leeches. Just taking everything they can.”
In early October, I join Winnie on the Embarcadero. The four-year-old poodle-boxer mix the color of wet asphalt gallops around the park, dodging a few shirtless homeless men enjoying the Indian summer. She proudly summits the green knoll like Brienne of Tarth. Arriving back with us, she gyrates with a shake-wiggle-shiver and politely sits down.
“Winnie is so well behaved!” says Grace Kao, mother of Gatsby, a nine-year-old miniature schnauzer who pancakes in the grass and rolls around with a rapturous smile. “I definitely judge people based on their dog’s behavior.” Manners really matter at Google, where Kao says that the dog policy includes a “one-strike pee” clause. Winnie looks up and winks at me.
“I definitely judge people based on their dog’s behavior.”
I follow Winnie and Kristin Kenney, her “human”—the preferred in-office nomenclature—back to the office. Google is credited with having big tech’s first and perhaps the most liberal dog policy, which extends to all offices around the world. Dogs and their humans can be photographed for badges on the first day of employment; a dog bus shuttles Dooglers and Googlers to and from the Mountain View headquarters every day. A guy on an electric skateboard with a thumb accelerator whirrrrrrrs past us. Kenney and I flinch, but Winnie doesn’t budge.
“She’s definitely become a better dog since we moved here, because we’re so in sync,” Kenney says. Every morning, the single 38-year-old packs her and her dog’s breakfasts in side-by-side plastic containers. I ask about Kenney’s love life, as there was a recent viral Reddit thread about dating in San Francisco titled “What annoys you the most about dating in SF?” “Dating is … Eh, you kind of do it,” she says with a shrug. “I mean, I get pretty much everything I need from Winnie.”
Back in Kenney’s office, two colleagues drop by. One, an Australian attorney, collapses to the hallway floor and spoons her dog, a setter mix. (“More Irish than English, according to his DNA test,” his human says.) The other colleague steps over her to get into Kenney’s office, and reports of two dachshunds named Romy and Michelle up for adoption. Winnie suddenly vomits all over the floor. “I think it was the bacon from this morning.” Within seconds, a maintenance person rolls up with a cart. “Dog life,” Kenney says with an exhale as she’s handed a roll of industrial paper towels.
The tech buses lumber north and south across San Francisco every morning and evening. Glossy and dark, they’re two stories tall and half a block long. They move like blue whales, steady and dauntless, ferrying their passengers to Apple, Google, and Facebook. To be stuck between two of them in the left-turn lane during rush hour is to know powerlessness.
Walking my own dog, Franky—named for St. Francis and adopted at a shelter founded by an Uber executive—we would often cross paths with the tech buses on Divisadero and head to George, a pet store that combines the Americana of Ralph Lauren with the fizz of Jonathan Adler. Founded by New York transplant Bobby Wise, George sells dried lamb filets for $3 an ounce, grain-free “Cheetos” at $9 a pound, and hand-beaded dog collars for $200.
Wise has steered George through two tech bubbles and now finds “dog life” to be a mix of money-to-burn and search-for-meaning. “We watch new customers come into our stores and, well, just change,” says Wise. “Some people are searching for something real. Then they adopt a dog. And then they find us.”
Parks and Rec
Earlier this year, I began to notice a different, more diminutive bus fleet cruising the streets. These were, I learned, Mercedes-Benz sprinter vans filled with passengers, exclusively canine, and destined for far-flung places like the Marin Headlands or Half Moon Bay. Not all workplaces are as hospitable as Google—Facebook and Instagram are not dog-friendly, and Pinterest and Headspace reversed course and abandoned their dog-friendly policies, inciting an uproar.
Seeking information on the fates of those dogs who aren’t allowed at the office, I head to the Presidio, a three-square-mile national park between the Marina neighborhood and the Golden Gate Bridge, where I meet David Levin, 34, the owner of Citizen Hound, a dog-walking service that was recently declared the best in San Francisco by the local dog newspaper, Bay Woof, for their annual “Beast of the Bay” awards. For $775 a month, Citizen Hound will squire your pooch on two-hour-long hikes each weekday.
“More and more in San Francisco today, people want their dogs to reach the kind of excellence they’ve achieved in their own life,” says Levin, as he motions for an Australian cattle dog named Dolly to sit down, simply with a flick of his hand.
“People want their dogs to reach the kind of excellence they’ve achieved in their own life.”
An hour later, energy-depleted after the hike, we all head back to Levin’s modified Toyota Tacoma. He gently loads up four French bulldogs and we hit Billionaires’ Row, a mix of mansions owned by tech executives. We see several other dog-walking services juggling for street parking with Teslas, Porsches, Maseratis, dry-cleaning vans, and one catering van ejecting folding tables and bow-tied attendants.
“I get that dog walking is something of a luxury amenity,” says Levin, watching the scene unfold in front of us. “But it’s relatively tame compared to the other stuff that’s here now.” That new “dog life” now includes dog-centered happy hours, dog spas, dog co-working spaces, dog “resorts” that cost upward of $150 a night, canine massage parlors, and dog pool clubs. There is a puppy “junior high” and “high school” offered by the dog training service known as Puppy Prep (the Magna Cum Laude weekday package is $2,450), Chinese acupuncturists and French bakeries that exist only for dogs, and a members club called Doggy Style that costs owners up to $1,500-a-month. An annual daytime gay dance party at the Virgin Hotel benefitting a senior-dog rescue. And, when the time comes, one can even enlist the services of a dog-death doula.
On a sidewalk near Jony Ive’s home in Pacific Heights, a young dog walker is wrangling three dogs. He’s wearing a T-shirt with a cartoon puggle. Below it, two bubble-lettered words: Chill, Bitch!
Jason Sheeler is a writer based in San Francisco