Like so many great business ideas, Karla Rivera-Cervantes and her husband Ernie conceived the concept behind their The Grateful Dog doggie daycare facility out of personal need.
“I’m a lifelong dog lover,” she says. “As an only child, dogs were like my siblings growing up – very furry siblings.”
Cervantes graduated from UC Berkeley and got her PhD in organizational development, regularly traveling all over the world to meet with clients, primarily large tech companies – a lifestyle that didn’t exactly jibe with her dogs Versace, now 15, and Latte, now 13.
“I could never find a place that would be a home away from home,” she says. “My dogs could never be crated, and we wanted to create a place that felt like a home away from home, where a human being stays with the dogs 24-7.”
In 2009, she decided to make the doggy day care of her dreams a reality. She launched The Grateful Dog, a small, independent, minority/woman-owned business at 1769 Lombard Street. In a neighborhood with so many young professionals, it was a big success.
With the wind seemingly at their back a decade later, the couple launched a second location at 2094 Redwood Hwy. in Greenbrae in 2019 to accommodate many of their existing clients who had moved to Marin over the years and had been regularly driving into the city. But like just about every business on the planet, COVID-induced mayhem was lurking in early 2020. Business plummeted by 90 percent at first as thousands of tech workers who commuted south for work were no longer doing so.
But what first seemed like a disaster eventually morphed into a beacon for first responders who were working insanely long shifts as COVID cases spiked in Marin and, well, everywhere. The Grateful Dog remained open throughout, “largely serving dog owners employed as essential workers, including doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals who were working long hours without the ability to keep their dogs home alone all day,” Cervantes says.
The Cervantes’ kept both locations open with extended hours through those fraught months of 2020, and created so much goodwill among their clients that they were featured in a KRON4 television news segment.
The family has since moved to Tiburon to be closer to their Marin location. Not long after they opened their Marin location, complete with a huge sign out front bearing their business’ moniker, longtime Mill Valley residents Bob and Natasha Weir – the former being a living legend in the music industry, popped in for a visit with their dogs.
“Ernie called me and said, ‘I think the Grateful Dead is here,'” Cervantes says with a laugh. “I was never a huge Deadhead but still very much a fan. But now we can say that the Grateful Dead came to meet the Grateful Dog.”
Weir, ever the gracious rock star, signed the Grateful Dog’s door.
“Now we’re waitlisted at both locations because everybody adopted pets during the pandemic,” Cervantes says.