Sonoma County residents are renting out their backyards as private dog parks

Bette Vasquez, left, and Colleen Simmons used the app Sniffspot to book playtime for their dogs in Alison Klahr's Petaluma backyard for a few hours on Thursday, August 10, 2023. Sniffspot is like an AirBnB for dogs looking for swim and a place to romp. (Photo John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Sonoma and Napa County residents are making some extra money by renting out their backyards and open space to dog owners throughout the North Bay area using an app called Sniffspot.

David Adams, co-founder of Sniffspot, said there are nine active listings in Sonoma and Napa counties, with the highest earning spot topping out at just over $2,000 a month.

Alison Klahr, a Petaluma resident, joined Sniffspot back in February and saw an immediate rush for bookings from dog owners looking for a safe place to let their dogs off-leash.

Her listing is a fully fenced, two-acre property in northern Petaluma with a walk-in dog pond that she says has made her listing very popular.

She’s made around $9,000 so far through her bookings.

“We’ve been slammed,” Klahr said. “I have to block off time during my day just so my dogs can come out.”

Klahr has had around 400 reservations for her backyard since she signed up as a host on Sniffspot. She said the majority of her guests come from the Bay Area and East Bay like San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley.

“There are no yards anywhere in that area so they (dog owners) will drive up to us to have this experience,” Klahr said. “It’s amazing to see how many people really need places for their dogs … it’s been such a joy to be able to do this for people.”

Victoria Petersen joined Sniffspot last January. She has a fully-fenced, two-acre property in Santa Rosa and puts the money made from bookings into maintaining the property.

She said most of the dog owners that book her space are local and are looking for a place to let their dog have a place to be themselves.

“I love (being on the app) from the perspective of helping the dogs,” Petersen said. “I would say 99.9% of the folks who come just love their dogs and want to be able to have a good time with them without hassle.”

Sniffspot was created by David and Rebecca Adams, who have two dogs of their own, Soba and Toshii. David said they were having a hard time finding a place to let their dogs off-leash and had not had great experiences at local dog parks.

“I’d had my dog, (Soba) for a year and I would take her on walks and all kinds of different things to help her enjoy her time and I didn’t really know the alternative,” David said. “I would take (Soba) to the dog park and it was pretty dirty, people didn’t always pick up after their dog and there were a lot of dogs that made it not a great experience for the other dogs.”

There are many reasons dog owners don’t feel comfortable taking their dogs to a dog park. While dog parks can be a great way for pets to socialize and get some energy out, some dogs just don’t get along with others, and some owners worry about injury, illness or bad interactions.

Many dog parks also don’t split dogs up by size, leaving owners of smaller dogs with limited options when it comes to giving their dog off-leash time.

David and Rebecca launched Sniffspot in 2018 and based the model for the app off Airbnb. Dog owners interested in booking a space can use the app to filter for specific locations, such as spaces with a pool or agility equipment.

All of the bookings are private, with only the dogs listed on the reservation allowed during the allotted time. There’s also a required half-hour break period in between bookings so owners arriving and departing with their pets can do so without interruption.

Sniffspot also runs checks on hosts and their spaces before allowing them to list on the website, such as validating addresses and locations to ensure legitimacy.

“We have people booking large meetups or people doing training sessions,” David said. “The people that use Sniffspot are crazy about their dogs and that’s still true today.”

You can reach Staff Writer Sara Edwards at 707-521-5487 or sara.edwards@pressdemocrat. com. On Twitter @sedwards380.

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