Letting the dogs out at Camp Lisa

Cage-free dog boarding
By: Gloria Young, Reporter
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Camp Lisa cage free dog boarding

  • Where: 1550 Kellogg St., Newcastle
  • Info: or 916-824-2132
  • When: By appointment only

When Lisa Gillett opened her business 26 years ago in the Bay Area, her first client provided the inspiration for the name.

“He said, ‘Lisa, when I bring my dog for you to take care of her, she comes back tired, dirty and happy. It is just like going to camp,’” Gillett said. “That’s how I became Camp Lisa.”

Now Gillett has relocated her cage-free dog boarding kennel to Newcastle from Moraga.

“I’ve always wanted to live in this kind of setting,” she said. “It’s less crowded and below the snow line.”

After her sons graduated from high school, she began looking for land in the foothills. The parcel she decided on offers plenty of room — at 12 acres — and is near Interstate 80 for easy access. But there was a lot of work to be done.

“It was overgrown and there was a whole lot of garbage,” she said. “It had a dilapidated manufactured home and an even uglier trailer. I peeked through the window and a deer went out the (missing) front door.”

Gillett purchased the land in August 2016 and moved there the following April with her five dogs.

“The only thing somewhat habitable was the six-stall barn,“ Gillett said. “I moved into one of the stalls. In April it was cold and rainy, and there were many four-dog nights.”

By mid-July, her new manufactured home was ready for move-in.

“In the meantime, we worked on getting rid of all the garbage, put in some irrigation and created some pastures.”

Since then, she has brought in horses, donkeys, goats and chickens.

The dog kennel includes a 45-by-55-foot building and more than 12,000 square feet of manicured lawn, surrounded by a 7-foot-high fence. There’s a 10-foot patio surround and overhang to make sure there’s always shade.

“In the interior of the building, there’s room for the dogs to play if the weather is bad,” she said. “In the cold, there’s radiant floor heating. It can be 55 degrees and the dogs are nice and warm because their feet and bellies are warm. For summer, there’s a huge fan and I’m installing misters.”

She has a list of rules on her website and requires an interview with the owner before accepting a dog into the facility.

“I’ve been interviewing dogs for 25-plus years. I always go through an interview process over the phone or in person,” Gillett said. “So when someone describes the dog, I know what I am getting.”

Unlike an animal day care, there’s not a set schedule of activities.

“I feed the dogs twice a day and they are out and about,” she said.

A door in the kennel is always open onto the run, which is about 120-feet long.

“The ‘puppy channel’ is on all the time,” she said. “I am constantly watching the interactions of different dogs. I’ve learned so many nuances and subtle signals that dogs give to one another. I’ve taught so many people how to live with their dogs better because their dog will stay with me and I’ll observe things the owners may not see.

“The way I’m set up, think of it as an elementary school playground where the dogs come and it’s no one’s backyard and no one is on a leash where they are defending their territory or space. There’s a lot less worry that someone is going to get protective of a space. Dogs want to be in a pack situation. They like being with other dogs. I’m very careful when I screen the dogs and it works for me. I have very happy dogs. They will be put together with dogs they’ve never met, and by the end of a day, they are friends.”

She has five dogs of her own, including two Australian shepherds.

“They’ve had five litters. They are older and very sweet and easy going,” she said

A rat terrier keeps the neighborhood critters in check.

“She is my ratter. She has a job. She makes sure there are no voles, moles or rats in the area. She is better at it than my cat.”

There’s also a 1-year-old German shepherd and a 1-and-a-half year old German shepherd-Rottweiler mix.

“They are my patrol dogs,” she said.

For Gillett, the business is a joy.

“I just enjoy being around dogs,” she said. “I’m always learning. … It’s really entertaining, educational and a lot of fun. I do so much better with dogs than I do people. … I still have people from the Bay Area bringing dogs to me. Everyone knows that the dog is going to come first. I think that is important.”

The boarding cost per dog at the kennel is $35 per day with an added $5 for food if it is not provided by the owner.

During the admissions procedure, owners must provide emergency contact information as well as a vet contact.

Gillett only accepts dogs by appointment and only during daylight hours.