The lush, green grass on 3 acres of The Circle G Ranch is an enticing place for dogs of all breeds and sizes to run around, romp and play.
The private dog park in Ramona also has agility equipment with jumps, weave poles and a tunnel to invite active pups to use their imagination while getting exercise they may not be able to get at home.
Owner Ryan Gonsalves says the wide-open yard gives dogs a chance to unleash their energy without worrying about interference from other dogs.
“Pit bulls, rottweilers, golden retrievers, everyone is welcome here,” said Gonsalves, 29, who has a German Shepherd mix named Harley. “We want you to be able to bring your dog here and feel like it’s a safe environment.”
Guests reserve space at Circle G Ranch using the Sniffspot app or website. Sniffspot matches off-leash dog parks to dog owners who want to reserve play space for their pets. Circle G Ranch charges $17 an hour for each dog, with a 50 percent discount for each additional dog. Half-hour rates are available for 25 percent less.
Gonsalves stumbled across the idea of renting out his yard when he saw an ad on Craigslist for Sniffspot in 2020. At the time, he and his dad, Alfred Gonsalves Jr., were looking for a way to earn extra money. The idea was to give the Gonsalves family flexibility to stay at home while Alfred was in need of a kidney transplant.
“I could take care of my dad and we could grow something ourselves,” Gonsalves, a former golf attendant at The Bridges country club in Rancho Santa Fe, said of the budding dog park enterprise.
But their dreams of building a legacy together suddenly faded when just about a month before the planned kidney transplant Alfred Gonsalves was diagnosed with cancer. The transplant was called off and a short time later Gonsalves, 62, passed away in July 2020.
“If we hadn’t started this together, I don’t think I would have done it,” Ryan Gonsalves said. “We had big plans and goals for life and then it all changed really fast. I thought, ‘If I don’t keep doing this, I’ll regret it.’ We had a great time together doing yard work and planting trees. Every time I come out here, I always think of him and how he was always helping me.”
With so much invested in running the dog park, Gonsalves didn’t give up. Having his own business right beside his home at 1412 Black Canyon Road also gives him the freedom to care for his 90-year-old grandmother, Hilda Gonsalves, who has mobility issues. And every so often he’s able to drive his mom, Marcia Stanley, up for visits from her home in Carmel Valley.
“She’s one of my biggest supporters,” Ryan said of his mom, who has Parkinson’s disease.
The workload Ryan shoulders with his family and business hasn’t gone unnoticed.
CBS8 feature reporter Jeff Zevely highlighted Circle G Ranch and Sniffspot in one of his Zevely Zone segments in October. Zevely took his Labradoodle, Raleigh, who had to be coaxed through Circle G’s plastic poles. His piece touched on the story of Gonsalves’s dad and the commitment Ryan Gonsalves has shown to caring for his mom and grandmother.
San Diego Honda Dealers were inspired by Gonsalves’s story and selected him for a Random Act of Helpfulness, said Honda representative Tracy Galermo.
With Zevely’s help they arranged to stop by Circle G Ranch Dog Park on Dec. 14. The San Diego Honda Dealers gifted Gonsalves with $3,000 worth of supplies and a $1,000 donation for whatever the family needed. The gifts ranged from a new pop-up tent, outdoor umbrella and chairs, a dog agility tunnel, dog ropes and ball toys, dog bowls, cleaning supplies, dog treats and biscuits.
Gonsalves said the gifts were a surprise and “overwhelming to say the least.”
“We were given things we can greatly use,” he said. “I thought, ‘My goodness this is so much stuff. Where am I going to put it all?’ A lot of it is extremely useful.”
A number of the dog park’s customers come from downtown San Diego where there’s not as much space to roam as in the countryside, Gonsalves said. One customer makes the trek from Orange County. Another brought their dog from Arizona for a canine birthday party that included a dog friendly cake and party hats for 10 doggie guests.
“One customer has a retired bomb-sniffing dog,” he said. “The owner is from Seattle and loves coming down here for the holidays.”
Donna Murdoch of Ramona takes her two Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers, 21-month-old Hunter and 8-year-old Dazz, to the dog park practically every week. Murdoch sometimes takes her dogs hiking in the mountains, but she says the park allows the dogs to play and train in a safe environment free of coyotes and other hazards.
Training time is important for Hunter and Dazz because they compete in agility, scent work and dock diving, she said. Last month she took Dazz to an AKC Agility Invitational in Orlando, Fla., where about 9,000 top dogs in their breeds competed in multi-disciplines, she said.
“I exercise and train my dogs out there,” said Murdoch, who found out about Sniffspot by listening to a dog trainer’s podcast. “Hunter is a young dog and I get a big yard to work on some of his skills. There’s a behavioral wellness component for a dog that requires good nutrition, good communication with you, and a fair amount of off-leash exercise.”
Dogs lacking adequate exercise may end up with behavioral issues or might get in trouble for running around the house, she said.
“My dogs are high-drive performance dogs who compete, but it’s hugely important for every dog to run around, play and sniff, and just be able to be a dog,” she added. “If all a dog sees are a leash and a sidewalk it’s missing something in their lives.”
Murdoch said she gets her money’s worth with the $17-an-hour fee. When she arrives, the gate is open, the kiddie pool is filled, fresh water and potty bags are available, and the facility is clean and secure, she said. Her recommendation to first-time customers is just to enjoy the experience.
“It’s a lot of fun to go out there and walk with your dog and have fun,” she said. “My concern is, is it going to be safe and clean, am I going to be comfortable with my dog out there? The answer is absolutely, yes.”
Gonsalves has shared his good fortune from the Random Acts of Helpfulness visit with others, donating some of the items to the Frosted Faces Foundation senior dog rescue in Ramona, and handing out goodie bags with toys and treats to some of his customers during the holidays.
He noted that Circle G Ranch has 868 five-star reviews on Sniffspot. https://www.sniffspot.com/listings/ramona-ca/the-circle-g-ranch-private-dog-park-4527
And he keeps thinking of ways to make improvements. One of those was hosting rattlesnake avoidance training for dogs last summer. Poway trainer Lynne Moore of Good Dog Training School led the sessions with a handful of dogs a half hour at a time, he said.
“I always try to give everyone their space and their privacy,” he said. “Other spots or places where you can take your dog aren’t as open or secure, that’s one reason why we’re so popular. A lot of dogs have enjoyed the agility equipment. They can practice and learn, and if they’re not into it there are other activities they can pursue and try out.
“It’s so cool all of the people I get to meet,” he added while flipping through a guestbook resting on a shaded patio table. “I haven’t met any celebrities yet, but you never know. It would be right up their alley with the privacy.”
For more information about the Circle G Ranch Dog Park, which is open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., call 858-401-2214.