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Every day is a dog day on Newport Beach’s kennel road

Riverside Drive is a residential street of fewer than 20 homes at the tip of Upper Newport Bay. It resembles any other cul-de-sac. But a closer look reveals it’s far from ordinary.

Nearly the entire street is devoted to dog kennels. Twelve of them, in fact.

For the record:
2:05 PM, May. 29, 2019 This article originally misspelled Robert O’Conner’s last name as O’Connor.

The street’s residential character sometimes can be confusing for people dropping off their pets for the first time and don’t realize how many kennels there are. Even with the presence of signs, dogs often are taken to the wrong kennel, according to several operators.

Sunrun Kennels, with about 40 runs and a capacity of 59 dogs, was one of the first modern kennels established there, in 1996, according to Tina Seri, who bought the business in 2012.

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“It’s a wonderful street, very unique. Sure, you can hear dogs barking during the day, but at night it’s very quiet,” Seri said. “The kennel operators are respectful of one another, keeping dogs inside after 10 p.m.”

The Newport Beach Police Department said it has recorded only one noise complaint in the area in the past year.

Dennis Claus, a real estate broker who specializes in selling kennels and has sold more than 300 in California, said he doesn’t know of any other area in the country zoned specifically for dog kennels.

The residential kennel, or RK, zoning was established in 1986 when Orange County replaced a set of land-use regulations in the Santa Ana Heights neighborhood after years of public hearings with homeowners wanting to preserve their semi-rural area, including commercial kennel facilities, by preventing business development.

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In 2008, Santa Ana Heights was annexed by the city of Newport Beach, which adopted the existing commercial kennels ordinance, to be regulated by the Police Department’s animal-control division.

Riverside Drive’s commercial kennels — some of which also take cats and other animals — are the only ones in the city, according to animal-control supervisor Valerie Schomburg, who works out of the 29-dog Newport Beach Animal Shelter, also on Riverside Drive.

Next to the shelter is Rebel Run Canine Suites, which is licensed for 59 dogs. Owner Kathy Misterly bought the kennel 15 years ago.

“I’ve always loved animals, and this is kind of like having your own little farm in the middle of Newport Beach,” she said.

The kennel operations are as diverse as their canine clients. And although they all compete for the same customers, the street is friendly and there seems to be enough business to go around, according to Eric Seesemann, who bought Bzy Feet Kennels 14 years ago from the person who took care of his dogs. The facility sits on two adjacent lots and consists of 60 runs accommodating up to 60 dogs in four separate play areas.

“We’re not a free-for-all where all the dogs are thrown together,” Seesemann said.

The Dog Park Inn and Dog Republic offer cage-free environments and created their kennels from scratch rather than taking over existing businesses.

Dog Park Inn owner Robert O’Conner operates pet day care and overnight boarding at his family’s home.

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“We are a family of six who live on the premises, and your dogs stay with us in the comfort of our home,” O’Conner said. “The dogs are separated by play style — rambunctious, high-energy together and low-energy together.”

The facility is licensed for 50 dogs but limits the number to 35.

“[I] never wanted to run a dog kennel; [I] wanted to run a home where dogs can come,” O’Conner said. “We try our best to keep it as close to what they experience at home.”

Dog Republic, originally known for pack walks, expanded by adding dog day care along with boarding and training in a mostly open environment. To guard against potential health problems and temperament issues that high turnover often creates, the facility is limited to dogs with weekly enrollment in the walking and day camp programs.

Dog Republic was the first new kennel business permitted after Newport Beach took over, and as such, it has faced challenges different from the other kennels on Riverside Drive.

Before owner Kevin Burke purchased Dog Republic’s location in 2017, it had been used strictly as a residence. The list of requirements to bring it up to code was considerable and costly. Among them were construction of a new building, dog runs, a concrete foundation with drains, an extensive fire alarm system and an acoustical sound study to demonstrate a low level of noise.

“Every day we’re at capacity with 29 dogs, which is the maximum set forth by the city animal control,” Burke said. “We either need to expand our current facility by making more improvements or will have to purchase another property on the street.”

When he was interviewed earlier this month, Burke said two kennel properties were for sale, priced at $1.475 million and $1.6 million.

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“When I inquired about purchasing Four Paws Inn, which is next door and has a capacity of 59 dogs, I was unable to get confirmation from animal control that the capacity would remain the same. … As you can imagine, it’s deterring me and any other buyer from moving forward. In my opinion … [it] is going to make these properties hard to maintain their value.”

Newport Beach associate planner Makana Nova said that once the city planning division routes a permit application to the animal-control division, the review process is subjective and there is no specific code standard on the number of dogs allowed.

“In order to determine the number of dogs within a commercial kennel, the animal-control officers must use the size of the lot, the number of runs on the lot and the amount of interaction between the dogs on the property at the time of the permit application or permit renewal,” Newport Beach Police Department spokeswoman Heather Rangel said in an email.

Claus, the kennel sales specialist, said he believes the Riverside Drive kennels provide a much-needed service to the community and that licensing rules should focus less on things like “pounds per area” and more on “evaluating how dogs are cared for and handled humanely by the kennel owner.”

He sees a transition from indoor/outdoor run boarding to cage-free boarding because it’s closer to a home environment and what a dog is used to.

Susan Hoffman is a contributor to Times Community News.

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