They're going to the dogs (in a good way)

Though pups are often considered part of the family, it isn't always practical to take them along during the holidays.

In the Newport-Mesa area, there are plenty of options if the choice is to board. But not all boarding and doggy day cares are the same.

There are places meant only for small dogs. Some are primarily kennels or dog runs. Others are cage-free.

Bob and Merlaina O'Conner have operated a doggy day care since 1994, when they lived in Mission Viejo. But when they moved to Santa Ana Heights in 2006, they expanded to create more room for the dogs to run around in the backyard and house.

Their business, the Dog Park Inn, on Riverside Drive takes in up to 40 dogs at a time, though it's licensed for up to 59.

During the holidays, Bob said he will sometimes go over their 40-dog limit for a regular customer who begs for a space at the last minute.

He said he didn't have to worry about complaints from the neighbors — in fact, the neighbors were the reason the family moved to the street. Eleven other homes on the street offer day care or boarding for dogs. One is a dog rescue.

"If you stand outside you can tell," he said, as a chorus of barking dogs filled the air.

Merlaina said the Dog Park Inn has a few more spaces for Christmas. She starts getting calls for reservations in September.

Diane Cuniff, owner of the Bone Adventure in Costa Mesa, said she's been getting calls about the holidays since August. Her doggy day care business on Bristol Street is just about filled for Christmas, even though it charges $5 extra during the busiest days.

The Bone Adventure is cage-free. The property has a large backyard for big dogs that includes a bone-shaped pool and playground equipment — and staff to throw the ball around and keep an eye on the dogs. Cuniff said she brings in one staffer for every 10 to 15 dogs.

Cuniff said the business typically takes in a maximum of about 150 dogs.

There are two side yards for dogs that need a break from the crowd or are a bit older and slower. Another side yard is designed for small dogs that includes a porch area and play equipment.

There are also several rooms inside with beds and cushions.

"We give them a chance to come inside — if they're hyper or misbehaving," said supervisor Freddie Ramos, of Costa Mesa. "Sometimes they're just grumpy because they're overly tired, especially the older dogs."

Thursdays are often the busy days there, he said, when owners bring their dogs in to get tired for the weekend. Weekends are little bit slower.

The inside rooms are also good for dogs who are spending the night. The furnishings include a bunk bed for the employee who stays over.

About eight employees are on at a time, walking around in each yard equipped with doggy bags and a spray bottle, in case someone needs a reminder to behave.

Ramos said prospective employees are chosen carefully to make sure they have the right temperament for the job.

Cuniff said that after employees are interviewed and an application completed, they still have to try them out and watch while they interact with the dog and deal with the never-ending poop scooping.

Some of the guidelines that employees must follow include not laying down with the dogs and not getting overly playful.

"They get jealous," Ramos said. "We do interact, but we don't want them thinking we're their property."

Ari Drosman of Costa Mesa was worried when he and his wife decided to find day care for his young pit bull/boxer/Rhodesian ridgeback mix, Izabella.

"She's a rescue and had some battle scars," he said. "We wanted her to be socialized."

But the couple was concerned her rescue status might exclude her.

After for an interview at the Bone Adventure, Izabella was accepted, and Drosman said he felt comfortable.

"I trusted what they do," he said. "I was uncertain about the bark park."

It's been eight months, and Drosman said Izabella is a friend to all animals. Though the Drosmans will be away for the holiday, Izabella will reportedly still make it to day care with the help of a family friend.

Ramos said the amount of days the dogs come depends on the owner. Some come almost every day while others come for just a few hours a couple days a week.

For now the dogs that spend the night sleep wherever they like, but Cuniff said she plans to build some "hotels" — 25- to 30-square-foot rooms with glass doors that house two dogs. She said it allows the dogs to be calm and sleep through the night.

At her smaller shop on Superior Avenue, opened about eight years ago, there is a queen-size bed the employee sleeps in — along with about eight small dogs.

Sleeping near humans is a perk at the Dog Park Inn as well. Bob said his 18-year-old son has a room in the back he prefers and the dogs get to hang out at night. He said the crate-trained dogs sometimes feel more comfortable in the crate, but the rest sleep in the same room as a human.

"They have a sense of security because they can feel a person in the room," Bob said.

Owners also have the option of taking their dog to an animal hospital like Newport Harbor Animal Hospital in Costa Mesa or Newport Center Animal Hospital and Pet Hotel Suites in Newport Beach, which will care for a dog for usually a little less cost than the cage-free businesses.

Bob said if a new dog is coming over to stay during the holidays, the family will figure out through the interview process if the dog will need a little extra care.

"We see what their routine is and make them comfortable — with bedding from home if they have it," he said.

Bob suggests for those considering putting a dog in boarding for the holidays that they first go to the day care for a little bit to both get the dog comfortable and to let the owner be familiar with you and be more likely to accept a dog at the last minute.

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