Local Focus: At The Bone Adventure it’s a Dog’s Life

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Diane Cuniff with a happy customer

Congratulations to The Bone Adventure—the canine day care, boarding and grooming center is celebrating its 112nd birthday. 

Of course, that’s in dog years (16 in human terms).  

As part of the celebration, founder/owner Diane Cuniff, a longtime resident of Corona del Mar, installed a 50-foot saltwater recreational pool at her free-run kennel for those pooches so inclined to swim.

Counted among those swimmers is Cuniff’s own 18-year-old Chihuahua, who didn’t know she could swim until fitted in a mini-life vest while she discovered how to unlimber four arthritic limbs. 

As with any private club pool or public plunge, CPR-trained attendants either share the 82-degree water, or patrol the decks. As a “bone-us,” they also throw toys that the dogs tirelessly retrieve like their outdoor brethren do with ducks – but with a much higher degree of success. 

Pool privileges add an additional $10 to day care fees; however, a number of customers now pay $20 for a half-hour of doggy recreation, while smiling owners sit behind a glass spray shield on stadium-like bleachers, most often with coffee cup in hand, looking on with parental pride as their charges show off their leaps and strokes. 

At the end of every 30-minute swim-gym, two challenges remain: convincing the pups that their time in the water is over; then removing shed hair from the pool filters. 

Most of Cuniff’s 700 regular clients (the people, not the dogs) think that the company name, The Bone Adventure, is a clever pun off the famed Bonaventure Hotel in Beverly Hills. But the truth is more interesting than learning that your expensive, pedigreed rarity really is an alley-spawned puppy that escaped from the pound. Cuniff offered a $200 reward for any person who came up with the winning company name. The creative 14-year-old daughter of a friend copped the prize.

The Bone Adventure comprises two locales: the original called Bone Home is a repurposed, 8,000 square foot former radiator shop located on Superior Ave. in Costa Mesa, and the newer, acre-sized “Bone Backyard,” sits at the former site of Flowerdale Nursery at 2700 Bristol St. in Costa Mesa (just a bone’s throw across the border from Newport Beach).  

Many of The Bone Adventure’s 80 dog handlers are college students, who work their studies around monitoring dog behavior, and looking out where they step. They also are trained to observe when more dominant dogs are stalking potential “victim” dogs.

“We don’t normally have to separate them,” Cuniff informed, “just break their eye contact.”  

All new employees also take video courses and shadow the more experienced handlers to get a better handle on dog behavior.  

Owners can also check on their “children” by logging onto a members-only closed-circuit TV channel on The Bone Adventure’s website. Watching the many dogs chase each other and frolic in the various yards makes for unscripted comedy that would give “Ellen” real ratings competition. Or if owners desire the full scent-sational experience, they can visit any of the dog yards at any time during operational hours: 6:30 a.m. ‘til 8 p.m. But be prepared for canine chaos coupled with a cacophonous chorus that only a congregation of dogs – especially the smaller ones — can compose when people show up.

The acre site is divided into 10 sections to avoid overcrowding, and to separate dogs by size and temperament. There’s even one set-off yard for “the rowdy group.” Yes, it’s almost like a schoolyard, but in many cases, the dogs are better behaved. 

And like on all responsibly managed playgrounds, every section is manned all day, as well as checked by cameras that record daily activity, Cuniff said. If need be, tapes can be reviewed to share pet behavior with owners who believe their little Poopsies can do nothing wrong.   

Since many of the dogs spend the work day at The Bone Adventure, feeding the guests is a major undertaking. Specially designated, stainless steel bowls are lined up like Roman legions in the spotless galley, waiting to be filled with just the right amount of food as requested by the owners. 

Bowls are labeled to coincide with the identity collars around each guest. And this may be where the second most challenging role of the dog handler’s day comes into play.  With dozens of dogs dashing madly and confusingly about the yards, snagging the right pooch for the right meal at the right time tests just about everyone’s wrangling creativity.   So far, few dogs have gone home hungry; not necessarily true for the hard-working, unendingly vigilant, blue-bag carrying staff.

The Bone Adventure also offers two custom-built vans for client pick-up – sort of an Uber for the slobber set. Each little compartment is temperature controlled, comfort and safety being primary. Upon arrival, each dog is escorted into the daycare center by a designated handler. This personal service comes at a $12 per ride fee. According to Cuniff, at the end of the day, most owners pick up the by-now-tired animals, and every little reunion becomes a great-to-see-you lickfest. 

The Bone Adventure caters to a sophisticated audience that is accustomed to the finer guest services (again, the owners; but maybe the dogs, too). If you want anything less, then you’re barking up the wrong tree.

Visit TheBoneAdventure.com.

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