TUPELO • If kids can have daycare, then four-legged friends can have them, too.

That’s the thought behind having “doggie daycares,” where canines have a place during the day to run, play and maybe get a little rest.

Pet care is big business, reaching more than $72.5 billion last year. Pet owners spent $30.32 billion on food, more than $16 billion on supplies and over-the-counter medicine, $18.1 billion on veterinary care, $2 billion on live animal purchases and more than $6.1 billion on”other services.”

Shelly Russell, veterinarian and owner of Animal Care Center on Cliff Gookin Boulevard in Tupelo.

Other services include grooming, boarding, training, pet sitting, pet exercise, pet walking and “miscellaneous.”

And it’s that “other services” slot in which dog daycare falls. It’s nothing new, but one veterinarian in Tupelo has introduced a new twist to traditional canine care.

Shelly Key-Russell, veterinarian and owner of Animal Care Center on Cliff Gookin Boulevard, isn’t alone in offering day-boarding for pets.

“We started offering day boarding at the clinic in 2012,” she said, “then it really started taking off. People wanted interactive play, and more than just having a place to keep their dog all day. So we started with small play groups.”

That segment of the business – complementing the veterinary services provided on the clinic side – evolved into a true daycare service three years ago. But that, too, outgrew what the business could handle.

So, Russell started looking for an offsite location that could be fully devoted to full-time dog daycare.

“We decided that we had run out of room and wanted it in a separate facility and do it right like it could be,” she said.

She found a building that was once home to an equipment rental business – also on Cliff Gookin Boulevard – which could be converted to fit the plan she had in mind.

“We found the building and decided, ‘why not’ and just jump in and play,” she said.

Unleashed was thus born, and as the name suggests, the daycare is a little different than most other day boarding services. Here, Russell has introduced what is called “open play.”

Dog daycare can be approached several ways, and Russell worked on honing her concept for more than a year, touring several other facilities to implement best practices.

“Some models of daycare, the dogs stay in cages most of the day and they’re let out to play three or four times a day with other groups,” she said. “That’s what we’ve done previously at the clinic. But this is a different concept, where they’re allowed to develop their own packs, and they hang out in a free space all day.”

Puppies, because they’re working on potty training, are kept in crates and let out at designated times to keep them on schedule and help with potty training at home.

The dogs come in all breeds, shapes and sizes, from 2 1/5 pounds to 135 pounds.

“Anything goes as long as they play nice,” Russell said.

The facility can accommodate about 100 dogs per day. Having been open about a month, about 75 dogs are now “clients” who come on a regular basis.

“We’re only introducing five new dogs a week,” Russell said. “There’s a waiting list, because if we throw in too many new dogs into established packs, then fights and all that could break out. And we don’t want that. So we’re being real slow and methodical. We want to get to know the dogs as they come in and know their play styles.”

At Unleashed, which is open from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the weekdays, there is no overnight boarding. That’s still handled at Russell’s Animal Care Center.

Every Tuesday, Russell pays a visit to Unleashed to update vaccines and to check on any minor issues like ear infection and the like. That service can help the dog owner avoid having to take the pet to the clinic.

“It’s a nice plus,” she said.

Unleashed has six rooms, where the dogs are divided by their play styles and size. Each room has its own section. For example, Room 2 is for the high-energy group. The larger dogs immediately go outside. If it’s not hot, they’ll spend the first couple of hours outside.

All dogs get designated outside time, and all of the dogs – small, medium and large – take a rest from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

“Normally, everybody’s pretty tired by then and we dim the lights. Then that gives them time to play and potty again before its time to go home,” Russell said. “They all need a break from each other some times.”

The dogs aren’t fed, unless the owner has a specific request; no other food is kept at Unleashed. Treats also aren’t offered, so as not to encourage potential squabbles among the canines.

The staff at Unleashed is shared with Animal Care Center, with about 10 employees rotating in and out.

A large TV in the lobby allows staffers to view the activity through nine cameras. Eventually, dog owners will be able to tap into the live feed and take a look.

Dog owners can’t simply drop off their dogs, however.

They can visit www.acctunleashed where they can fill information for the staff to review, and an appointment set up.

“All animals, to start coming to daycare here, have to pass a temperament test,” Russell said. “First, we introduce them to the staff, and if that works out well, we’ll slowly introduce them to a few dogs here throughout the day, then try to incorporate them into their play group.”

The dogs are then “graded” for compatibility.

“We’ve had a few dogs turned away – but we still do traditional day boarding at the clinic,” she said. “Open-style day care is an alternative, but it’s not for every dog.”

Unleashed is located at 1948 Cliff Gookin Blvd. For more information, call (662) 205-6767 or visit its Facebook page or website at www.acctunleashed.com.

Memberships and packages are available.

A membership runs from month-to-month and is auto-renewed. A separate membership has to be purchased for each pet. Owners with multiple pets receive a 10% discount for each additional pet, for which a membership is purchased. The unlimited membership ($240 month) includes two baths per month; all other memberships include one bath per month. A 12-days-per-month membership is $156, and an eight-days-per-month membership is $112. Memberships do not require owners to make reservations. Memberships also include doggie day care while boarding at Animal Care Center.

Packages also can be purchased and can be used for more than one pet. Reservations for day care are required 24 hours in advance. A 10–day pass costs $150; a five-day pass $80 and a one-day pass is $20.