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As Jemma's back legs dug into the artificial turf to gain speed, Tommy cornered her, causing her to do a quick 180 and run in the opposite direction.

Jemma jumped on Tommy in retaliation, gave him a little love nip and took off again. They kept jumping on each other until they got tired and slowed to a walk, eventually parting ways with a few extra butt sniffs.

Just another day at doggy day care.

The 40 or so dogs at the Kenl Inn on a recent crisp, 35-degree day played in four different outdoor areas just outside the city limits on Old Cheney Road, separated by size and personality. 

Jemma, a collie, and Tommy, a white pit bull, favored each other.

Other dogs played alone, some in larger groups and all getting attention and love.

Over the past decade, the doggy day care industry has boomed in Lincoln. A quick online search shows at least a dozen centers in all parts of town. And that doesn't count veterinary clinics that also offer daytime watching services.

Dian Quist, a manager at Kenl Inn, said the number of day care attendees has grown to about 40 dogs a day. The business has been around for about 30 years, she said.

Closer to downtown, WOOF! at 2019 P St. hosts about 50 dogs a day.

Owner Garrett Brehm said people bring in their dogs for several reasons.

“The biggest concern we hear is most clients want their dogs to get exercise,” he said. “They’re at work eight to 10 hours a day and they just feel bad that their dog is at home alone. Another reason is socialization.”

For a 13-year-old Chihuahua named Samantha, going to day care at WOOF! could save her life.

"She has some severe medical problems and has to be monitored 24/7," Brehm said. "She’s our one client who is here every day."

At each day care, dog owners can decide how many hours of play their pets get, and pet-sitters monitor their activity. Brehm said his employees gauge which dogs will match up best based on their personalities. 

Some day cares provide progress reports each day. That's what prompted Mike Barber to take his 12-year-old blue heeler, Abby, to Kenl Inn.

"Abby loved it," he said. "They'd take her on a 45-minute hike."

Kenl Inn's trail passes near a pond and sometimes deer are spotted nearby. It's a favorite activity for the dogs, Quist said.

Dropping his best friend off every morning was difficult, but Barber said he felt good knowing Abby wasn't bored while he worked. 

"She wasn't just sitting at home for 10½ hours crossing her legs because she needed to go outside," he said. "The whole day care thing was a savior for me. It's almost like you're leaving a kid at home."

Hundreds of people agree.

Brehm plans to open a second WOOF! at 14th Street and Infinity Court, south of Southwest High School.

"We're at our capacity here with 50 dogs," he said of the 20th and P streets center.

Kenl Inn is making changes, too.

Quist said the inn's first outdoor play area is being renovated. Construction crews are preparing the ground for the installation of artificial turf.

"The ground has just gotten worn out," she said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7395 or nmanna@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSNicholeManna.

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