ROCHESTER HILLS — High on a hill next to Yates Cider Mill, a house is filled with puppies awaiting service as future leader dogs.
Katie and Mike Titus are volunteer breeding stock hosts for Leader Dogs for the Blind in Rochester Hills. Their host dog, Jade, a yellow Labrador retriever, recently delivered six puppies.
“Leader dogs are amazing,” Katie Titus said. “They give people hope — people trust their lives with these dogs.”
Leader Dogs for the Blind provides free guide dogs to those who are blind or visually impaired to enhance their mobility, independence and quality of life.
The organization depends on volunteers to host breeding dogs and raise puppies.
Titus said she, her husband and her three teenagers were inspired to become a breeding stock host home in 2010 after seeing a Leader Dogs advertisement.
“We wanted a dog, a big dog,” she said. “We have a lot of room here.”
Titus and her husband are the owners of Yates Cider Mill, following a family tradition.
“My grandfather bought the mill from the Yates family,” she said. Last year, Yates Cider Mill celebrated its 150-year anniversary.
Since coming to live with the Titus family, Jade has delivered several puppy litters.
“We do everything right here,” Titus said. “Leader Dog provides a mentor that we can call when the dog goes into labor. We keep (the puppies) for six weeks.
“Jade is a very good mom,” Titus said. “She is very gentle with the puppies. For the first three weeks, Jade does everything. She feeds them and cleans up after them. A dog can have from one to 13 puppies; Jade’s average is between three and seven.”
Hosts weigh the puppies every day and pay attention to the small dogs, making sure each gets enough to eat.
“Leader Dog is just a phone call away,” Titus said. “I can call them anytime.”
At the four-week mark, solid food is introduced.
“Once they get teeth, Jade doesn’t want to nurse them anymore,” Titus said. The puppies can also be taken outside for short periods.
At six weeks, the puppies move to Leader Dogs for the Blind facilities for a formal evaluation. Then, puppy raiser volunteers keep the dogs for a year, socializing them and taking them out in public places.
Breeding host families receive free vet care for the breeding life of the dog, access to on-call veterinarians 24/7, boarding for the dog when they go on vacation and a mentoring program/guidance from Leader Dogs every step of the way. Breeding host families also have the opportunity to adopt the dog after the breeding period ends.
Sam Ziegenmeyer, Leader Dogs for the Blind breeding manager, said the organization is always looking for host families for male and female breeding dogs.
“It is an ongoing search,” Ziegenmeyer said. “We currently have about 100 family hosts for male and female dogs. There are about 18 male dogs, and the rest are females.”
Two litters a year is the norm for breeding females, she said, with retirement after four litters.
“We are retiring them younger so they have litters when they are stronger and healthier,” she said. “Breeding lasts about two to three years.”
Leader Dogs breeders are mostly yellow Labs, with some German shepherds.
“We try to match the dogs with the families — similar personalities and energy,” Ziegenmeyer said. “We want to place a dog in a home for the rest of its life.”
The Titus family has enjoyed Jade and her brood — becoming attached to the mother dog while watching the playful puppies grow.
“I felt it was a neat thing to do for the community,” Titus said. “And at the same time, I got a dog.”
For more information about becoming a breeding dog host or a puppy raiser, visit www.leaderdog.org.