New kennels open at Leader Dogs for the Blind

By: Linda Shepard | Rochester Post | Published November 18, 2015

ROCHESTER HILLS — The puppies are playful in the new Leader Dogs for the Blind Canine Development Center, which features a cheerful visitor display area.

“The lobby is set up for tours,” said Jeff Stein, Leader Dogs canine care manager. “We have puppy viewing, where people can see 8-week-old puppies year-round.”

The first phase of the new development center is now complete. The center includes new puppy litter bays, an expanded veterinary clinic, a custom breeding suite and a protected puppy litter drop-off area.

The new $14.5 million facility, on Rochester Road at Avon Road, replaces aging kennels built in the 1960s, adding 35 percent more space to the old 100,000-square-foot kennels. The state-of-the-art facility is designed to increase the mental and physical health of Leader Dogs from puppyhood to adulthood, allowing for a higher standard of care.

Leader Dogs for the Blind is one of just a handful of organizations in the world aimed at teaching people who are deaf or blind to work with guide dogs, at no cost. Leader Dogs pays for travel expenses within North America, room and board, and expert instruction in navigating with a Leader Dog. The nonprofit organization has provided independent mobility to more than 14,500 men and women free of charge since 1939.

The organization also provides classes for orientation and mobility, and pedestrian GPS usage, as well as a summer camp for teens.

The kennel renovations have been privately funded via ongoing fundraising campaigns. The new facilities address the dogs’ desire for canine and human interaction, allows dogs to choose whether to be with a pack or to be alone, and stimulates curiosity to counteract boredom and stress.

“We have daytime and nighttime areas,” Stein said. “Daytime areas are near windows, and we have garage doors so dogs can play outside.”

The new kennel is home for Leader Dog puppies and breeding stock. Each month, Leader Dogs welcomes 40 new dogs to the program and has the capacity to house almost 300 Leader Dogs-in-training.

A new veterinary clinic delivers expert care of dogs and puppies.

“We are tweaking the final phases,” said Dr. David Smith, Leader Dogs veterinarian, who has worked with the organization for 29 years. “The operation room has specially designed surgical carts designed by Oakland University engineering students. We have an intensive care room, an ultrasound room and an X-ray room.”

Designing the new kennels was a collaborative process involving Leader Dogs staffers, architects and more, said Rachelle Kniffen, Leader Dogs director of communications and marketing.

“We made sure everyone here was part of the design process,” Kniffen said.

Phases two and three of the renovations are still in progress, dependent on an additional $1 million in funding. The organization’s 24th annual Lead in the Holidays event is planned for 6 p.m. Nov. 20 at the Royal Park Hotel.

The fundraising gala features food, silent and live auctions, puppies, blindfold walks, and more. Tickets cost $175 each and include one drink ticket, champagne and dinner. For tickets and more information, visit www.leaderdog.org.

Holiday shoppers may want to visit Mary Jane’s Leader Dog Gift Shop, located on the Leader Dogs campus. The gift shop offers a wide variety of Leader Dogs for the Blind logos and specialty items, including calendars, clothing, bags, backpacks, holiday cards and more — open 9 a.m.-noon most Mondays.

The organization is always looking for volunteers — including puppy raisers and breeding stock hosts. To apply as a volunteer or for more information, visit www.leaderdog.org or call (888) 777-5332.