New Leader Dogs center open for tours

By: Linda Shepard, | Rochester Post | Published September 20, 2016

ROCHESTER HILLS — In celebration of the opening of its new Canine Development Center, Leader Dogs for the Blind is inviting residents inside the training facility.

Leader Dogs will hold an open house noon-4 p.m. Oct. 8 at its facility on the corner of Rochester and Avon roads.

The new $14.5 million center replaces outdated on-site kennels and aims to provide the optimal environment for the breeding, training and care of present and future Leader Dogs.

“This is the most significant development in our 77-year history,” Sue Daniels, president and CEO of Leader Dogs, said at a Sept. 14 preview. The new state-of-the-art training center aims to “reduce stress for dogs and increase dog and human interaction,” she said.

The open house will allow visitors to tour the facilities and watch Leader Dogs in training while learning about the use of white canes and GPS technology for those who are blind. Tour attendees will meet mobility instructors, Leader Dogs clients and their guide dogs, volunteer puppy raisers, and puppies. 

Leader Dogs for the Blind is a nonprofit organization that has been providing independent travel to people who are blind through the use of Leader Dogs since its founding in 1939.

The new 75,000-square-foot Canine Development Center contains 255 Leader Dogs housing suites, an upgraded veterinary clinic, separate male and female breeding suites, and indoor/outdoor puppy enrichment areas. The facility is designed to reduce stress, promote learning, increase socialization opportunities and support the overall health of the dogs.

A gift shop and puppy viewing area are also located in the new center. Rachelle Kniffen, Leader Dogs director of communications and marketing, said the center typically houses 200 adult dogs and 15 puppies awaiting placement with volunteer puppy raisers. Volunteers house breeding stock dogs off campus, at their homes.

“We  have between 90 and 100 breeding stock dogs at any given time,” Kniffen said. “And 400 puppies each year with puppy raisers.”

Puppy raisers are responsible for housebreaking and teaching good manners, as well as basic obedience training in a 12- to 15-month commitment period. Volunteers must live within one hour’s distance from Leader Dogs’ Rochester Hills location. Raisers are also responsible for socializing puppies to different environments, people, animals and situations.

Volunteering to be a breeding stock host is a long-term position that provides homes for Leader Dogs’ breeding stock dogs during the time when they are producing puppies for the program. Volunteers hosting male dogs are required to be located within four hours of Leader Dogs’ Rochester Hills campus; volunteers hosting female dogs may live up to eight hours away.

Leader Dogs for the Blind has provided independent mobility to more than 14,500 individuals — delivering skills for a lifetime of independent travel and opening doors that may seem to have closed with the loss of sight, free of charge. The organization also provides specialty classes and holds a summer camp for teens.

Open house parking is available at the southwest corner of Rochester and Avon roads. To protect the health of Leader Dogs, personal dogs will not be allowed at the open house.

Trainers and future Leader Dogs guide dogs are a familiar sight on the streets of downtown Rochester.

“I’ve lived here 22 years,” said Maggie Bobitz, chair of the Rochester Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Seeing the dogs train on the streets of Rochester has been a wonderful experience. 

“My children learned to ask if it was a ‘working dog’ when they saw a harness on a dog before approaching it,” Bobitz said. “I truly believe that to have Leader Dogs in our community has been a blessing.”

For more information on Leader Dogs for the Blind or to volunteer, call (888) 777-5332 or visit www.leaderdog.org.