Leader Dogs for the Blind edges toward fundraising goal

By: Linda Shepard | Rochester Post | Published April 6, 2016

ROCHESTER HILLS — The new canine development center at Leader Dogs for the Blind is within sight of its fundraising goal of $14.5 million.

“We are doing a big philanthropic push” for the last $312,000, said Melissa Weisse, Leader Dogs’ chief philanthropy officer. “We invite people to (help) get to the finish line on this.”

Since 1939, Leader Dogs has been empowering people who are blind or visually impaired with services that provide lifelong skills for independent travel.

The close-to-completion new kennel building features covered outdoor yards and additional training areas with spacious and open housing villages in place of cramped kennels — giving the dogs human interaction, mental stimulation and room for exercise.

Additional plans for the kennel include a puppy viewing area and a 3-D tactile map created by Oakland University engineering students, said Rachelle Kniffen, Leader Dogs director of communications and marketing.

“It is a display on visual impairment in the lobby area,” Kniffen said. “A touch map for clients. We should have it in the next few weeks. It will tell you where the feeding rooms and puppy pens are. It is great for clients and our volunteers.”

Blindfolds will enable visitors to experience the tactile map as a Leader Dogs client.

A Leader Dogs gift shop, currently tucked away in the main building basement, will move soon to the canine development center. The shop will offer T-shirts, clothing and dog toys, along with travel dog bowls and more, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning in May. 

An open house is planned for September, when the canine development center will welcome all members of the community “to celebrate the building,” Weisse said. “There is so much excitement about the new building.”

Leader Dogs is also planning a 1-10 p.m. June 4 Bark and Brew event at the Rochester Mills Beer Co. The community and family event will feature live music and beer for adults, a meet-and-greet with future Leader Dogs and information about the Leader Dogs organization. Children will enjoy inflatables, carnival games, face painting and more.

“It will be a really nice way to celebrate Leader Dogs,” Kniffen said.

Both events are designed to create community awareness for Leader Dogs, which depends on volunteers for puppy raising, breeding hosts and more.

Weisse said fundraising is ever ongoing. The nonprofit organization operates entirely on donations from individuals, community service groups, corporations and foundations, and receives no state or federal funding.

“We are still raising funds for all things above and beyond the canine center,” Weisse said.

“A large portion of our support is local,” Kniffen said.

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