Our New Canine Development Center

The Largest Project in Leader Dog History

Published in: Update - Issue 2 - 2015 »   

The new Canine Development Center will have a prominent
entrance when completed.

A lot has changed since the 1960s; the U.S. population increased by 66%*, four-lane roads became seven lanes wide, roundabouts were introduced and quiet cars hit the roads. The result? A busy, difficult-to-maneuver environment—especially if you’re a person who is blind and especially if you’re a Leader Dog.

This increasingly challenging environment is the reason Leader Dog’s kennel is undergoing renovation to become a state-of-the-art Canine Development Center. Today’s guide dogs must be trained to a higher standard to ensure they provide safe, independent travel to their human partners. We’ve learned a lot about dog training and behavior since the 60s. We know that social interaction mentally stimulates dogs, that mental stimulation reduces stress and that a stress-free dog is better prepared to learn.

Leader Dog’s new Canine Development Center was designed to increase the mental and physical health of our dogs from puppyhood to adulthood. Read on to learn about the features and benefits of the facility and go to leaderdog.org/canine-center for even more information.

* from 192 million in 1964 to 319 million in 2014, U.S. Census Bureau

Veterinary Clinic Expanded

When the current kennel was built, Leader Dog veterinarians didn’t care for the number of dogs they do today, nor did they do as many procedures in-house. “Every year we care for about 450 puppies and 100 breeding stock dogs in addition to the 200 dogs that are matched with our clients,” reports Dr. David Smith, director of veterinary services. “We do dental and endoscopic procedures, surgeries, X-rays and more right here on campus. Plain and simple, we needed more space for our current work load and space to add new equipment and technologies when they are available. Our dogs are everyday heroes, and they deserve the best care possible.”

An Area Just for Puppies

The current facility was never designed with puppies in mind because they were not housed on campus until the 1980s, when we renovated several old garages to hold incoming litters. Far from ideal, the layout forced us to move puppies between areas using a rolling cart—a stressful experience for many.

The new Canine Center has a large area specially designed for the care and nurturing of young puppies. Litters can be easily moved from day to night areas by simply opening a door and letting them walk through. The puppies will have access to outdoor play areas full of mind-stimulating and confidence-building toys to create a strong foundation for their future training to become guide dogs.

Specialized Breeding Environment

At one time breeders believed that housing male and female dogs near each other so they could smell each others’ pheromones was a good thing; however, Bev Blanchard, manager of canine development, explains, “In actuality, the males get too excited and it interferes with the breeding process. Our new breeding area will keep the males and females’ separated so the natural breeding process has a better chance of success. We’re even going so far as to install separate air handling units so the females’ pheromones don’t get into the male housing area.”

Open Housing Villages

An open concept in the redesigned bays will allow for ample
stimulation and interaction.

How would you like to look at a cement wall all day? That’s likely how our dogs feel as well, and that’s why we are renovating our housing bays into open housing villages. “The new layout relocates the suites along the perimeter looking in so the dogs can see each other, see the staff and volunteers,” explains Jeff Stein, manager of canine care. “The increased visual stimulation keeps the dogs mentally engaged, which helps to lower their stress levels.”

In the middle of the room is the “village square” where dogs can interact with volunteers, get bathed and groomed, stretch their legs and play with their favorite KONG or Nylabone. Additional space for play and relief is located in the open run areas next to the village square. These large, open rooms include a transparent garage door that can be opened when weather permits. This brings fresh air into the space and allows the dogs to look out onto our campus.

Space to Share

Anyone with a snuggly canine knows that dogs are very social creatures, and many prefer living and sleeping in pairs or groups. The new housing suites will be 2.5 times larger than the old suites (they are large enough to fit a queen size mattress) so there is space for dogs to cohabitate if they desire. Not only does this relieve stress for many dogs, it also increases the capacity of our kennel to over 400 dogs. “Having the ability to house more dogs is important to our future,” says Rod Haneline, chief programs and services officer. “It gives us the potential to increase the number of clients we serve each year.”

Business as Usual During Construction

OK, so maybe it’s not “business as usual” right now in the kennel, but we have been able to care for all the dogs and keep all departments functioning during phase one of construction. It hasn’t always been easy! Our team has been extremely innovative in adapting to the much-reduced space currently available to them.

Veterinary Services

All veterinary services were relocated because the entire clinic was demolished. Luckily, the building has a secondary, smaller clinic in the part of the kennel that isn’t under construction yet. The grooming and bathing room adjacent to the clinic was adapted for surgical use.

Without space for X-ray equipment, we are working with a local veterinary clinic, Animal Emergency Center, to take needed X-rays. A dedicated group of X-ray shuttle volunteers have been taking the dogs to their appointments so the veterinary staff can continue their daily routine. These volunteers have been instrumental in making this process run smoothly.

Staff Space

All staff spaces were torn down during phase one (lobby, offices, break area, etc.). A temporary lobby is now set up in a hallway and everything and everyone else was relocated to the basement. The move required installation of electrical power, temporary data and telephone lines, temporary locker rooms, meeting space and moving the break room kitchenette. Fifteen cubicles were installed for the puppy development, canine care and breeding departments. How is everything working out? “There are times when the noise level makes it a bit hard to concentrate,” reports Deb Donnelly, puppy development supervisor, “But because we are not separated, we’ve become more aware of each other and have had some really good discussions.”

Keeping Powered Up

Because a lot of new electrical wiring had to be put in place and new air handling units needed to be installed, the facility was run on generator power for nine days. During this time there were several brown outs for meter installation and moving circuitry. The brown outs left the basement in complete darkness and the remainder of the building on emergency lighting only, so every attempt was made to schedule this work late in the work day. However, there were several times when this was not possible so everyone made accommodations, including Dr. Smith, director of canine health, and Texas A&M veterinary student Rachel Carneal, who took advantage of nice weather and completed several dog exams outside.

Five Ways to Get Involved

Do you want to be part of the biggest campaign in Leader Dog history? Now is the time to get involved in supporting the Canine Development Center! Below are five simple ways to get you going (for more information, including materials to download, visit us online at leaderdog.org/canine-center/raise-funds.

Make a personal gift

All gifts are greatly appreciated—every dollar counts to help reach the goal! To make a donation, visit us at leaderdog.org/canine-center, mail in a check (please note “Canine Development Center” on the check) or donate over the phone at 888/777.5332.

Host an event

Are you planning a fun event that you could turn into a fundraiser? Examples include a backyard BBQ, garage sale, birthday party, etc. Materials are available online to download and hand out at your event.

Create an online personal fundraising page

Make your own myLeaderDog fundraising page to invite friends and family to support. To get started, visit leaderdog.org/myleaderdog. For more information, see the article "Fundraising for the Canine Development Center" in this newsletter.

Spread the message with social media

Change your Facebook or Twitter profile picture and repost or retweet Leader Dog’s Canine Development Center messages to share this exciting project with your friends and followers.

Speak to a community group

Do you belong to a community group that might like to hear about this project? Download talking points, materials and more online to make it as easy as possible to spread the word.