Hosting a Leader Dog Mom Can be a Labor of Love
By Guest Writer Chelsey Daley
Eight black Lab puppies eat ravenously out of their bowls, each separated from its siblings by small wooden compartments. Every now and then, one sneaks over to taste-test its neighbor's food too. Their mother, Spinner, keeps an eye on them from outside their pen.
The litter is one of another generation that will grow up to serve Leader Dogs for the Blind. They are raised and carefully trained to become the calm and intelligent dogs that serve as the guides for people who are blind.
That process starts with the volunteers who host Leader Dog Moms. Two of those volunteers are Gary and Paula King. "We put in an application to host a breeding dog," says Gary, "Two weeks later we got a dog, two weeks later she was pregnant."
That was four years ago with Spinner's mother, Zyla. The two ultimately hosted three litters with Zyla before she was retired. The hosts of Leader Dog Moms have the opportunity to adopt the dog upon retirement. The Kings did so and now call Zyla their own. After Zyla was retired, Spinner continued the family line.
The hosts tend to the mother through the puppies' birth (called whelping), then they take care of the pups for the next six weeks. It's a job that requires a lot of commitment and love—but for the Kings, it's worth it many times over.
Still, hosting Leader Dog Moms has its challenges. Guiding the mother through whelping is the first of them. Hosts actively ensure the health of the newborn puppies checking their weight, sex, health and temperature. They're taught how to resuscitate and tube-feed puppies that aren't immediately responsive.
There are messes to clean and yelps to be heard. The puppies need a watchful eye while they're young, and when they're old enough to eat dog food, they need to be fed frequently. The Kings have had to adjust their schedule to compensate. "The puppies have to eat every four hours, and we both work," says Gary. "So right now I'm doing half days."
Hosting a Leader Dog Mom is a long-term commitment. But being animal lovers anyway, they like the opportunity. "It's the satisfaction of the reward for ultimately helping provide the independence that a guide dog provides to someone who is blind," Gary says. "It might provide them opportunities that they didn't have before."
"We like volunteering and doing things for other people," says Paula. "This is a way you can combine your love of animals with helping other people."
If you are interested in hosting a Leader Dog Mom or Dad, please contact the Breeding Department at 888-777-5332.