Puppy Academy at Southeastern Guide Dogs

Tiny superheroes get new home at Southeastern Guide Dogs

By LOIS KINDLE

lois@observernews.net

Southeastern Guide Dogs had special reason to celebrate last week with the opening of the Grant & Shirle Herron Puppy Academy.

The $4.7-million, technologically advanced facility was built to house and train about 250 future superheroes annually for the first 10 to 12 weeks of their lives. It replaces the aging puppy kennel next door that served Southeastern Guide Dogs for 30 years.

Southeastern Guide Dogs, 4210 77th St. E, Palmetto, is one of the happiest places anywhere in the country. Information and tours are available upon request, by calling 941-729-5665.

The old kennel at Southeastern Guide Dogs has served the school for about 30 years. It’s a bit dark, not air conditioned, has poor acoustics and is no longer large enough to serve the puppies and breeding mothers housed there.

LOIS KINDLE PHOTOS
Stacy Howe, vice president of marketing and communications for Southeastern Guide Dogs, stands at the entrance to the Kindergarten Playroom, talking with the members of the media during a preview of the new Grant & Shirle Herron Puppy Academy.

After running around the Kindergarten Playroom, an 8-week-old puppy rests under the Chew Chew Wagon that was brought from Southeastern Guide Dog’s 30-year-old kennel to the new Grant & Shirle Herron Puppy Academy.

This is a view of the nursery playground with special canine grass that leads from the Female Breeder Boarding Room in the Mary Scharf Whelping & Neonatal Care Center, where puppies stay with their moms until they are weaned at eight or nine weeks.

Puppies need baths to keep them healthy and happy. This is a view of the puppy academy’s new bathing room and laundry.

The new Grant & Shirle Herron Puppy Academy at Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto has a modern gift shop, featuring all kinds of keepsake items and apparel to help generate funds for the school.

This 8-week-old puppy is engaged in purposeful play in the Kindergarten Playroom. The first 10 weeks of its life are the most important to its brain development, when it will become well socialized and confident before going to its puppy raisers.

Scott Moore, of Port Charlotte, sculpted this image called Love, which stands outside the new puppy kennel at Southeastern Guide Dogs and is dedicated to its volunteer puppy raisers.

LOIS KINDLE PHOTOS
Canine care technician Cayley Campbell holds the only female yellow Labrador puppy from a litter of five. She and her brothers are 8 weeks old, weaned and weigh about 10 pounds. Their mother has been returned to the home of her breeder host.

The new Kindergarten Playroom at the Grant & Shirle Puppy Academy at Southeastern Guide Dogs is where 8-week-old puppies practice purposeful play and are exposed to as many stimuli as possible until they are 10 weeks old and go off to the homes of volunteer puppy raisers for at least one year.

The $4.7 million Grant & Shirle Herron Puppy Academy recently opened at Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto. While the Herrons, of Sebring, contributed more than $1 million, more than 1,200 others helped fund the facility, which serves as home and school for puppies during the first 10 weeks of their lives.

The old facility will be used temporarily while a new Guide Dog University building is constructed, and then it will be torn down for parking space. Titus Herman, Southeastern Guide Dogs CEO, acknowledged it had outlived its usefulness. The building had no air conditioning, little natural light, poor acoustics and needed constant repair. The school had simply outgrown it, he said.

The new puppy academy is a happy place where expectant mothers and puppies receive expert care, where the pups are helped to flourish from birth to preschool to kindergarten graduation.

“The first 10 weeks of our puppies’ lives are the most important in their brain development,” Herman said. “We provide them with very deliberate and intentional training that starts when they’re 3 days old. They’ll be well socialized and filled with confidence before going to their volunteer puppy raisers.”

The puppies’ new home has about 15,000 square feet of fully air-conditioned indoor space and more than 4,000 square feet of covered exterior space. Every detail is focused on “functionality, efficiency and sanitation,” said Stacy Howe, vice president of marketing and communications. It has both natural and energy-efficient lighting, a bathing room and laundry, food preparation kitchen and more. It’s built to withstand hurricane winds of up to 150 mph.

The puppy academy has nine major areas of focus:

• Genetics & Reproduction

• Breeder Boarding: 14 individual, divided runs for males and females; acoustic ceiling tiles and panels to keep things quiet for stress reduction.

• Whelping and Neonatal Care for newborn pups to age 6 weeks and their moms.

• Preschool for newborn puppies up to 6 weeks old, with indoor and outdoor classrooms and play yards that feature special canine grass.

• Medical Clinic: serves both moms and puppies, provides vaccinations, X-rays, preventative care and minor procedures; overseen by veterinarian Kevin Conrad, vice president of Canine Development & Mission Fulfillment

• Kindergarten and Enrichment: for pups ages 6 to 10 weeks, where they are exposed to purposeful play and as many stimuli as possible

• Small outdoor splash park

• Puppy Raising Services Department offices

• Gift Shop: features all kinds of keepsake items and apparel to help generate funds for the school

“It is a beautiful facility built with ‘frugal quality’ that reflects both our commitment to superb stewardship as well as exceptional care,” said Herman in a press release on the opening. “In this environment…our staff and volunteers will perform their cutting-edge work, while our future superheroes will learn and grow into their very special destinies.”

While Shirle Herron, of Sebring, was the new puppy academy’s lead donor, more than 1,200 others helped fund the facility.

Southeastern Guide Dogs is at 4210 77th St. E, Palmetto. Since its inception, thousands of puppies have been birthed, raised and trained to serve as guide dogs, service dogs, facility therapy dogs, breeder dogs and in other careers that transform people’s lives. The school receives no government funding and provides all services for free.

To donate to its mission, visit www.guidedogs.org/donate/, and for more information on Southeastern Guide Dogs, visit www.guidedogs.org or call 941-729-5665.