By LOIS KINDLE
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.
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.