By LOIS KINDLE
Alexis Anderson and her husband, Stuart, have long admired the mission and work of Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto.
They took in a 2-year-old Labrador retriever that had been “career changed” from the school 17 years ago, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions they’d ever made.
“When we lost her two years ago, we wanted to give back to Southeastern Guide Dogs,” Anderson said. “We’d been affiliated with them since the 1980s and had supported (a number of fundraisers) and also sponsored and named three of its dogs.
“Two years after losing Skylar, we decided to host one of their breeder dogs, and we got Skippy in January 2020,” she continued, adding she and her husband thought they might never be able to love another dog as much as Skylar. “But we loved Skippy from day one. She’s is so smart, so well trained and she has a wonderful temperament. She loves to play and can be quite goofy. She’s just awesome!”
On top of all those superlatives, she recently gave birth to nine future superheroes.
Skippy, 3, was initially trained to become a guide dog, but due to her outstanding qualities, she was chosen to become a SEGD breeder, one of 50 currently in the school’s Reproduction and Early Puppy Education Program. She was bred with one of the 15 males also selected for their superior genetics and temperament.
Females stay in the program until they’re 5 and have produced around four litters, and males age out at 6, after they’ve helped produce eight to 10 litters, said Nicole Potter, manager of whelping and neonatal care.
Breeder dogs live in the home of their hosts very much like normal pets, although SEGD officially owns them. Their health is carefully monitored by the school, and when the females go into their heat cycles, they go back to campus for about four weeks. At that time, the decision is made whether or not they’ll have a “date” with a male.
When Skippy came back home, Anderson was notified that the dog had been bred. Between three and four weeks later, Anderson brought her back to campus for an ultrasound to see if she was carrying any popcorn-size embryos. That’s when everyone learned Skippy was pregnant.
Returning home once more, Skippy was put on SEGD’s required pregnancy diet, with all the necessary food and information of what to expect provided. On day 49, Anderson brought her back to campus for a weight check.
Potter said the gestation period for dogs is 65 days, so she calculated a due date for Skippy and also a return date of seven days before the puppies were expected to be born. On the latter, the now very pregnant female comes back to SEGD to deliver her offspring. She stays in the neonatal unit with staff who are on duty 24/7. A trained whelping helper, someone much like a midwife, assists the dog throughout her delivery.
“That allows her to adjust to being back on campus with the staff for about seven weeks in our Neonatal Center,” Potter said.
Skippy’s second litter of nine healthy pups was born Jan. 3. It was the school’s first litter of 2021.
After a dental and medical exam, Skippy returned to the Anderson home Feb. 22. She immediately resumed her roles of beloved pet and greeter at West Coast Golf Cars, the company the Andersons have owned for the past 37 years.
Her puppies will stay a few more weeks in neonatal care, where they will attend puppy kindergarten. Between 9 and 10 weeks, they’ll go to puppy raisers for the first year or so of their lives before coming back to campus for assessment and career training at Guide Dog University.
Skippy could possibly have two more litters before she retires as a breeder. Then her family plans to permanently adopt her.
“We’ll definitely keep her,” Anderson said. “There is no way we could ever give her back.”
The Tampa resident encourages anyone interested in becoming a breeder host to apply.
“You’ll be giving back to an awesome organization,” she said. “Every time I look at Skippy’s puppies, I see nine potential guide dogs. Just think of all the people they’re going to help.
“And you also get a great pet,” she added. “It’s definitely a win-win.”
There are many opportunities to help Southeastern Guide Dogs with its mission. These include hosting a breeder dog, sponsoring a puppy; becoming a much-needed puppy raiser; volunteering; making a one-time or monthly donation; naming a puppy; and more. For more information, visit www.guidedogs.org.