Palmetto, Fla. (April 13, 2017)—Ruby is an exceptional golden retriever currently living and working with her visually impaired handler Francis “Frank” Goossens of Sarasota. But before she became Frank’s life-changing guide and eyes to the world, Ruby was born in the old puppy kennel at Southeastern Guide Dogs alongside her siblings Nell, Gussie, Ellen, Cody, Cashew, Dove, Ava, Clifford and Pinkie. Every year about 250 tiny superheroes-in-training are born and trained on Southeastern Guide Dogs’ 33-acre campus in Palmetto, Fla. For the first 10 to 12 weeks of life, the Labradors, golden retrievers and goldadors are tenderly cared for along with their mothers, brothers and sisters in a strategically designed program of health, early education and socialization where every paw-step counts on their journey to greatness.
But the puppy kennel that served Ruby and the organization so well for more than three decades eventually became too small and in need of constant repairs. It just plain wore out. Now, with the opening of the Grant & Shirle Herron Puppy Academy, newborns, moms and growing puppies will flourish in a purpose-built home during the first semesters of their Southeastern Guide Dogs experience—from birth to pre-school to kindergarten graduation—before being sent out to the loving homes of their volunteer puppy raisers.
Donor Shirle Herron of Sebring, Fla. provided the lead gift for the $4.7 million structure, which features about 15,000 square feet of climate-controlled interior space and about 5,000 square-feet of covered exterior. Every inch is designed with a focus on functionality, efficiency and sanitation, and is hurricane ready: built to withstand winds up to 150 mph. In addition, Southeastern Guide Dogs is unique in inviting the public to participate in the puppies’ early development via a creative and fun Puppy Kindergarten Adventure curriculum described here.
Noise and stress reduction elements, abundant natural lighting, comfort features and an enclosed outdoor gymnasium demonstrate the careful attention paid to the puppies’ and their moms’ physical environment. Key spaces include: Genetics & Reproduction; Whelping and Neonatal Care (Newborns to six weeks); Preschool (Newborns to six weeks); Clinic (All ages); Kindergarten and Enrichment (six to 10 weeks);and a small outdoor splash park funded by Southeastern Guide Dogs puppy raiser volunteers. The facility also contains a gift shop selling merchandise that supports the free programs Southeastern Guide Dogs provides to visually impaired students and veterans with PTSD.
“From playtime to training time, from specialized medical procedures to whelping and neonatal care, with attention paid to public interaction and educational enrichment, the Puppy Academy anticipates and exceeds the needs of staff and our young puppies,” says CEO Titus Herman. It is a beautiful facility built with "frugal quality" that reflects both our commitment to superb stewardship as well as exceptional care. In this environment enhanced by warm sunlight, privacy and serenity, our staff and volunteers will perform their cutting-edge work, while our future superheroes will learn and grow into their very special destinies.”
Southeastern Guide Dogs transforms lives by creating and nurturing extraordinary partnerships between people and dogs. Employing the latest in canine development and behavior research, the national organization trains guide dogs, service dogs and companion dogs for people living with significant challenges including those with visual impairments and veterans with disabilities.
All of Southeastern Guide Dogs’ services – which include selective breeding and expert dog training; comprehensive on-campus student instruction; and lifetime graduate follow-up – are provided at no cost to the recipients. The charity relies 100 percent on private donations and receives no government funding. Southeastern Guide Dogs has the distinction of being dually accredited by the two premier, global accreditation bodies: the International Guide Dog Federation and Assistance Dogs International. www.GuideDogs.org