Rochester Hills — The Leader Dogs for the Blind announced Wednesday efforts to complete funding of a $14.5 million renovation of its longtime training facility.
Leader Dogs has operated out of Rochester Hills since 1939 and trains 200 client/dog teams annually. The group has raised $12.3 million to renovate its kennel into the Canine Development Center, a state-of-the art, climate-controlled facility, but still needs $2.2 million to complete plans, according to Rod Haneline, chief of program and services.
He said the goal is to strengthen the training process through increased socialization and decreased stress of dogs.
“We’ve been doing this for more than 75 years but the methods and training changes,” said Haneline.
“We are supported entirely from donations — no state or federal government dollars are involved — and our dogs go to work all over the world,” Haneline said. “We have provided guide dogs to about 14,000 people since 1939.”
Leader dogs go through a 16-18 week training program, often starting a few months after they are born, Haneline said. Clients, those who will rely on the guide dogs, come to the facility for a 26-day program working with their dogs.
All animals are given to clients free, Haneline said. It costs about $38,000 to develop and train each of its German shepherds, golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers, he said.
The first phase of the new facility is a clinic, puppy area, breeding area and lobby to be completed this year. The second phase will be completed in 2016.
Changes in housing for dogs in training will include:
■Increased capacity for up to 380 dogs (or 20 percent more than the current kennel).
■255 new, larger suites; more than double the current housing units. The new suites are tall without a top enclosure so dogs and people won’t worry about bumping their heads.
■8,549 more square feet, adding up to 74,148 total square feet.
■An upgraded veterinary clinic with 35 percent more space and designed with future space for new veterinary technologies. One feature is an expanded puppy area suitable for 10 litters at a time, triple the current space.
One concept being built into renovations is that more stimulation means less stress for the dogs. Areas have been designed with open sight lines so dogs can see each other, volunteers and employees. It will also include larger relief runs open to the outdoors with large floor-to-ceiling see-through doors.
Training bays have been renovated into “villages” where volunteers and employees have more space to interact with dogs, including an indoor/outdoor puppy enrichment area.
Climate-controlled areas for low humidity are expected to reduce ear infections and hot spots for animals, with air-conditioning to keep it cooler for dogs.
“The idea is to train and develop the healthiest, best guide dogs in the world,” Haneline said. “This will help us accomplish that goal.”
How to help
Donate toward the goal at www.leaderdog.org/canine-center