$5 for 3 months. Save 83%.
$5 for 3 months. Save 83%.

Leader dog expansion advances, but $1M short

Kyla Smith
The Detroit News

Rochester Hills

Leader Dogs for the Blind has completed the first phase of its new Canine Development Center, but is still $1 million shy of its $14.5 million goal.

The new facility will include 255 indoor puppy bays with floor-to-ceiling overhead doors to allow for fresh air, an expanded veterinary clinic and custom breeding suites that can house up to 10 litters at a time. The entire center will total 74,148 square feet.

Leader Dogs for the Blind was founded in 1939. About 14,000 people have been provided with guide dogs since its inception and 200 dog/client teams are trained each year.

Debbie Dayton of Westland was used to a fast-paced environment while working at the Secretary of State, but it all slowed down when she became legally blind 17 years ago due to a diabetic retinopathy in her left eye and glaucoma in her right eye.

“I started using a cane, but it was cumbersome for me,” Dayton said. “I received my first leader dog in 2001 and it really changed my life. I only have to tell him one time where something is and he remembers.”

Rachelle Kniffen, Leader Dogs for the Blind representative, said the update is crucial for the center.

“With the added space in housing, we can produce even happier dogs with low stress levels while providing them with more stimulation,” Kniffen said.

Each class of Leader dogs goes through a 16-18 week training course. The client then stays at the facility for a month-long program to become acclimated with their dog. The cost is about $38,000.

“Everything is free for the client. Our program is 100 percent donation-based,” said Rod Haneline, Leader Dogs’ chief program and services officer. “We don’t receive any government funding. It’s about being able to provide the best care for our dogs until they are paired with a client.”

Dayton is now on her second leader dog, a golden Labrador retriever named Patrick.

“These dogs are trained to literally make life decisions. I really would be lost without Patrick,” Dayton said. “I’m really grateful for all of the support this campaign has received and I just hope people continue to make donations.”

(313) 222-1855

■How to help