Palmetto, Florida: Southeastern Guide Dogs
While it’s not officially in South Shore this story has to be told. It’s one of the most incredible facilities in the nation, just 10 minutes south of us, and many do not know about it.
Imagine a 33-acre landscaped facility with state of the art training and selective breeding facilities along with world class experts in canine research and behavior. Also on location? The Barpal – Hirst Student Center, the Margaret and Isaac Barpal Veterinary Center, a puppy kennel, the Keith G. Hirst Assessment Center, a training kennel and a gift shop.
In April, a new Puppy Academy will open and there are plans to break ground on a new Guide Dog University to replace the current aging training kennel.
Where is this place? Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto, Florida.
Southeastern Guide Dogs
From Southeastern Guide Dog’s website: “Take a look into the magic taking place on Southeastern Guide Dog’s beautiful 33-acre campus in Palmetto, Florida, where adorable puppies become superhero guide dogs.”
Southeastern Guide Dogs is one of the nation’s top and most respected dog schools whose sole purpose is to ‘transform lives by creating and nurturing extraordinary partnerships between people and dogs.’(Credit: Southeastern Guide Dogs).
They train service and companion dogs to become partners to people with visual impairments and veterans with disabilities and suffering from PTSD.
What’s more extraordinary? Southeastern Guide Dogs is a charity, run 100% from private donations. They receive no government funding and all services and dogs are provided to students free of charge.
Dogs From Puppy to Superhero Guide Dog
They’re born cute, fluffy and pudgy little puppies and they grow to be life partners, giving individuals independence, dignity and confidence.
This is no small job for a little pup, but they get lots of training.
- Puppy Academy: Puppies are bred on site and, while just a few days old, begin training with socialization and introductions to sights, sounds and smell.
- At 10 weeks to 14-18 months, puppies go to ‘boarding school’. They move in with a volunteer puppy raiser who teaches them manners, basic obedience and introduces the dog to the world.
- At 14 or 18 months the dog comes back to Southeastern Guide Dogs and attends ‘Canine College’. Once assessed through the ‘Canine Assessment Center’ the dog chooses his or her College major: Guide Dog, Service Dog, Facility Therapy Dog, Genetics and Reproduction (hand selected), Gifted Canines (Public Service Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs, and more).
- Service and Guide Dogs train on average for 6 months plus the time they train directly with the student-handler. Student-handlers live on campus during this training.
Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and Goldadors
Southeastern Guide Dogs breeds Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and a mix of both called a ‘goldador’ and school starts at birth. (Apparently, dachshunds are not cut out for a ‘guide dogging’).
The cost to get a dog from puppy to superhero is tens of thousands of dollars and Southeastern Guide Dogs follow up with dogs and student-handlers for life.
Many student-handlers choose to keep the dog as a pet when it retires or Southeastern Guide Dogs will place a retiree dog with its original puppy-raiser family or an adoptive family.
Get Involved or Learn about Guide Dogs
There are several volunteer opportunities at Southeastern Guide Dogs from a long-term commitment of becoming a puppy-raiser to less demanding roles at the Southeastern Guide Dog facility. Check out the adult volunteer opportunities here.
There are also youth volunteer opportunities. Check those out here.
Campus tours are on hold at the moment during Puppy Academy and Guide Dog University construction, but there are other ways to check out Southeastern Guide Dogs including: Puppy Kindergarten Adventure, Guide Dog Experience, and Superheroes on Parade. Check out all activities here.
The public is also invited to participate in the “Creation of a Superhero” multi-media events that tell our story. More information is available here: https://www.guidedogs.org/activities/creation-of-a-superhero/
Another great way to get involved with Southeastern Guide Dogs are through their Walkathons – one of their larges sources of support.
Southeastern Guide Dogs now has Walkathons in 9 different locations: St. Petersburg, Orlando, Polk County, Lakewood Ranch, Bradenton, Tampa,Ft. Myers, Tri-County (The Villages), and Sarasota.
They begin on February 25 and run until April 22nd. Information on raising funds for Walkathon or joining a team to walk the remaining 3k events here: Walkathon information here.
Could Your Dog Use Some Schooling?
Southeastern Guide Dogs also offers dog school for pooches not looking to become guide or service dogs, just regular hero dogs.
My husband and I and Trixie (our afraid-of-her-own-shadow dachshund) attended basic training, twice. It worked wonders. My husband and I are now super trained. All kidding aside, it was a great experience. We’re talking top of the line dog training experts. Your dog will learn.
They offer a variety of classes for groups and individuals. More here.
So, I don’t plan on bringing too many non-South Shore stories, but when a facility like Southeastern Guide Dogs is in our backyard I want the world to know.
We’re lucky to live in South Shore!