Jill Wood's Puppy Love Lessons Prepares Pooches For Future Service Dog Careers
Jill Wood sits in her country home in Fennville with her dogs and puppies surrounding her. She is enthusiastic about her accomplishments.
“I’ve been a Breeding Stock Host since 2009,” Jill states proudly. “Previously I was a Puppy Raiser but a Breeding Stock Host gets the option of keeping some dogs.”
“These service dogs are primarily Labrador and Golden Retriever Dogs,” says Jill. “My partner, Mary McCreadie, and I just finished with our fourth litter. In the past we’ve had 5-6-5-and 4 puppies in the litters.”
Jill and Mary have three dogs: the mother of the litters, Edie; a retired guide dog named Beebe; and an adopted rescue dog.
“Here’s how it works,” says Jill.
“We take Edie when she comes in season to the Leader Dog Headquarters in Rochester Hills, Michigan to be bred. She is left there two weeks, and then we go and pick her up and bring her home.
“She has her litter approximately two months (63 days) later, which is the gestation period. The next five weeks is an intensive period of work for us. During that time we help the mother whelp (give birth) and care for the puppies.
“Then the litter goes to the Leader Dog Headquarters again and they are distributed to Puppy Raisers for one year. There they get the basic training to qualify them to be guide dogs.
“The Raisers give them different experiences, such as going to the store and crossing streets.
“After that, they go back to headquarters to get the professional training which will take six months to make them full-fledged guide dogs.”Upon graduation the dogs are assigned to a blind person. If they don’t qualify for graduation they are assigned a career change, which allows them to go to Homeland Security, become a seizure dog or become another service-type dog.
The success rate is that approximately 40% of the puppies will graduate and become guide dogs as the training is very difficult.
“It takes a very special dog to graduate,” says Jill. “We really need more volunteers for breeding stock homes,” she adds.
“Anyone interested can go to www.leaderdog.org to make contact. There are some perks for being a volunteer. You get free vet services and free boarding during vacations. Also the host family will get free mentoring during their first litter.”
Being a Breeding Stock Volunteer is a three-year commitment; eight weeks of concentrated time through the birth and then the puppies leave and go to headquarters and a Puppy Raiser is chosen for them.
The mother and the puppies must always live in a home. That is a qualification required by the Leader Dog program. They can never be left outside except for exercise.
“It’s really difficult to get a bad dog,” says Jill. “I get to turn a whole litter of puppies into a possible guide dog for the blind.”
Jill was born in Allegan, graduated from Allegan High School and went on to Davenport University. She has two grown sons and worked at Herman Miller for 25 years. She does wicker furniture restoration part time and is self-employed.
Her partner, Mary, grew up in Evanston, Illinois and is now retired.