An organization that trains mobility assistance dogs is building a facility on property on Jones Road north of Oak Harbor.
Summit Assistance Dogs’ three building campus will host dogs in advanced classes, administrative staff, and accommodations for people with disabilities when they pick up their dog.
Sue Meinzinger founded Summit Assistance Dogs in 2000. Since then, the organization has trained more than 100 mobility service dogs to help people with disabilities lead an independent life.
Meinzinger said she envisioned a campus from the start but didn’t expect it to be on Whidbey Island.
She had been looking for real estate in the vicinity for years and made several offers. When she saw the property on Jones Road, she was initially skeptical.
“But little by little everything fitted,” said Meinzinger.
The organization bought the wooded, 17-hectare property in the summer of 2014.
The organization is running a $ 5.3 capital campaign for the campus and has recently received several gifts.
Vancouver, Washington-based MJ Murdock Charitable Trust donated $ 300,000, Boeing’s Employees Community Fund donated $ 35,000, and the Patterson Foundation donated $ 25,000.
The money will be used for a building called the Canine Condo, which is currently under construction. It will accept dogs in advanced training.
Puppy litters are also born there and looked after in the house.
The Whidbey Community Foundation and the Sierra Pacific Foundation also provided funding for the project.
Meinzinger said the waiting lists for a service dog are between two and five years and the building will increase the organization’s capacity.
“To improve our performance, we had to go into a building where employees work and dogs can live,” she said.
Their goal is to place 20-25 mobility service dogs per year, so the organization needs about 120 dogs in the pipeline of the two-year program.
The nonprofit does not charge its customers for service dogs and most of its budget comes from individuals.
The organization is currently dependent on voluntary puppy training. Volunteers take the dogs in their homes for about a year before they start training. The puppies need time to develop and the organization to find good candidates for the training program. Many dogs don’t complete the program and are adopted or go into dog work, Meinzinger said.
Anni Campbell lives in Greenbank and raised 10 puppies. Two were placed with those in need and two are in further training. The others were adopted as pets. Her current pup, a black Labrador named Kai, “looks promising,” she said.
Campbell volunteers in memory of her graduate supervisor who suffered from cerebral palsy.
“I realized that my girlfriend and boss had a dog, they could have lived independently,” she said. “I do it in memory of them because I know that these dogs make a huge difference to people with disabilities.”
She encouraged others to raise puppies and said she was the only person on Whidbey who did. She said she was excited about the new facility as it will result in shorter waiting times for people who need help.
Brenda Walker lives near Penn Cove and is a board member of the organization. She said the building will help the organization accomplish its mission. The facility is allowed for up to 50 dogs. Although some neighbors may be concerned about noise or increased traffic, Walker and Meinzinger said that there would rarely be so many animals at the same time.
“We don’t mass-produce dogs,” said Walker. “We create a highly specialized animal and that doesn’t happen in large quantities.”
Meinzinger said neighbors shouldn’t worry about noise either.
“We don’t make a lot of noise. We choose calm dogs, ”said Meinzinger.
The organization still needs to raise funds to complete the overall project. It will host a virtual event called “Unleash Your Love” this April. Prior to the coronavirus, the event was held in person and contributed a significant amount to the organization’s budget. Meinzinger said the organization needed about $ 2.5 million more to complete the campus.
The founder is happy to be able to grow into the new room and place more dogs. The organization will likely need more puppy breeders and staff in the future, she said.
“We are very happy to be part of the Whidbey community.”
Summit Assistance Dogs is currently building three buildings on Jones Road in Oak Harbor to give the organization more capacity to place more mobile assistance dogs with people who need them. These 10 week old pups will go to volunteer puppy trainers before starting advanced training in about a year and a half. Photo by Emily Gilbert / Whidbey News-Times