The day starts early for a Kennel Specialist at Southeastern Guide Dogs. With the first shift beginning at 6 a.m., some specialists arrive on campus at 5:30 a.m., while the rest of us sleep. The morning begins with preparing medications and food for the 100 dogs in the Training & Receiving Kennels. While one Kennel Specialist is on food prep, another is putting dogs on the outside runs and spot cleaning any “accidents” from the evening.
When 6:30 a.m. rolls around, it’s happy time for the dogs (many of whom are Labradors and, thus, ruled by their stomachs) — time for breakfast!
After breakfast the specialist begin their day of cleaning. First all of the food bowls must be washed for the afternoon feeding and then the specialists move on to the kennels. Dogs are put on the outside runs again as the team moves to do a thorough cleaning of each kennel. The kennels are all scrubbed down and disinfected until they gleam like Mr. Clean’s head.
During this time the trainers are loading up the dogs they will be working for the day. The specialists, who are monitoring the dogs in the outside runs, are not just playing around either, they are checking that the runs are clean and free of debris while making sure any horseplay between the dogs is only in fun.
The campus at Southeastern Guide Dogs is open to the general public from 9-11 a.m. every day except Thursday and Sundays for dog walking. The specialists work with the volunteers to hand out the dogs and answer any questions the dog walkers may have about Southeastern. They also use this time to individually walk dogs who may need to take it easier. Then it’s happy time for the kennel specialists — time for lunch!
After lunch, the whole process starts over again. The afternoon meal is prepared, dogs are turned out to work off some energy in the runs and more cleaning is done. The afternoon jaunt outside usually lasts longer than in the morning and gives the specialists time to goof around a bit with the dogs.
Around 2 p.m., the trainers start arriving back on campus with their pupils. All of the dogs are returned to their kennels and receive their afternoon meal between 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Then bowls are washed, dogs are turned out and kennels are spot cleaned once again; evening medications are administered and closing procedures begin. The specialists walk through the kennel to make sure all water buckets are clean and full, all dogs are in the right place, all kennels and runs are clean and everyone is tucked in for the evening.
Whew! If that weren’t enough to do on a daily basis, there are also additional duties. Every other week each and every dog in the kennel is given a bath. Think about the time and effort it takes to bathe your dog and then multiply that by 100, that’s what the kennel specialists are up against. They also work on obedience training with certain dogs and help to administer the Canine Good Citizen test for any dogs that are being considered for the Canine Connections or Ambassador dog programs.
While being a kennel specialist is a tough job, it’s not without its rewards. Many of the certified trainers on staff at Southeastern started their careers as kennel specialsts and worked their way up the ranks. The dogs show their appreciation with overly excited wiggly tails and happy kisses. And when you see a dog that you cared for in the kennel graduate to leading someone who is visually impaired, you know all those early mornings and long days were worth it.