National Breeding Centre news

The National Breeding Centre’s 2000th Puppy in less than 18 months

guide dog puppy It seems only a moment ago when, on 3 May 2011, the big move was made from Tollgate house and dogs, pups and staff moved to the fabulous new facility that is the National Breeding Centre (NBC).

Tollgate House had supported the conception and development of the Guide Dog Breeding Programme for more than 50 years, was much-loved by all, and naturally there was some sadness at leaving. It was, however, clear that the NBC was a facility that would take our breeding programme, the largest and arguably the finest in the world, into the 21st century and beyond.

Staff, volunteers and dogs settled well from day one, especially the dogs in the kennel space designed for better comfort and social interaction. The kennel design and the site's layout create a real sense of peace and quiet, which is appreciated by dogs and humans alike. Occasionally, it's been said that this is almost too efficient, in that the hard work and activity isn't always instantly apparent to visitors. This point was brought home to me when Janine, our Dog Care Manager, told me that her team had been run ragged over the summer due to exceptionally high pup and boarding numbers. My own perception was that all had remained serene and calm on the surface! This is also the case when, as well as 150 dogs and pups on site, we often have 60 or more visitors in meeting and training rooms.

The first 18 months have certainly been extremely productive and in September, Quester, our 2,000th puppy bred at the NBC was born. The benefits of the new facilities have helped us produce record conception rates. This, along with a small increase in the average litter size, has ensured we've been able to breed the numbers needed to support our training and service user needs. We've also supplied a small number of puppies to other ADUK organisations.

The NBC's main purpose is undoubtedly to breed the guide dogs of the future, in the required numbers, while improving the very high quality of our dogs. The facilities provide everything needed to enable this and to achieve exceptionally high standards of care and welfare. The building has, however, also been designed to provide a central meeting and training location which is used extensively by Guide Dogs and by other organisations supporting our work. During the first 18 months, we've hosted visits from the likes of Specsavers, Andrex, a number of International Federation of Guide Dogs Schools, Assistance Dogs UK, The Kennel Club and British Blind Sports to name but a few. We've also had camera crews and photo shoots on site, including for our recent Sponsor a Pup advert.

Since June, public tours have run three times a week. During a two-hour tour, visitors are taken by volunteer tour guides to see the puppy block, whelping areas and, of course, the puppies, as well as learning more about our work. They also get a chance to experience our new Sensory Tunnel, which gives a brief experience of life with sight loss. Sales from the shop and donations made by visitors have been steadily increasing, as have requests for information about Gifts in Wills and offers to become volunteers or to sponsor pups. This support from our visitors is a real vote of confidence in our tour and its guides, and is extremely encouraging.

In October, Guide Dogs Week gave us the opportunity to test how the new facilities would stand up to a full public open day. The answer was resoundingly positive with an estimated 1,000 visitors attending. There was lots of positive feed back, with perhaps my favourite being from some long-standing volunteers, who said that the atmosphere resembled the old and much-loved Tollgate summer Gala Day. The open day, which incorporated a blindfold challenge event, raised nearly £4,000, with 25 people also signing up to Sponsor a Puppy and roughly 30 putting their name forward to become volunteers.

I hope that you're able to visit us some day and see the centre that will provide the foundation for the Guide Dog service for the next 80 years or more. I wonder what the tally of pups born will be after that time and how many will have gone on to change the life of a blind or partially sighted person.

To book a visit, please call 0345 1430216 or email