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JMDG Architecture | Planning + Interiors, PBS Contractors and Pergola Inc. landscaping transformed the vacant Harley-Davidson dealership off Pine Ridge Road in Naples into The Ken & Susan Meyer Center for Golden PAWS Assistance Dogs. 

“When we started our ‘Just Imagine’ capital campaign and began to consider options for the design of our new building, we had very specific goals,” Golden PAWS CEO and founder Jeannie Bates says of the roughly 30,000-square-foot building they purchased for $6.35 million two years ago and opened this April.

“We wanted to create a ‘dog-centric’ environment that would support the care of our dogs while enhancing training programs and community outreach services,” she says of the $5.65 million project. “It was also essential that our new home be comfortable and welcoming for our recipients, volunteers, visitors and team.”

The nonprofit, which provides skilled assistance dogs to combat-wounded veterans and children with life-changing disabilities, doubled the training capacity of its former 5,500-square-foot Horseshoe Drive headquarters. The new, state-of-the-art facility can house 30 adult dogs and 10 puppies, allowing Golden PAWS to place 20 dogs yearly (golden retrievers and a few Labradors). Eight-week-old puppies are sent to foster homes for four months of training, including three times weekly onsite, before returning for more training. At two and a half years, they’re paired with a recipient. 

Floors, which range from wide-plank luxury vinyl to non-slip epoxy, concrete and rubber, were selected for ease of cleaning. The 6,000-square-foot training room, where volunteers work with dogs, features a three-quarter-inch rubber floor.

“It’s designed to be cushioning for the dogs,” says board president Kyle Reed. “We’ll have temporary fencing to create quadrants to run different exercises.”

There are areas for doggie and human food prep, veterinary care, grooming, classes and food storage, as well as the Patty and Jay Baker Indoor Dog Park for agility and tactile training on surfaces that include sand and grass. Couches, armchairs and tables donated by La Mer’s community center decorate meeting rooms for adults and children to select dogs. Bates’ office and a skybox have bird’s-eye views of training, and a whiteboard in the day-staging area lists volunteers’ assignments.

In the doggie dorms, the low hum of a crowd talking plays while timed lights maintain circadian rhythms. Concrete floors slant toward drains, easily washable. Adult dogs live in 8-by-10-foot white-picket fence dorms, while puppies get 6-by-6, all with a crate, hammock and a favorite toy. Each has a sign with a name and birthdate. 

The dealership closed in September 2018 and the lobby was in good condition, but the rest was in bad shape, said PBS Contractors Senior Relationship Manager Mario Valle. JMDG and PBS had experience working on canine facilities, including Humane Society of Naples’ new kennels and adoption center.

“We worked collaboratively to provide a top-notch facility for training assistance dogs in the country,” Valle says of executing JMDG architect Tom Jones’ plans. “They’ll have ongoing updates as funding becomes available.”

The air feels ultra-fresh thanks to a 100% make-up air conditioning system that fully replenishes inside air with outside air daily and is required for housing animals and preventing sickness, according to Valle, who said the building also features hurricane-impact windows.  

Outside, they ensured dogs who can open doors couldn’t pry open pens by placing knobs high up; faux-wood Hardie board louvers provide shade for pens, and landscape architect Kristen Petry made specific plant selections for the 2.7-acre property. 

“To limit the cane toad habitat,” Valle says, “we eliminated bromeliads and plants that hold water, but we also substituted pine straw for mulch to ensure the dogs didn’t get attracted to it, and we used grass in areas closer to the entry and exits for dog-relief zones.”

The building also features an audio system controlled through a smartphone app. “We can create different environments,” Reed says of thunder, trains, traffic, crowds, forests and other sounds. “Part of training is desensitizing dogs when they’re out in public, so they’re not reactive to different situations and things don’t scare or startle them. By the time they leave, it’s normal to them because they’ve been through it so many times artificially.”

There’s a mock kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. “This is our real-life area for functional training,” Reed says, adding that dogs learn skills to help recipients, including opening a refrigerator, drawers or dishwasher, and undergo strength and mobility training. “The goal is that when dogs leave here, they’re never going to encounter anything they haven’t encountered.”

Editor’s Note: Golden PAWS Assistance Dogs is still trying to raise $3 million to offset increased costs of the larger facility and expanded programming. To donate, go to goldenpaws.org/donate-now/.

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