Sue Meinzinger holds up a drawing of what the “Canine Condo” in the background will eventually look like. There are two other buildings planned for the site. Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times

Sue Meinzinger holds up a drawing of what the “Canine Condo” in the background will eventually look like. There are two other buildings planned for the site. Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times

Dog training campus being built on North Whidbey

Facility will train mobility service dogs for people who need them

An organization that trains mobility assistance dogs is building a facility on a Jones Road property north of Oak Harbor.

Summit Assistance Dogs’ three-building campus will host dogs in advanced classes, administrative staff and lodging for people with disabilities when they come to pick up their dog.

Sue Meinzinger founded Summit Assistance Dogs in 2000. The organization has since trained more than 100 mobility service dogs to help people with disabilities live independent lives.

Meinzinger said she envisioned a campus from the very beginning but didn’t expect it to be on Whidbey Island.

She had been looking for properties in the surrounding areas for years and put in multiple offers. When she saw the property off Jones Road, she was initially skeptical.

“But one by one, everything fell into place,” Meinzinger said.

The organization bought the wooded, 17-acre property in the summer of 2014.

The organization is conducting a $5.3 capital campaign for the campus and recently received several gifts.

The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust from Vancouver, Wash. gave $300,000, the Employees Community Fund of Boeing awarded $35,000 and the Patterson Foundation donated $25,000.

The money will be put toward a building called the “Canine Condo,” which is currently under construction. It will host dogs in advanced training.

Puppy litters will also be born there and cared for in the building.

The Whidbey Community Foundation and Sierra Pacific Foundation also gave resources to the project.

Meinzinger said waitlists for a service dog range between two and five years, and the building will increase the organization’s capacity.

“In order to ramp up our ability to provide services, we needed to get into a building for staff to work in and dogs to live in” she said.

Her goal is to place 20-25 mobility service dogs per year, she said, so the organization needs about 120 dogs in the pipeline of the two-year program.

The nonprofit does not charge clients for the service dogs and most of its budget comes from individuals.

The organization currently relies on volunteer puppy raisers. Volunteers host the dogs in their homes for about a year before they enter advanced training. The puppies need time to develop and for the organization to identify good candidates for the advanced training program. Many dogs do not complete the program and get adopted or go into canine work, Meinzinger said.

Anni Campbell lives in Greenbank and has raised 10 puppies. Two have been placed with people who need them and two are in advanced training. The others were adopted as pets. Her current puppy, a black Labrador named Kai, “looks promising,” she said.

Campbell volunteers in memory of her graduate degree supervisor who had cerebral palsy.

“I realized that if my friend and supervisor had a dog she could’ve lived independently,” she said. “I do it in memory of her because I know that these dogs make a huge difference for people with disabilities.”

She encouraged others to become puppy raisers and said she was the only person on Whidbey doing it. She said she’s excited about the new facility because it will lead to shorter waitlist times for the people who need help.

Brenda Walker lives near Penn Cove and is one of the organization’s board members. She said the building will help the organization further its mission. The facility is permitted for up to 50 dogs. Although some neighbors may be concerned about noise or increased traffic, both Walker and Meinzinger said there would rarely be that many animals there at once.

“We’re not mass producing dogs,” Walker said. “We’re creating a highly specialized animal and that doesn’t happen in large volumes.”

Meinzinger said neighbors should not be too worried about noise, either.

“We don’t generate a lot of noise. We select for quiet dogs,” Meinzinger said.

The organization still needs to raise more funds to complete the total project. It will host a virtual event this April called “Unleash Your Love.” Before the coronavirus, the event used to be held in person and contributed a significant amount to the organization’s budget. Meinzinger said the organization needs about $2.5 million more to complete the campus.

The founder is excited about being able to grow into the new space and place more dogs. The organization will likely need more puppy raisers and staff in the future, she said.

“We’re thrilled to be part of the Whidbey community.”

Summit Assistance Dogs is in the process of constructing three buildings on Jones Road in Oak Harbor so the organization has greater capacity to place more mobile assistance dogs with people who need them. These 10-week old puppies will go to volunteer puppy raisers before entering advanced training in about a year and a half. Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times

Summit Assistance Dogs is in the process of constructing three buildings on Jones Road in Oak Harbor so the organization has greater capacity to place more mobile assistance dogs with people who need them. These 10-week old puppies will go to volunteer puppy raisers before entering advanced training in about a year and a half. Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times

More in Life

Members of the public and Whidbey Island Rocks are encouraged to paint and hide stones with Garry oak designs or other local flora and fauna this week in preparation for a hunt Saturday. Photo by Jane Geddes
Island rock hunt celebrates Oak Harbor ‘Year of the Oak’

Whidbey Island Rocks is encouraging people to paint stones with Garry oaks before a hunt Saturday.

Photo provided
The Deception Pass Sail and Power Squadron, also known as America’s Boating Club of Deception Pass, hosts jamborees and other social events, along with boater safety and education classes.
Whidbey boaters promote safety, education

The Deception Pass Sail and Power Squadron hosts education and safety classes, and social events.

Michael Nichols, owner of Whidbey Green Goods, stands in his hoop house, also known as “The Hovel.” Customers visit the Clinton farm to pick up their own produce and plant starts. (Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group)
One-man Whidbey Island farm gears up for spring

The pandemic has brought a longtime farmer out of retirement.

Master Gardener Don Krafft gathers some broccoli in his garden plot at South Whidbey Tilth. He grows several things that are available for purchase at the Island County Master Gardener online plant sale. (Photo by Kira Erickson/South Whidbey Record)
Master Gardeners kick off plant sale, continue clincs

Green thumbs who have had a taste of spring sunshine and want to begin planting can do so with the help of the Island County Master Gardeners.

Photo provided
Stella Rowan, left, Savannah Mounce and Luna Grove, right, get together for swims and photoshoots like this one at Deception Pass State Park. The trio of two mermaids and a self-described “heavy metal selkie” call themselves the Whidbey Island Sirens.
Whidbey Island Sirens making quite a splash

The trio will be at Windjammer Park in Oak Harbor this Saturday.

Frances Schultz, holding a picture of her younger self, recently turned 100 years old. Her daughter, Connie Van Dyke, right, said her mother’s photo looks like one of actress Barbara Stanwyck. Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times
At 100, Oak Harbor woman reflects on busy life

Frances Schultz turned 100 years old on March 30.

Joel Atienza’s uniform’s USAF/USSF patches prior to transfer. Photo provided
Oak Harbor 2010 grad selected for U.S. Space Force

Joel Atienza’s advice to Space Force hopefuls? “Remember, ‘The sky is not the limit.’”

The Oystercatcher’s owner and chef, Tyler Hansen, prepares a dozen 3 Sisters beef bolognese lasagnas to go on the shelves at 3 Sisters Market. Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times
Chef liaises with other business owners

A Coupeville chef has expanded his partnership with local business owners to… Continue reading

Joe Gunn holding a freshly backed rhubarb pie. (Photo by Harry Anderson)
How a pie on the Rock became a brand and legend

Whidbey Pies is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year.

Color Guard Capt. Mike Hutchins, at left, and John Kraft present the Sons of the American Revolution Bronze Good Citizenship Medal to Bobbi Lornson, center. (Photo by Teresa Addison)
Oak Harbor woman awarded ‘Good Citizenship’ medal

Bobbi Lornson, past president of the Oak Harbor Lions Club president and volunteer, was recently recognized for her contributions to the community.

Tim Leonard, owner of the Machine Shop in Langley, hangs a purple neon star he made on the wall of his arcade. Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group
Neon art show colorizes Machine Shop’s reopening

A cacophony of happy buzzers and bells and a riot of glowing… Continue reading

Photo by Kira Erickson/South Whidbey Record
Third grader Laszlo McDowell gets up close and personal with a gray whale skull.
Students learn about being ‘whale-wise’

South Whidbey Elementary School students got a taste of what it would be like to live as gray whales.