MYAKKA CITY -- At first, Donte's Den was a just a dream sketched on paper. Now, the forever home for dogs is becoming a reality.
When it's finished, Donte's Den will be a 9-acre community dedicated to housing dogs whose owners have died or are incapacitated. The nonprofit facility will also welcome dogs whose owners have been deployed with the military.
Founder Marsha Panuce invited 75 of her closest friends and colleagues for Donte Den's groundbreaking Monday afternoon at the facility, 6801 283rd St. E.
"A project like this is not accomplished by one person alone. It's the collective ideas and the visions of many," said Panuce, 65. "I had a dream and we all collectively set that goal and now we can watch the reality."
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Mike Carter, president of Mike Carter Construction, contractor for the $5 million project, said Donte's Den will open during the first quarter of 2015. The project will undergo six months of construction and then
two months of installing fixtures, furniture and equipment.
Animal Arts, a veterinary architecture firm based in Boulder, Colo., is designing the facility, which will include a welcome center, hospital, dog dens, military dog dens, a 15,000-gallon pool and lounge and adoption dens. Each dog den will feature air conditioning, private porches, toys and television and will be able to house up to 100 dogs at a time.
Land is already plotted for phase two, which includes at least five additional dens, and will be constructed depending on the organization's fundraising efforts.
Donte's Den, a longtime dream shared with her late husband, Don, was named after Paunce's favorite schnauzer, Donte, who died unexpectedly in 2011.
"Unfortunately, two of the most important players are not here today to be able to shake your hand and say thank you, and the other to give you a big, wonderful, wet kiss," Panuce told the crowd. "I certainly know that Don and Donte are looking down on us today. They're smiling and they're saying, 'You've got my heartfelt thanks.'"
Panuce and her supporters celebrated the groundbreaking by wedging gold shovels into the ground and tossing dirt into the air.
Dr. Gregg Greiner, a veterinarian from Chicago and one of Panuce's close friends, will help Panuce set up hospital protocol.
"It's amazing. This has been a long time coming," he said. "We started talking about this 10 years ago. It's evolved quite a bit."
Panuce, who lives in Sarasota and owns Bradenton-based ACI Advanced Controls Inc., called the groundbreaking her dream come true: "Some said 'If you build it, they will come' and now here we are...I can hear the dogs barking already."
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.