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Doghouses with flair: Southeastern Guide Dogs’ Barkitecture 2010 to raise funds

PALMETTO — Inspired by the Sarasota School of Architecture, the contemporary eco-friendly home is made from bamboo with energy-efficient glass windows.

Another home, designed for the outdoorsey type, comes complete with solar lights, a skylight and removable canvas tenting.

The handcrafted houses aren’t for humans, however. They are fully functioning modern-day doggy shacks built to benefit Southeastern Guide Dogs, a nonprofit organization based in Palmetto.

Thanks to a handful of local architects and designers, six custom-built “designer dog homes” will be auctioned during the first Barkitecture 2010 in May in Lakewood Ranch.

The event’s festivities include music, pool-side cocktails, cuisine and a silent auction of posh pet accessories.

Patsy French, Southeastern’s director of development and communications who came up with the idea, said the organization thrives through donations and private grants. “The only way we exist is solely on philanthropy,” she said. Southeastern’s 2009-10 operating budget is $4.9 million. “They are truly to be commended.”

TOTeMS Architecture Inc. and Hafner Fine Carpentry, both Sarasota-based firms, teamed up to create one of the designer doghouses. The indoor creation is called a Wooffee Table because it is both a dog house and a coffee table, said Arif Abdulla, TOTeMs architecture production coordinator.

“It was interesting to take a fresh approach to a contemporary dog house that would also function as a piece of furniture,” he said. “We’ve been hearing great things about their (organization) so this is a great opportunity to help out.”

The six dog houses are competing online as well.

Starting April 6, residents can go online to the organization’s Web site and vote for their favorite, said Stacey Price, special events coordinator for Southeastern. Voting costs $1 and all proceeds directly benefit Southeastern.

Established in 1982, the organization has more than 800 active guide dog teams across the country, French said, and annually creates more than 70 new guide dog teams, which consist of one human and one service dog each.

From breeding to training, placing and servicing, it costs about $60,000 to devlop a guide dog. But the dogs are provided free of charge to those in need, French said.

Southeastern’s 23-acre campus on 77th Street East includes a park, kennels, student rooms, a cafeteria and an administrative facility.

On Tuesday, a 10-week-old yellow Lab rested his head on the shoulder of a worker inside the breeding kennel of Southeastern’s campus.

In the coming days, the pup will undergo months of intense harness training to learn commands to aid a visually impaired owner.

After dogs — Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Goldadors (a lab and golden mix) and Smooth-Coat Collies — undergo training, students live free on Southeastern’s campus for 26 days, working with their new partners.

Upon graduation the dogs and their new owners return home to a life of independence and, as French says, to take on the world.