First-time mom Unity the German shepherd gave birth to 16 healthy puppies as part of Guide Dogs' breeding program in late 2021
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Guide dogs
Credit: courtesy Guide Dogs

Guide Dogs is handling a record-breaking level of cuteness.

The U.K.-based nonprofit, which breeds, raises, and trains service dogs to place with the visually impaired at no cost to the handler, recently welcomed their largest litter. In late 2021, Guide Dogs' three-year-old German shepherd Unity gave birth to 16 healthy puppies.

As a first-time mom, Unity delivered a litter over twice the size of the average for German Shepherds, which is eight, according to the American Kennel Club. The 16 puppies are also the largest litter born through the Guide Dogs' breeding program in its 60-year history.

"A litter of sixteen is incredibly unusual, but such a gift. The pandemic has had a detrimental impact on our charity's breeding program and how many litters we can have, so these puppies are even more treasured," Matthew Bottomley, Guide Dogs' head of breeding operations, said in a statement.

Guide dogs
Credit: courtesy Guide Dogs
Guide dogs
Credit: courtesy Guide Dogs

The pups aren't purebred German shepherds like their mom, but instead, German shepherd/golden retriever mixes thanks to dad Trigger. Trigger is a 6-year-old golden retriever and Guide Dogs' most prolific stud, having sired close to 240 puppies. The nonprofit hopes that Unity and Trigger's puppies will have the loyalty and drive of a German shepherd mixed with the friendliness and confidence of a golden retriever.

Now over eight weeks old, the puppies have left mom's side to start the next step in their training.

"Our staff and volunteers have been working tirelessly to ensure all the puppies have thrived, and they are now ready to start their journeys to becoming life-changing guide dogs for people with sight loss," Bottomley added in his statement.

Guide dogs
Credit: courtesy Guide Dogs
Guide dogs
Credit: courtesy Guide Dogs

All of the baby dogs spent a week at Guide Dogs National Centre near Leamington Spa, England, for some brief training before being placed with volunteer puppy raisers. The puppy raisers will care for the dogs for about a year, helping the little animals socialize, tackle new environments, and learn basic commands. Once the puppies are older, they will receive the specialized training needed to become service animals for the visually impaired.

To learn more about Guides Dogs' work and how to support the charity's efforts, visit the nonprofit's website.