The Gills’ floppy-eared, doe-eyed bassets are part of the family. Now, the couple shares their love for the pups with folks across the nation, breeding and selling bassets from their Offerman-based business, Okefenokee Basset Hounds.

When Stephanie and Larry Gill married 15 years ago their’s was a true “yours, mine and ours” story. Together, the couple has seven children and 13 grandchildren, but something was still missing. Their family, as large as it is, was not complete.

What did they do about it?

The Gills bought a floppy-eared, sad-eyed basset hound puppy … and then another.

Now, the couple runs a full-scale basset breeding business, Okefenokee Basset Hounds, from their Offerman home and have housed up to 23 hounds at one time when caring for a litter or two.

“We’ve accumulated quite a large pack,” Stephanie says with a laugh. “But, I love the breed and want to share it.”

Their numbers dwindle quickly though when the puppies are ready to be rehomed at eight-weeks-old. The Gills have had no problem selling the adorable hounds to people looking for a family pet.

They bought their first basset, Lucy, four years ago and purchased breeding rights thinking they might want a litter or two to share with all their children and grandchildren. Little did they know the idea, almost an afterthought really, would grow into a booming business.

But, Lucy was lonely, and so along came Bo.

“Bassets do much better when they’re in pairs. They’re pack animals and they get anxious when they don’t have anybody to play with,” Stephanie says.

The Gills have bred and produced several healthy litters from their nine adult bassets (six females) of American and European breed since they started breeding last year. Alongside Lucy and Bo, they purchased two European bassets from the Czech Republic.

Those hounds, Remus and Gabbie, are arguably the most spoiled dogs of the pack.

“Those are our ‘babies’ for sure,” Stephanie says. “Those are the only two dogs that have ever slept in my bed!”

Basset puppies are cute and cuddly and the hounds make a loyal, loving and lifelong pet for children, but breeding is hard work  — a full time job for Stephanie. Keeping up the kennel, puppy nursery and other facilities consumes all of Larry’s spare time too, but the couple has decided the business will be their “retirement plan” when Larry gives up construction work in a few years.

When one of their mama dogs is nearing delivery, the Gills move her into the house and set up a birthing area in the living room where they can watch over her day and night. If they aren’t in the room, one of the Gills has an eye on their camera feed.

Breeding is a labor of love for Stephanie. She even sleeps in the living room with the mother and new puppies until the litter is old enough to be moved to the Gills’ puppy nursery  — an enclosed room off the garage.

“We keep constant eyes on them,” Stephanie says. “I usually sleep in here for the first two weeks.”

In many ways, the Gill’s puppy nursery and play area for little bassets resembles a baby nursery or daycare center. There are safety gates sectioning off play and sleep areas, and the bassets entertain themselves with baby toys and sensory play centers. They learn how to use a doggie door and are house broken by the time their adopting family takes them to their permanent home.

The kennel where most of the adult bassets sleep is state-of-the-art too, designed to make cleaning up easy and provide a healthy living space for the dogs. Larry designed the kennel, and it is clear he invested a lot of tender love and care into its construction.

The dogs sleep in air conditioned pens. They have night lights and a radio, and the kennel has a built in bathtub and grooming area. With their shampooing system, the Gills can bathe and condition a full-grown 55-70 pound hound in 10 minutes flat. Larry also installed a washer and dryer in the kennel for cleaning dog bedding, blankets and toys.

“Our friends call this the doggie condo,” Stephanie says.

When the bassets aren’t in the house or their kennel, they roam the fenced yard where the Gills have also installed a self-watering system. Their dogs are never without access to fresh water.

It’s time-consuming, hard work, but the heart-warming feeling of placing a puppy in a child’s arms for the first time is worth all the sleepless nights and worry, the Gills say. Yes, breeding hounds is very much like having a baby.

“When the kids come to get them, oh it melts our hearts,” Larry says.

“They really are good with kids,” Stephanie agrees.

Okefenokee Basset Hounds has placed lovable dogs with families in Washington, Nevada, Nebraska, Arizona, Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina and, of course, Georgia. In a way, the Gill family has now spread across the U.S. and continues to grow.  The Gill family is becoming more complete one doe-eyed, long-eared puppy at a time.