PLEASE READ! — Eye Dog Foundation’s Shepherds

[EDIT: For information on how you can contribute help, please click here.]

UPDATE: Volunteer puppy raisers win in court! More information to come.

Last updated: April 6, 2010 @ 9:21 AM EDT

For more than a year the volunteer puppy raisers for the Eye Dog Foundation have been fighting with the school. Even though they have taken back nearly every guide dog puppy, the school has not placed a guide dog in over two-and-a-half years and the conditions in the kennels are quite unsettling.

The school has had a bad reputation for quite some time now for inexperienced and unqualified training staff and for continuing to take in MILLIONS of dollars without working towards their core mission. The dogs currently at the school have been without formal training for over 14 months. (“Formal training” here meaning guide dog training from a qualified instructor.) These are dogs that were raised in loving homes by puppy raisers and their families and now are being left in their cages, barking incessantly, while the school’s gates remain padlocked.

It should be noted that the school still maintains that these dogs will become guide dogs, even though they do not currently employ an “industry standard” instructor. As the school is headquartered in CA, it also falls under that state’s guide dog regulations put in place by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Board; regulations that EDF has historically not been following. In fact, the school has even bred another string of puppies since recalling back all their dogs — these puppies have lived their entire lives at the kennel. All of these GSDs have been without any real human interaction, certainly not the environment to maintain the high standard to which a future guide dog requires.

Don’t just take my word, though; please read the various news regarding the situation for yourself.

Yesterday, I received an email from one of the puppy raisers who has been diligently working towards helping these dogs. The problem, it would seem, is that no one is listening. And my best guess is because they are fighting this battle almost completely alone. Word has spread, albeit slowly, but no real action has been taken. As stated in the email: “You name the governing body, we have contacted them all.”

My hope is the same as this puppy raiser’s, that we can do something for these dogs and raise awareness of the horrific situation going on with EDF. I am urging you, whatever your interest level, to please spread the word about this situation. Please feel free to link this post if you would like. If you have any suggestion in a way to help the puppy raisers and the German shepherds, you can leave a comment on this post or email me. I will edit this post as necessary with whatever information I receive.

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EDF Has Lost Control

Last year I posted a news article about the very disturbing fight that Eye Dog Foundation puppy raisers were having with the training school. Sadly, it doesn’t seem like things are improving at EDF, at least according to this article:

Residents living near a controversial guide-dog training facility in south Phoenix say that it has gone, well, to the dogs.

They complain of frenzied barking and growling that can be heard throughout the day and night in the blocks surrounding the non-profit Eye Dog Foundation for the Blind. Certainly that was the case Thursday morning, when one resident recorded the cacophony of barking from her backyard just after 6.

“This is what we what we have to put up with every morning,” resident Barbara Tristan said over the racket. “It is just horrible.”

The California-based foundation, which runs its only training facility in Phoenix, hasn’t placed a single guide dog with the blind in two years. A recent Arizona Republic investigation found that it has placed an average of three dogs a year since 2000 despite raising millions of dollars in donations and interest from investments.

But the lack of dog placements doesn’t mean the kennels have been empty. And that’s where neighbors who live near the facility on 15th Avenue south of Baseline say the dogs are kept most of the day and night, locked in kennels where they bark and bark.

“It’s just that they are trapped in there all day long,” Tristan said. “There doesn’t seem to be any training going on at all. They are kept in pens.”

Tristan says she has attempted several times to contact the facility and the foundation about the dogs. But she said staff ignores her calls and in two cases, taunted her. “The last time I called, the woman said, ‘They’re dogs. … Do what you have to do,’ and then she hung up on me.”

At the foundation office in Claremont, Calif., a staff member said Thursday they have never received any complaints from residents. The staff member refused to identify herself and hung up when asked about the barking.

Foundation President Gwen Brown has not returned repeated requests for interviews.

Jean Anderton, who also lives near the facility, said she has heard the dogs barking at all hours. Worse, she said, when she walks her own dogs anywhere near the facility’s grounds, the dogs inside growl ferociously.

“They go berserk,” Anderton said.

It hasn’t always been that way, said neighbors, adding that they have contacted Phoenix officials and are considering putting together a petition. In the past, they said, trainers would walk the dogs through the neighborhood and let them interact with residents. Anderton and Tristan both said the dogs were well-behaved, managed with sincerity and did not bark.

They said the facility was open to the public and you could watch dogs being trained throughout the day. Now, they said, the facility gates are locked, they rarely see any staff, aside from maintenance crews, and the dogs are left to bark.

They say changes occurred about two years ago, which coincides with the time that Brown took over operations.

Since 2007, the foundation has gone through a series of trainers, padlocked the gates of its facility multiple times, and has become embroiled in lawsuits with local volunteers who raise puppies in their homes until the dogs are ready for training.

At the same time, records show that the nonprofit foundation has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations and interest from stocks and bonds; giving it more than $7 million in assets.

The volunteer puppy raisers say they are concerned the dogs aren’t being trained for the blind and say they are worried about how the dogs are being cared for at the facility. Residents living near the training facility are equally concerned.

“Poor animals,” Tristan said. “It is not their fault.”

I really don’t have words to describe everything I feel about this. I’m beyond appalled. But what I really want to know is WHY there isn’t anything being done about this?! Where is GDUI or NAGDU regarding this? Or even IAADP? How about the other schools throughout the country? The only thing I’ve heard in the last year was that The Seeing Eye was going to do follow-up support for EDF graduates. But I haven’t heard anything regarding what would happen with the dogs. And clearly they are not being treated well. And even if this article is exaggerating about the dogs, and I think it’s more probable that it’s omitting even more grotesque details, why hasn’t the ASPCA or The Humane Society stepped in and done something?

I’m the first to admit that I can get pretty damn preachy about animal rights and humane pet care. And that when it comes to a handler I am even more hypercritical. Dogs especially are an animal that live their entire lives trying to make their humans happy and it goes tenfold more for a handler. And in the case of a guide dog user, we’re talking about an dog by it’s very job description trained to keep that blind person safe! I may have some qualms about certain schools practices, but I generally keep my mouth shut because I feel those schools are at least doing some right by their dogs. This? This is not doing right in any possible definition.

I’m disgusted beyond reason. And incredibly worried about the health and well being of those poor GSDs. There’s just no reason for such a thing to be allowed and overlooked for so long.

Birthday Goodies

Painting of a GSD guide dog from my book of artAnd now a brief interruption in the ongoing retelling of my most legendary vacation so I can babble about some of the really neat gifts I received for my birthday. I’m not usually hung up on the whole gift-receiving thing — and I’m certainly not one to gloat — but I thought I’d share a bit of my glee with you at a couple things.

First off, Jess gave me a most wonderful book on dogs in artwork while we were at the Met. I was quite filled with squee about this just because dogs plus art is cool on any level. And I was quite surprised and pleased that there were in fact a few representations of the GSD in some pieces. But I was absolutely not expecting to see this photo (to the left) of a German shepherd guide dog. How completely cool is that?

My desk at work with all my stuffed GSDsSpeaking of the GSD and guide dogs, though, I’ve apparently started a small shrine to them on my desk at work thanks in most part to Raechel and James who gave me the very cute GSD . . . actually both of those have been presents from them — the little guide dog puppy to the far right in the photo was my birthday gift last year. I think I need to get one of those harnessed guide dogs from GDUI to round out the collection. Hehe!

Anyway, thanks again to everyone for the birthday wishes, thoughtful cards, wonderful gifts and, of course, to those that helped make my 30th such a great birthday! I totally heart you all. :-)

2009 Walk for Fidelco

Me with Yara, Tom with Stanley, Raechel with Spock, and James with Otis and Scarlet walking the route
[Walking the route at the 2008 Walk for Fidelco; from left to right: me, Yara, Tom, Stanley, Raechel, Spock, James, Otis, and Scarlet]

As you probably know, Fidelco is an organization very near to my heart. There are not adequate words for me to describe how it is to work with a guide dog. I’m constantly amazed by these wonderful dogs. And eternally grateful to all the many people who are involved in the various aspects of getting these exceptional guides to blind persons like myself.

This year in particular has been one in which I feel strongly that giving back is imperative. Like the rest of the country, non-profits are struggling due to the economy and Fidelco is no exception. And yet, even with their financial burdens, they’ve taken up the commitment to provide Yara’s EPI treatment free of cost for the rest of her life. Admittedly, there were some bumps in the road to get to this point, but at a cost of roughly $2500 a year, this is hardly a small thing.

As with last year, we’ll be attending the Walk for Fidelco and it’s my goal to match Fidelco’s dedication by raising this year’s funds for Yara’s treatment. I know times are tough, but if you are so inclined, I would greatly appreciate any help you can give in the form of a sponsoring donation. It’s as simple as clicking over to my fundraising page. And no it is not too late to pledge a donation. Remember every little bit helps!

Please, feel free to share this with anyone else whom you think may be interested. And thank you!

Fosters Fighting EDF

Thanks to Marion for sharing this article on the NAGDU email list. [Original article here.]

A custody battle is brewing over 25 “service dogs in training” in the Phoenix area.

The future service animals are owned by the Eye Dog Foundation for the Blind, a California-based non-profit group that operates a training center in Phoenix.

But a large group of volunteers, foster families that agreed to help raise the dogs, are refusing to return them.

“I couldn’t feel comfortable handing this dog back to a foundation that is not functioning and feel good about it,” Diana Anderson said.

Anderson and 24 other volunteers entered into agreements with the foundation to provide the dogs a home and bring them to training sessions at the foundation’s facility in South Phoenix.

The goal of the foundation is to train the dogs and then place them with the blind.

But volunteers like Eldon Ploetz say the foundation is in shambles, that dogs are not receiving the necessary training, and they claim not a single dog has been placed with a blind person in more than a year.

Ploetz and his wife have helped raise and foster Kiesha, a German shepherd.

In late September, Ploetz received a letter from the Eye Dog Foundation’s attorney stating, “DEMAND IS HEREBY MADE that you immediately return Kiesha to the Foundation.”

The letter continues, “I understand that you have breached at least two parts of this Agreement. You have not followed the instructions of the staff, and you have not attended all the Training Classes.”

Other volunteers received similar letters.

But the volunteers claim the trainers are not properly certified, and the ones that have been hired have not stayed on with the foundation.

Additionally, they say the Foundation had been shut down for weeks and they have neglected the dogs.

“We understand they cut off the food for the dogs that were in the kennel,” Ploetz said.

Ploetz’s wife said she would rather go to jail than give the Kiesha back to the foundation.

“They are valid concerns,” said Dacoda Whittemore, a former operations manager who worked at the foundation’s training facility for only a week.

Whittemore said the dogs are “absolutely” receiving better care with the foster families, “not just because the management isn’t functioning properly, but there?s no staff qualified on the foundation at this point to be able to take and care for these dogs properly.”

Dexter Morin, a former trainer at the facility agreed with Whittemore, submitting his resignation earlier this month.

Before leaving, Morin turned over several dogs to the foster families rather than leaving them at the training facility alone.

In his resignation letter, Morin wrote, “I contacted the puppy raisers to inform them of my concerns of leaving the dogs on the premises without the guarantee that they would be attended to.”

Morin goes on to state, “I in good conscience turned them over to the puppy raisers for the safe keeping of the dogs.”

The Eye Dog Foundation and its attorney have declined our repeated requests for an on-camera interview.

In a statement to ABC15, the Foundation’s attorney, John D. Clark, wrote, “The contract clearly states that each of the dogs belong to the Foundation, and gives no ownership rights whatsoever to any of the puppy raisers.”

The letter goes on to state that “the Foundation directed each of the puppy raisers in writing to return the Foundation’s puppies to the Foundation within five days. It now appears that the puppy raises are refusing to comply with the Foundation’s directive.”

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