EDF and the Dropped Ball

For the sake of the cause, I have attempted to remain as objective as possible, but this entire situation disgusts and infuriates me. I’m sure neither feeling is a surprise, and I’m even more positive I am not alone. But why I am specifically boiling mad isn’t so much because of the events taking place — it’s because today I discovered that this is not new information to the guide dog user organizations and yet nothing but “discussion” has taken place.

Yes. The first response I received stated plainly that the issue had been discussed several times. And then went on to advise me that the only thing I could do was to complain to the CA guide dog board. Like there was nothing else that could be done about the whole thing. As if it was so beneath us, as blind individuals and guide dog users, to work towards making things better.

Really, people, am I the only person who sees what this is really about?!

Maybe. So I’ll explain. And I’ll use small words so as not to confuse all the simple-minded blind folk out there.

The very root of this entire fight with EDF is about keeping blind people safe. The school has been continuing to raise money to train guide dogs, even though they haven’t placed a dog in years. Instead those dogs remain in the kennel while EDF tries to replace its head trainer. To fill this position they have an instructor who does not even meet the industry’s standard in terms of qualifications — and it’s not the first time the school has done that. In fact, that is entirely why the school’s training facility is in Arizona, while its headquartered in California. This kind of practice puts every graduate of EDF at risk, obviously. But more importantly it shows the WORLD that blind people are too stupid and subservient to care and stand up for their right to and requirement of a properly trained guide dog.

The fact that this has gone on for years is appalling. The fact that the organizations alerted to the crisis allowed it to go on is absurd. The fact that those same organizations didn’t see the need to readily share this news is absolutely unforgivable. And the fact that seemingly no one cares to delve deeper into finding out more information and how to set things right makes my blood boil with suppressed rage.

One of the main reasons I stopped being an active member in either ACB or NFB was because the meetings and conventions I did attend could in essence be defined as constant complaining about how unfair the world is for treating blind people like second class citizens. Here, in this fight with EDF, we have a prime example of just that but rather than take the opportunity and show everyone how capable, smart, and engaged we are, we sit around and talk about it and decide we can’t do one damn thing. How will change ever happen if we can’t be bothered to take action when it falls in our laps? Who do we think will do it for us? And why would we expect them?

Frankly, I think it’s a testament to the faith those puppy raisers have in us to have taken up this fight in the first place. Because from what I’ve seen, we don’t deserve it. We can’t manage to find a way to contribute help. Instead, we’ll sit on our respective butts and do nothing.

I’m so ashamed of the blind community right now. And absolutely disgusted to be associated as part of such a lazy and ignorant class of people.

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.

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.”

[Read more…]

Guide Dogs in China

This article was recently forwarded to me in an email:

Ping Yali, China’s first paralympic champion with vision of a mere 0.05, has been in a low mood recently as she cannot apply for a license for Lucky — her guide dog.

Lucky, the first ever professional guide dog working in Beijing, entered Ping Yali’s life early December after being trained in Dalian, and has greatly helped the disabled athlete during her daily life.

Unfortunately, Lucky, a male golden retriever weighting 40kg, is among the city’s blacklist of banned dogs and is now facing difficulty getting a required license. Without a license, Lucky’s presence on the street could be seen as illegal and he can be taken away by police.

Ping Yali has visited her local Public Security Bureau over the crucial issue. Police officers say they are willing to help but claim a gap in the current law pertaining to guide dogs prohibits them from issuing Lucky with a proper license.

Beijing banned large or ferocious dogs back in 2006 in a bid to fight rabies, forbidding keepers from taking their dogs to public places like markets, stores, commercial areas, parks, hospitals, etc. But many such places are inevitable locations for a guide dog to be at when helping his or her master.

Alas Ping Yali is in a hurry. “If Lucky stays at home or hangs about for too long without going out, he will lose his ability to serve as a guide dog,” the Olympic torch bearer said.

“Now he barely reacts when the bus is coming, the drivers have refused him entry too many times. And whenever we go to the supermarket, he is in a low mood, as the security guard scolded him loudly last time.” Ping Yali said.

Ping Yali wrote done her worries on her blog, receiving attention and support from many netizens. Many called for a new law to be set up especially for guide dogs while expressing pity for Ping and Lucky’s situation.

“Without a license, Lucky can only stay at home and probably lose his sense of orientation, so how can I still take her to the Olympic Games?” Ping Yali said, mentioning her plan to take part in the Olympic torch relay in 2008.

The Organizing Committee for the Beijing Olympic Games announced on December 28 that guide dogs in aid of the disabled could enter Beijing’s public places during the Beijing Olympic Games.

But Ping Yali is worrying whether or not she and Lucky can still go out on the street after the Olympic Games. If not, she will have to send Lucky back to Dalian.

[Read more…]