Guide Dog from the Eye Dog FoundationTo me, and to the many people that they help, there is no doubt that trained service and companion dogs are heroes and lifesavers and so are the organizations that train and place these dogs. But what happens when something goes wrong with one of these organizations? That’s the question right now the California based Eye Dog Foundation for the Blind that is located in Phoenix right now.

There is a custody battle brewing between the Foundation and 25 volunteers, foster families that are raising puppies for the Foundation. These families agreed to foster and raise these puppies, beautiful German Shepherds, take them to training and then relinquish them back to the Foundation so that they could be placed with the blind. Now they are refusing to do so.

Sounds pretty cut and dried, breach of contract, right? Maybe if it were just one or two I could see that perhaps the blame could be placed on the puppy raisers, but all 25 of the volunteers? That says to me that there’s something seriously wrong especially when you couple this with the fact that a former trainer and a former operation manager also say there is a problem with the Foundation.

Now these 25 volunteers are a facing legal battle because they care more for the welfare of the dogs in their care then a legal contract.

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

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.” (ABC 15)

What a sad situation! These people entered into an agreement in good faith but it seems their good faith was not reciprocated and the dogs they have so lovingly cared for are now supposed to be placed in a situation that is questionable at best.

So, where should priorities lie in this situation; with the legal contract or with the safety and wellbeing of the dogs that these foster families have cared for and loved? To me, the answer is obvious. If and when this makes it to court, I wonder how the ‘powers that be’ will see it? I hesitate to even answer because we all know far too often how the judicial system sees dogs and animals… property, no more, no less.

Interview with Volunteers from the Eye Dog Foundation

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