Who would have thought it would be controversial to train dogs to help hearing-impaired people?
When Glenn Martyn spoke at The Commonwealth Club on November 18, he was proud to announce the formation of a new organization to train assistive dogs for people with hearing problems. Martyn, the former director at the SF/SPCA's famed hearing dog program and a dog training director at Bergin University for Canine Studies, formed the new Hearing Dog Program with other colleagues who, like him, had been laid off when SF/SPCA closed its own Hearing Dog Program last year.
But the controversy hit the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday, with an article by Leslie Fulbright reporting that Martyn's group is locked in an upcoming court battle with the SF/SPCA and another party, the Santa Rosa-based Canine Companions for Independence, over which organization should get to spend a $500,000 bequest left to the SF/SPCA's hearing dogs program "or to its successor," as Fulbright reports. All three groups say they should get the money; but the most interesting response might be from the SF/SPCA itself, which is claiming it should get funds for the program it discontinued.
Fulbright's article cites comments by SF/SPCA's communications director that "even though the SPCA stopped training dogs to assist the hearing impaired, it still provides support for graduates of the program and their animals. 'We offer vet services, training and harnesses,' she said." Earlier in the article, she says SF/SPCA doesn't consider either of the other two groups to be the successor to her organization's hearing dog efforts, but adds that "the court will look at their demands."
Martyn's Hearing Dog Program issued a press release pointing out that at least twice, the SF/SPCA acknowledged that it had closed the hearing dog program, but "the SF/SPCA has continued to accept donations made out specifically to the discontinued Hearing Dog Program."
For the record, we should note that Martyn brought along an adorable dog to his Club event so he could demonstrate how a dog alerts humans to ringing doorbells, phones, and other input. As you'll see in the short news clipping above (click on image to enlarge), the dog demonstrated something else, too. But we don't hold a grudge.
For background on why hearing dog programs are vital to some hearing-impaired people, read the short Q&A with Martyn from the September 2008 issue of The Commonwealth.
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