Sunday, September 27, 2009

Arizona neighbors complain about guide-dog training facility - lots of barking dogs, few placements

From The Arizona Republic:

Residents living near a guide-dog training facility in south Phoenix are complaining of frenzied barking and growling that can be heard throughout the day and night.

That was the case on a recent morning in the neighborhood surrounding the non-profit Eye Dog Foundation for the Blind, 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 guide dog with a blind person 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 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 constantly 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."

Tristan, who has lived in the same house for 30 years, says she has attempted several times to contact the facility and the foundation about the dogs. She said staff members ignore her calls; in two cases when she got through, they 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 Clare- mont, Calif., a staff member said Thursday they have never received any complaints from residents.

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

Jean Anderton, who also lives near the facility, said she has heard the barking at all hours.

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. 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 when Brown took over operations.