Every Dog Has His Day — In Court: $500,000 Bequest Spurs Legal Dogfight

Not quite a year after it abruptly curtailed its 29-year-old hearing dog program and all but frog-marched several workers out of the building, the San Francisco SPCA is now claiming that, no, the hearing dog program never really ended — and the SPCA should get a $500,000 bequest earmarked for the program.

That's the basis of a literal legal dogfight scheduled for Tuesday in San Mateo County Probate Court when the SPCA does battle over that half-million dollars with the Hearing Dog Program, the non-profit formed by the laid-off former SPCA Hearing Dog workers. Complicating matters, Santa Rosa's Canine Companions for Independence — which took referrals after the SPCA curtailed its hearing dog program and put its 13 training dogs into the general adoption pool — has also thrown its paw into the ring.

Dogs — As much as people love 'em, they just don't share.

While other media outlets have reported upon the looming legal battle, this tidbit has so far gone unreported: The $500,000 bequest from the Eugene and Gloria Family Trust was actually a five-part donation of half a million dollars to five different dog-related organizations: Guide Dogs for the Blind in Marin, Dogs for the Deaf in Oregon, Pets in Need in the Peninsula, the SPCA and the Hearing Dog Program of the SPCA. This means that, in addition to funds specifically earmarked for the SPCA, the organization is also making an attempt to take the money intended for a program it liquidated.

When asked if the SPCA still had a hearing dog program, Development Director Tina Ahn told SF Weekly, “We support our graduates. We do have a hearing dog program. It's to support our graduates.” Ahn confirmed that the SPCA is not training nor selecting dogs nor taking applicants for the program. In aiding hearing program graduates, Ahn stated the SPCA is “seeing a small number of folks” — but wouldn't elaborate how many people (and dogs) that entailed.

Tom Oliver, the program coordinator of the Hearing Dog Program, accused the SPCA of being disingenuous: “The SPCA has said they closed the hearing dog program and also rejected assistance to some past graduates. Now, in light of seeing more money coming toward them, they're coming out with a different public statement. They're claiming they never really gave up the hearing dog program. They have no staff. They have no dogs. They have no kennel. They are not taking any applicants.”

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