Service dog trainer put on leave of absence

Jul. 24, 2013 @ 06:27 PM

Deb Cunningham, the program director at Eyes, Ears, Nose and Paws, has been placed on two weeks leave of absence, according to an email obtained by The Herald-Sun.

Cunningham put a 2-year-old golden retriever in training to become a service dog in a car in the middle of the day for two hours on June 10. The dog, Worthy, died from heatstroke.

The Carrboro Police Department has since charged Cunningham with misdemeanor animal cruelty, and she is scheduled to appear in Orange County District Court to face that charge Aug. 8.

According to the email, from Cunningham to several clients of Eyes, Ears, Nose and Paws [EENP],  EENP’s board of directors put her on a leave of absence from July 22 to Aug. 5.

EENP trains and places service and medical alert dogs at a cost of $20,000 per dog.

Mary Justice, EENP’s board president, declined to comment on the leave of absence.

“Any personnel action that we’ve taken with Deb Cunningham, and we have disciplined her, that’s not public information,” Justice said.

Concerned by situations similar to Worthy’s ,  the N.C. General Assembly this week passed Senate Bill 626, a bill to recodify shelter laws, It was sponsored by senators Floyd B. McKissick Jr. and Mike Woodard, Durham Democrats;  Brent Jackson, an Autryville Republican; and Wesley Meredith, a Fayetteville Republican. An amendment in the State House from Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro) gives law enforcement officers, animal control officers, firefighters or rescue squad workers who have reason to believe that an animal confined inside a motor vehicle could suffer injury or death, to use any reasonable means to enter the vehicle to remove the animal.

In other words, it gives them permission to break into a vehicle to rescue a pet.

The bill was sent to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature Tuesday.