Firings lead to uproarResidents here were angry Thursday at the firing of two staff members at the Service Dogs for America training facility in Jud. They also voiced concerns that the dog training center, which specializes in service dogs for people with disabilities, would move from Jud.
By: By Keith Norman, The Jamestown Sun, The Jamestown Sun
JUD, N.D. — Residents here were angry Thursday at the firing of two staff members at the Service Dogs for America training facility in Jud. They also voiced concerns that the dog training center, which specializes in service dogs for people with disabilities, would move from Jud.
About 35 Jud residents gathered downtown Thursday morning and then traveled to the SDA building to voice their concerns to the board of directors, which was meeting on a separate agenda at the time. The board moved the meeting to a training room and met with the community members for about one hour.
Joni Brandenburg, executive director, and Michelle “Mitch” Doyle, head trainer, were long-time employees of the organization. Their employment ended on Nov. 26 in a “leadership transition,” according to Pamela Standing, secretary of the board and now interim director of the facility.
“Leadership transitions are sometimes uncomfortable,” she said. “But it gives an organization a chance to reflect and move into the future.”
Local residents saw it as a blow to the community.
“We see the people here daily,” said Dawn Toay, Jud. “How many hours has the board spent with the staff? This looks like a witch hunt and what is the hidden agenda?”
Dennis Anderson, president of the board, said information about the employment termination could not be discussed because of confidentiality rules.
“There are just some things that happened that we can’t discuss,” he said.
Brandenburg and Doyle both expressed concerns for the dogs and the clients with disabilities whom SDA provides dogs for.
“It makes my heart sick,” Brandenburg said. “We’re here for the people, we’re here for the dogs and we love the students who receive the dogs.”
Doyle expressed similar concerns.
“The people they are hurting is the people with the disabilities,” she said. “That is who the dogs are for.”
The board was also questioned for not having any members from the Jud area.
“At times it has been real hard to get board members,” Anderson said. “No local people seemed to show an interest.”
The meeting was contentious at times with local residents questioning the amount of knowledge and dedication the board members had for the project.
Standing asked how many in the room had volunteered at Service Dogs for America. All in the room raised their hands and some openly jeered the question.
The community members also responded with applause when Darrel Pfaff, Jud, called for the resignation of the entire board. He later volunteered to serve on the board.
The board was also asked directly about its plans for the Jud facility by Steve Powers, former board member.
“The perception is the board intends to close the facility and move it to Grand Forks,” Powers said.
Anderson responded for the board by saying no move was being contemplated.
“Great Plains is here to stay and plans to grow and expand to other towns and put out more dogs,” he said.
Powers said SDA, formerly known as Great Plains Assistance Dogs, had difficult times in the past.
“This is a project that consumed me for 20 years,” he said. “I think the Lord believes in this place because it gave it every opportunity to fail and then saw it through.”
He also thought the situation could be resolved.
“I think something blew up and before it goes any further it needs to be solved,” Powers said.
Anderson said the board would take the community’s concerns under advisement but reserved the right to act as it saw fit. The board’s next meeting is Dec. 17 at the SDA facility in Jud.
Jud had 72 residents counted in the 2010 census.
Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at 701-952-8452 or by email at email@example.com