In June, Carrboro dog trainer Deb Cunningham left Worthy, a 2-year-old golden retriever, locked in a car for two hours. One day later, Worthy died after he overheated.
Last month, Cunningham—charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty—agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors that requires her to complete 100 hours of community service and to be supervised when she works with dogs.
Since then, seven of 10 board members at her widely criticized nonprofit, Eyes Ears Nose & Paws (EENP) have stepped down. But Cunningham, the group's program director, will remain, an EENP leader confirmed Tuesday.
"You can be certain that this is our board's strong desire," says Josh Gurlitz, chairman of the EENP board of directors. "We have known Deb a long time. We believe in her. We know that her training is extraordinary and we believe that she loves dogs very much."
The future of the group will depend on the support of its donors. According to Gurlitz, most are supportive of the organization, which has prepared 11 service dogs to assist people with diabetes and other medical conditions since 2008.
Cunningham declined to talk about her case Tuesday, but Gurlitz said he believes supporters of the nonprofit will back the decision to retain Cunningham.
"We have a mission to pair dogs with people who need the help that the dogs can provide," Gurllitz said. "Deb has proven consistently over time that she can prepare the dogs to fill that role. If we want to continue with the same mission, I think we really want to continue with Deb."
Following Worthy's death, the nonprofit canceled fundraisers, closed its Carrboro office and reviewed its policies. In its fall/ winter newsletter to supporters, EENP acknowledged Worthy's death and an ongoing review of its policies. The group also said it is exploring a prison program that will allow inmates to train the dogs.
Meanwhile, Kim Alboum, state director of the Humane Society of the United States, says it's important that Cunningham be supervised. "People are very upset about this keeping an animal in the heat for two hours," Alboum said. "You wouldn't expect somebody in that position to do something like that. I'm sure for many, it's a very tough pill to swallow."
Alboum says Cunningham and the nonprofit have something to prove.
"I'm sure the organization has done really good work for animals," she said. "But this is a significant issue." —Billy Ball
Shored Up will show up
N.C. State University has stepped in where the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences feared to tread.
Next month it will show Shored Up, a documentary by director Ben Kalina that explores issues regarding coastal communities, specifically the New Jersey shore and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, in light of super storms and rising seas.
The screening and discussion are slated for Jan. 23, at a campus location to be announced later this month. The film had already been scheduled to show Jan. 22 at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
Last month, the INDY broke the story about the museum's refusal to show the film. The museum's programming committee recommended that the film should not be shown without a panel discussion, and there was not time to assemble such a panel by late January, when the film is screening in Wilmington. However, the committee also discussed that a grant for travel funds could be sought in order to bring the director in for a later screening. Museum director Emlyn Koster decided not to show the film at all.
The nonprofit group N.C. Coastal Federation had hoped to bring the film to the museum's Science Café, a weekly discussion of science and technology issues in January. [Read previous coverage of the issue, including a Q-and-A with the film's director.] —Lisa Sorg