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Guiding Eyes for the Blind Inc., a Yorktown Heights nonprofit that breeds and trains guide dogs for people with vision loss, has accused a volunteer dog sitter of refusing to give up Mackenzie, a 3-year-old yellow Labrador retriever.
Guiding Eyes charged Durham, North Carolina, Kiira Chernik Wolfe, of breach of contract in a lawsuit filed with the Westchester Supreme Court on June 11.
“Wolfe failed to return Mackenzie,” the lawsuit reads, “a unique animal that was purposefully bred and raised in the expectation that it would produce litters of exceptional potential guide dogs.”
Wolfe’s attorney has moved the lawsuit to the White Plains District Court and announced that they will counterclaim for fraud.
Guiding Eyes seems more interested in producing an “excessive number of litters,” according to a June 1 letter written for Wolfe by Albany attorney Maria Isabel Guerrero, than protecting the mother’s health.
Mackenzie was conceived by a Labrador Retriever from France to introduce genetic diversity into the organization’s colony and avoid inbreeding, Maria Lazzaro, manager of Guiding Eyes’ grooming program, explains in an affidavit.
Mackenzie was assigned to a volunteer puppy breeder and in 2019 he was found “fit to become a breeding dog”.
She was assigned to Wolfe, who was then living in New York City, to look after her during the breeding process.
Guiding Eyes claims that Wolfe never signed and returned the Care Agreement, which sets out everyone’s responsibilities.
Mackenzie entered heat in late 2019 and was mated according to Lazzaro and gave birth to a litter of seven healthy puppies in January 2020.
She was brought back to Wolfe in March 2020.
Guiding Eyes requires foster dogs to have dogs within 90 minutes of their Canine Development Center in Patterson, Putnam County for services such as breeding and quarterly medical exams, Lazzaro said.
But Wolfe is allegedly “set out” with Mackenzie for North Carolina, according to the lawsuit, and repeatedly ignored written and verbal requests to return them.
Guerrero said Wolfe moved to North Carolina with the “knowledge and consent of Guiding Eyes” because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and Wolfe stayed in touch with Guiding Eyes for wellness check-ins.
The attorney also states that Mackenzie developed mastitis from breastfeeding her pups – an inflammation of the breasts that can lead to infection – and that after pregnancy, her personality changed from happy and outgoing to depressed, withdrawn, excited, and overprotective have changed.
Wolfe claims she heard that Guiding Eyes “wants more than 40 pups from Mackenzie,” according to the Guerrero letter.
“This is NOT a reputable breeding practice, nor one that takes the health of the dogs into account,” the letter reads. “In fact, it is more similar to the practices of volume breeders who are consumed solely with the production of puppies.”
Wolfe offered to donate Guerrero US $ 100,000 to Guiding Eyes in exchange for Mackenzie’s release from the breeding program, but the organization declined the offer.
Wolfe also asked Guiding Eyes for a commitment to limit Mackenzie’s number of litters, Guerrero said.
“Instead of listening to Kiira’s concerns about Mackenzie’s health and breeding,” Guerrero says, the organization retaliates with legal threats and demands that Mackenzie be returned, “and ripped her out of the supportive home she’s been in for the past two years and most of them knows her life “
Wolfe is represented in the lawsuit by Richard B. Rosenthal, Suffolk County’s attorney. Guiding Eyes is represented by Rye Brook attorney Robert L. Byrne.