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May 28, 2003

Canine training center running out of funds to help deaf people

From: Press of Atlantic City, NJ - May 28, 2003

By MADHUSMITA BORA Staff Writer, (856) 794-5113

VINELAND - The world of silence can be a lonely and helpless one.

So, when Fairfield Township resident Shirley Ludwick started hearing fewer and fewer sounds, she decided to look for a companion. Someone who could alert her to approaching strangers, the phone's ring or even a stranger's cry for help.

Ludwick found her companion first in Logan, a black Labrador retriever, and then in Simon, a golden lab.

The Canine Hearing Companion Center trained both dogs to serve as Ludwick's ears.

Like Ludwick, the center's dogs have benefited more than 40 deaf people. But Executive Director Debra Schaser Graef said her non-profit organization is hurting for funds.

"Since 9-11, it's been pretty bad," Schaser said. "I was actually at my wit's end."

Graef started training hearing dogs 10 years ago, when Ludwick first approached her. Since then, the center's been running on donations from people and private organizations.

But with a sluggish economy, the dollars gradually started to diminish.

The center's annual budget is $200,000, and this year they have been able to raise only a third of it.

"We need involvement from the community," Administrator Judith Perez said. "We are also planning to lobby state lawmakers and private organizations."

The center is the only one of its kind in the state.

In fact, Graef's clients come from places as far away as Texas. The demand for the dogs is growing, but there aren't enough resources to facilitate the center's daily operations.

Apart from monetary contributions, Schaser is also seeking volunteers to help with the dogs.

"It's been a one-woman show for years," she said.

Perez said if they find volunteers, Schaser would be able to devote all her time to training the 30 dogs that are currently there.

It's a tough time for the center, but Perez said they would not give up their mission for anything.

"We are providing a service that no one else is in the state," she said. "It's desperately needed by a lot of people and we won't let them down."

© 2003 Press of Atlantic City