SPCA Triumphs in Legal Dogfight, Wins $500,000 Inheritance

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Ring, ring! Bad news, Hearing Dog Program...
After a lengthy legal dogfight, an appeals court judge has handed the San Francisco SPCA a half-million dollar inheritance.

The battle was sparked last year when the Hearing Dog Program -- a nonprofit formed two years ago when the SPCA gutted its 29-year-old hearing dog program -- claimed it was the rightful heir to a bequest for the "Hearing Dog Program of the SPCA." The Hearing Dog Program claimed that the SPCA no longer had a hearing dog program -- and sued to claim the money. The SPCA, meanwhile, acknowledged that it was no longer training hearing dogs nor accepting new enrollments into the program. But it felt that keeping tabs on its graduates, sometimes via phone, qualified it as running some manner of program, and enabled it to accept the money. A San Mateo County Court judge agreed -- and, this week, so did the court of appeals.

"Essentially, the court of appeal took a fresh look at the case (it applied the de novo standard we requested in our brief) and found that because SPCA was operating some kind of program it was enough to satisfy the language in the bequest," wrote Hearing Dog Program lawyer Mark Himelstein. "The heart of our argument was that because there were no hearing dogs or deaf persons in the program, it did not qualify as a hearing dog for the deaf program. The court of appeal did not agree with that argument."

Our calls to the SPCA have not yet been returned.

Board members of the Hearing Dog Program have indicated they do not plan to appeal this case to the state supreme court.

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