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Plans change for guide dog school in northeast Wisconsin

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Associated Press
April 30, 2008
— The founders of a nonprofit group formed four years ago to train and match guide dogs with blind adolescents is changing the organization’s name and moving it to Green Bay, organizers say.

The changes come amid questions about the finances of the original Quinn Haberl Foundation and what happened to dogs donated or purchased for training.


The Quinn Haberl Foundation was reorganized after Quinn withdrew his support for it in January 2007 when he turned 18. He was the first person younger than 16 in the United States to receive a guide dog, experts said.


Quinn did not explain why he was leaving the foundation or severing ties with his parents, whom he hasn’t spoken with in more than six months.


Today, he still hesitates to explain why he left, except to say that attending the Wisconsin School for the Visually Handicapped in Janesville in 2006 gave him new perspectives and that relations were strained with his parents when he came home.


“What happened that summer when I went away to school (and returned) will affect me forever,” he said.


“I just said ‘enough is enough,’” he said. “It wasn’t an easy decision (to leave the organization and his parents)—it took a lot of time and thought.


“But my education was a priority.”


Quinn was born with congenital glaucoma and says that he is learning independence at school in Janesville and is anticipating a move off-campus in the future.


“They are teaching you things that will last throughout your life. The ultimate goal is to become independent.”


That wasn’t the case with training a guide dog at age 13.


“I think if it were up to me now, I do not think kids should get guide dogs so young because it’s a lot of responsibility and it limits your activities,” he said.


“I do love my dog, but when you go swimming or to sporting events, it’s sometimes easier with a cane than a dog.”


Quinn questions his ability to train a dog when he was younger.


“I have shortfalls now, and I wonder if I kept it up (the training) harder, it would be better. I think I was way too young.”


And he’s raising questions about the new organization run by his parents.


Colleen and Werner Haberl announced last week the foundation’s name has changed to “Vision Companions for Teens.” It will continue its mission with offices in Green Bay instead of Peshtigo as originally planned, they said.


The Quinn Haberl Foundation and the thousands of dollars it collected and spent over the years was not mentioned in a document outlining the couple’s newest plan for their venture, starting with a $323,412 budget in 2009.


The EagleHerald reported that it obtained financial information about the nonprofit group, showing it raised at least $65,000 from donations, gifts and grants since 2004, but there were no details on how the money was spent.


“We’re not hiding anything. I’m not driving around in a Lexus,” Colleen Haberl told the newspaper. “When we first started out, you don’t know. You don’t have a clue. Do I do this? Do I do that? That’s why you look to other people. It was a learning process for us, too.”


Her attorney, James Lewis, said the foundation has made mistakes and is learning from them. There was an idea but no plan, he said.


“Let’s get a building and fill it full of people and we’ll teach them to train dogs and it’ll be great,” the attorney said. “Everyone was very energized and just maybe started running before they plotted their course. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out very well.”


News reports quoted Colleen Haberl at various times as having two dogs in December 2004 to as many as 21 dogs being cared for in foster homes in December 2006.


Colleen Haberl said the foundation has “about eight or nine” dogs now, including a female golden retriever in Madison.


Asked about the 21 dogs in 2006, Haberl said, “They’re either with their foster home, eliminated for, once again that’s not my area of expertise, eliminated for either health issues or things of this nature.”


Quinn has doubts about his parents’ revamped foundation, saying, “I wish them luck. But with what happened with the last one, I don’t think it’s a good idea. People really need to ask themselves if this is legitimate. Don’t give money without checking it out.”



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