Top-ranked American tennis player John Isner has promised to give a portion of his earnings at the U.S. Open to a Smithtown-based nonprofit that trains service dogs and makes them available to disabled veterans.
A self-described canine lover, Isner, 28, said he plans to donate 20 percent of his prize money to America's VetDogs, a national group that has been providing service dogs to veterans across the country.
"You know, I feel kind of bad that I am not -- that I didn't advance further to give that cause more money," Isner said in an interview Saturday, after he lost to Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany in the third round at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows.
The 13th-seeded player won a total of $113,000 -- $93,000 at the U.S. Open and an additional $20,000 for finishing second in the Emirates Airline U.S. Open Series, according to the United States Tennis Association.
"I was quite surprised," said VetDogs' chief executive, Wells Jones, who learned of Isner's contribution while on vacation.
"We are very grateful for his generosity," Jones said Tuesday in a telephone interview from Albuquerque, N.M. "That will go a long way in helping us."
Isner has not worked directly with VetDogs, but Jones hopes to change that. The group has reached out to Isner and invited the tennis champ to visit the 10-acre Smithtown campus next time Isner is in New York.
VetDogs began as a project of the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind in 2003, and became a separate organization in 2006. Trainers work with dogs, mostly Labradors, golden retrievers and a specially bred mix of the two.
Service dogs are trained to perform various tasks, including opening doors, helping an amputee get in and out of a chair, as well as fetching and retrieving dropped items. In addition, the group also has trained military therapy dogs to help comfort patients at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and the Eisenhower Medical Center at Fort Gordon, Ga.
So far, the group has placed about 300 assistance dogs with veterans, said its spokesman, William Krol. Currently, about 100 disabled veterans are on the waiting list for a dog, which costs about $50,000 to train.
The idea of gifting part of his winnings to VetDogs, Isner said, came from his mother, Karen Isner of Greensboro, N.C.
"I think that's a very worthy cause, given that these dogs save our soldiers' lives, and, in turn, save American lives," Isner said.
Although the tennis champ called his donation "small," Jones disagreed. "We consider it a very significant contribution," he said. "Thanks to the generosity of people like John, it allows us to do what we do."