My guide dog – and so much more

Donna and Nellby graduate Donna Shapiro

After my first walk with Nell, I realized that I haven’t been able to “see” that well since childhood.  It felt so natural, easy and relaxing.  

Together, we will take the train to yoga class and practice our downward facing dog.  I will enjoy daily tasks like going to the farmers market or walking on the avenue. I will spend an afternoon at one of my favorite museums or do lunch with a girlfriend – all with Nell to help me along the way.

Yes, she is an amazing guide dog, but she is so much more to me; she gives me pride, self confidence and dignity.

Thank you to everyone that supported me in my journey; you have literally changed my life.

October 2014 Graduate Class

October Class of 2014

Thank you to the sponsors of this month’s graduation ceremony:

  • Linda Connelly: Congratulations to all the new guide dog teams graduating today. I would like to thank Chevron Humankind for sponsoring this graduation on my behalf. I was inspired to become a Guiding Eyes volunteer in memory of my beloved golden retriever, Sandy. Embrace your independence!
  • Marty Zeldin and Carol Parish, raisers of Dell, Nordic, Gage and Harmon: We are proud to sponsor this graduation in celebration of a new team – Ben and Nordic! May you enjoy many years of love, companionship and safe adventures. We were honored to raise Nordic. He was a fantastic puppy who has matured into an intelligent and loyal dog worthy of being a guide. Good luck to all of the graduating teams.
  • Sally Stokhamer, annual graduation sponsor.

We are extremely grateful for Harold Skolnick’s generosity to special name Guiding Eyes Hilda.

We also thank the Fain Family for their support of our video streaming capabilities. Click here to view the October graduation online.

Residential Graduates
Ben and Nordic
Sandra and Dahlia
Angel and Nutmeg
Jacque and Gracie
Laura and Jameson
Donna and Nell
Lisa and Radar
Steve and Farrah

Home Training Graduates
Blessing and Jordan
Rebecca and Brocade
Jessica and Matthew
Carl and Merrick
Stacey and Kirk
Karen and Hilda

Many thanks to our instructors
Ben Cawley, Class Supervisor
Kat Poallo, Class Instructor
Kate Petersen, Class Instructor
Melinda Angstrom, ACTION Instructor
Jessy DiNapoli, ONCE Instructor
Stephanie Koret, Home Training
Chrissy Vetrano, Home Training
Susan Kroha, Home Training
Jim Gardner, Home Training
Julie Angle, Home Training
Saxon Eastman, Instructor Assistant

Ben and NordicBen and Nordic

Ben lives in New York with his wife. He has three stepchildren and four grandchildren. Male yellow Labrador Nordic is his first guide dog.

Ben graduated from Bucknell University with a degree in biology. He began to lose his vision to Stargardt’s disease while he was in graduate school and opted to become a restaurateur instead of a doctor. He enjoys advertising, building restaurants and antiquing. Ben shares, “You never know what life has in store. In high school I wrote about a guide dog school; later, my restaurant hosted an annual party inviting 50 Guiding Eyes dogs, their handlers and family. Today I am working with Nordic.” Ben no longer has to shuffle when transitioning from light to dark because Nordic keeps him on track and safe.

Congratulations to Nordic’s puppy raisers – Martel Zeldin & Carol Parish, and Wendy Minke!

Sandra and DahliaSandra and Dahlia

Sandra returns to Guiding Eyes for her third guide dog. Dahlia, a female yellow Labrador, will enjoy guiding Sandra in the warm Florida sunshine.

Sandra was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in her mid forties and is now totally blind. She has three siblings with normal sight and her vision impairment went unrecognized for many years. She thought she was clumsy and it affected her confidence.

Sandra loves going to the gym and plans to become a certified fitness instructor. She was a hairdresser for many years and offers this advice, “Don’t stop doing what you love. If you are passionate, you will find a way to continue.”

Her grandsons have her retired guide and treat her like one of the family. Sandra is looking forward to her morning walks and once again crossing the busy streets to get to the gym, grocery store and nail salon. “I won’t have to depend on someone else to take me where I need to go.”

Congratulations to Dahlia’s puppy raisers – The Beach Family!

Angel and NutmegAngel and Nutmeg

Angel is an international student from Spain. A female yellow Labrador named Nutmeg is his second guide dog.

Angel is the younger of two boys. He graduated from University with degrees in human and social relations. Spain offers a specialized employment program for people who are visually impaired and Angel works as a coupon-seller for the lottery. He loves music and travel and is passionate about cars and Formula One racing. His favorite race is the Grand Prix in Madrid, which he has attended on a few occasions and hopes to go again with Nutmeg.

Angel’s vision loss was caused by glaucoma and he has been totally blind for the last 8 years. He retired his first guide dog in 2005 and is looking forward to the independence and freedom that Nutmeg will bring to his life.

Congratulations to Nutmeg’s puppy raisers – The Bartz Family!

Jacque and GracieJacque and Gracie

Jacque and her third guide dog, a yellow Labrador named Gracie, will return home to Arizona where her husband is looking forward to meeting the new blond in the family.

Jacque has Usher’s Syndrome. She received her bachelor’s degree in clinical nutrition and her master’s degree in food science. She worked in quality assurance and is now retired and pursues a variety of passions. Travel tops the list and she has been to Spain, Canada and Brazil. At home, she loves to walk and to volunteer; she assists local guide dog users and trains bus drivers to assist people with visual impairments. She also teaches a pottery class. Jacque knows Gracie will help her continue to do all the things she loves.

Congratulations to Gracie’s puppy raisers – Barbara Ward-Blank & Family!

Laura and JamesonLaura and Jameson

Laura is the youngest in the class and an international student from Spain. She was matched with Jameson, a yellow Labrador and her first guide dog.

Laura was born with a condition that limits her to central vision only. She lives with her family and attends University where she is studying modern languages. She loves that her home is on an island and she can ride horses along the beach or into the mountains. Jameson will bring independence to her life; she will be able to go shopping and out with her friends and “be like everyone else.” He will keep her safe and she is confident she can travel wherever she wants to go. Her younger sister asks about him every time they talk and can’t wait to meet him.

Congratulations to Jameson’s puppy raiser – Stephany Dungan!

Donna and NellDonna and Nell

New Yorker Donna was matched with a female black Labrador named Nell, her first guide dog.

Donna is married and the mother of five grown children. Her vision loss was caused by diabetic retinopathy. Donna studies yoga and will soon earn her 500-hour teacher training certification. She decided it was time to get a guide dog when she no longer felt comfortable going out at night. Nell has renewed her self-confidence. “I haven’t been able to see this well since I was nine years old. I no longer stare at the floor; I walk with my head held high on a straight path as she guides me along.”

Congratulations to Nell’s puppy raisers – Honey Weiss & David Lewis!

Lisa and RadarLisa and Radar

Lisa returns from Delaware for her second guide dog, male German shepherd Radar.

Lisa has retinitis pigmentosa. She is a licensed practical nurse and volunteers with women struggling with drug and alcohol abuse. Lisa enjoys playing piano and learned to play guitar this past year. She performs socially and enjoys the social interaction the guitar offers. Lisa loves the bond that forms with her guide and has a pet German shepherd who will play with Radar when he isn’t working. She is grateful for the unique way Guiding Eyes matches students with the guide dogs that best fit their needs. Radar has an active future with camping, fishing, scuba diving and skiing on the horizon.

Congratulations to Radar’s puppy raisers – The Caamano Family and Nicole L. Guite!

Steve and FarrahSteve and Farrah

Steve is a first time guide dog user from New Hampshire. Female black Labrador Farrah will accompany him on future adventures.

Retinitis pigmentosa is the cause of Steve’s vision loss. He attended the University of New Hampshire and has bachelors’ degrees in psychology and disability studies and a master’s degree in assistive technology. He loves reading Sci-fi and historical books and spending time with friends. Steve and his family aren’t new to the Guiding Eyes family; they volunteered as puppy raisers. Now his own guide dog will provide structure to his life and open up his world.

Congratulations to Farrah’s puppy raiser – Deb Dik!

Blessing and JordanBlessing and Jordan

Blessing was born in Nigeria and moved to the United States at age six, to receive treatment for glaucoma. When he was nine years old, he became totally blind. Blessing turned to music and learned to play the piano. He came to Guiding Eyes for his first dog and shares that with his guide by his side, he had the confidence to move to New York City and pursue his dreams. Blessing is a musician, composer, arranger and lyricist. He opened for the Temptations and Tower of Power, performed at the Kennedy Center three times and was a 2010 VSA International Young Soloists Award recipient. He also contributed “Winter Wonderland” to a compilation Christmas album with fellow artists Aaron Nevel, Amy Grant and The Beach Boys. Blessing has spent this last year crafting and perfecting new songs for his upcoming release with EMI. Blessing currently resides in Queens, NY with Guiding Eyes guide dog Jordan.

Congratulations to Jordan’s puppy raiser – Casey Duncan!

Congratulations to the raisers of the guide dogs placed through October Home Trainings:
Brocade: The May Family
Hilda: Linda Lerch & Family
Kirk: Len Luchowski & Christine Cych
Matthew: Pamela W. Stevenson and Madalyn Deason
Merrick: Mrs. Michael C. Trapani

CEO Tom Panek to run NYC Marathon for Guiding Eyes

Boston Marathon Finish Line: Tom Panek (center) with Nick Abramczyk and Chris ShullWhen I could no longer see well enough to walk down the street, a great gift was given to me.  I put my trust in a yellow Labrador and could once again navigate the world on my own.  Today I have a guide dog named Gus.

A Guiding Eyes dog gives me and many others the ability to travel independently and safely.  Gus happily helps guide me safely across streets for miles in Manhattan, though asking him to run 26.2 miles down the middle of 5th Avenue at a full sprint is something best left to New Yorkers of the human-kind.

Enter my volunteers - Running Rabbi Michael and Ultra Mom Amy Hanlon - my human guiding eyes for the New York Marathon.  With your support, I’ll run my best from start to finish, and I’ll be greeted by Gus and my family at the finish line.

It costs nearly $50,000 to raise, train and match a Guiding Eyes dog to a person who is visually impaired.  Please take a minute to give what you can, at any level. From $1 per mile to $10 per mile, every donation makes a difference and allows more puppies to grow up to become Guiding Eyes guide dogs.

Thank you.

- Thomas A. Panek, Guiding Eyes President & CEO

Heeling Autism Challenge a Success

Heeling Autism service dog JessicaDear Friends:

I am pleased to announce the challenge to raise $100,000 for the autism service dog program at Guiding Eyes for the Blind has been successful! Thanks to the generosity of our donors, and the special support of the Fontana family who received Heeling Autism dog Echo, the message to raise funds was embraced.

Kathy, a mother in our September 2014 graduating class shared, “My son Jaden is on the spectrum, with a genetic syndrome so rare that the experts at Yale could only identify a handful of similar cases. ‘He’ll be anywhere from mildly to severely delayed, and we think it will be severe,’ they told us. With those words, you stop dreaming about baby books, birthday celebrations, cheering at Little League games and crying happily at graduations. Life becomes lonely and scary. Your days are filled with therapists and doctors who have no answers and stolen moments alone when you weep and beg the universe for help.

Enter Heeling Autism– a program in which the dogs come well-trained and hand-picked for your child.  And amazingly – they are free.  One day, you meet a perfect yellow Lab named Jessica, and you dare to dream again. I am truly moved and forever indebted.  Thank you for allowing me to dream again…”

To date, 61 families have received an autism service dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Your willingness to support this Challenge helps us match more dogs with families in need.

With gratitude,

Thomas A. Panek
Guiding Eyes President and CEO

Upcoming Events

Joanna Mosca with a Guiding Eyes yellow Lab puppyOctober 18th, 2014 – Cold Spring Lions presents Strut Your Pup: This event raises community awareness and funds for Guiding Eyes’ Heeling Autism program.  Participants will walk from the Cold Spring Firehouse to Saint Mary’s Church Lawn. More info on Strut Your Pup.

Also October 18th, 2014 – Graduation: We celebrate our October guide dog teams at our Yorktown Heights Headquarters and Training Center at 1:30 PM EST.  If you’re unable to join us in person, consider watching the ceremony live on our YouTube page.

November 7th, 2014 – Joanna Mosca at Town Crier, Beacon:  Joanna Mosca has been named one of the Top 10 Female Country Singers To Watch for 2014 by and Digital Journal.  Her November 7th Town Crier show will be a release party for her EP, Have A Little Mercy, as well as a fundraiser for Guiding Eyes.

November 15, 2014 – Graduation: We celebrate our November guide dog teams at our Yorktown Heights Headquarters and Training Center at 1:30 PM EST.

And don’t forget next year’s Golf Classic!  The 38th Annual Guiding Eyes Golf Classic will be held June 8, 2015 at Mount Kisco and Fairview Country Clubs.  Register early for this always sold-out event; contact Erica Stanzione at 914.243.2238 or at



The Pennsylvania Challenge

The George T. Walker Charitable Fund of The Lehigh Valley Community Foundation Challenge will help us raise $180,000 to support Pennsylvania residents who are blind or visually impaired. Funds raised will defray the expenses associated with providing a professionally trained Guiding Eyes dog to those who are blind as well as ongoing services available to our alumni in the Keystone state.

“Every day, our graduates show us there is no limit to what can be achieved when partnered with a professionally trained Guiding Eyes dog,” said Linda Press, Guiding Eyes’ Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations & Strategic Partnerships. “Their stories inspire us to continue offering the most exceptional programs and services to those who seek greater independence.”

For 27 year-old Bethlehem resident Elaine, Guiding Eyes Kyle has provided her with a sense of true companionship and safety. She shares, “I transformed from a timid, fearful traveler into a confident young woman.  I now walk with pride because of all I have accomplished.”

Elaine made the decision to come to Guiding Eyes after witnessing first-hand the impact guide dogs made in the lives of her peers.  “Kyle is my ‘linebacker,’ always looking for the opening and checking to make sure I’m okay,” Elaine said. “I feel that people are no longer avoiding me, unsure of how to approach or what to say. Having a guide dog has given me the ability to experience the world as a person who happens to be blind. Kyle allows me to be normal.”

“We are extremely grateful to the Lehigh Valley Community Foundation for their generosity and strong belief in our programs,” said Press. “Now is the perfect time to help us transform lives; with the Pennsylvania Challenge, your gift can have double the impact.”

For more information, call 914.243.2250 or email  To make a donation online, visit, select “support a project” and indicate Pennsylvania Challenge.  Please also designate “Pennsylvania Challenge” on your letter or check stub.

Pennsylvania resident Elaine with Guiding Eyes guide dog, Kyle

Pennsylvania resident Elaine with Guiding Eyes guide dog, Kyle

Jewelry that gives back

Wind and Fire logo

Wind & Fire Jewelry is an eco-sustainable company with all of products made in the USA.  Owners Frank and Nina Fiasconaro believe in giving back and supporting their community through donating a portion of profits to charities that support children with disabilities.

A portion of the proceeds from sales of the Wind and Fire paw print bangle benefit Guiding Eyes.  In addition, we’re proud to have Wind & Fire Jewelry as an official sponsor of this year’s Wine Music & Puppies fundraiser.

Interested in shopping their collection?  Check out the Wind and Fire website, or purchase online using Amazon Smile.

Wind and Fire paw print bangle

Guiding Eyes Appoints Chief Operations Officer

Guiding Eyes has promoted Hopewell Junction resident Dr. Jody Sandler, DVM, to Chief Operating Officer (COO). Formerly the organization’s Director of Veterinary Services, Dr. Sandler has been a Guiding Eyes team member since 1990.

Hopewell Junction resident Dr. Jody Sandler, Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s Chief Operating Officer, with future guide dog RosettaAs COO, Dr. Sandler will oversee key operations at Guiding Eyes’ main campus in Yorktown Heights as well as at its Canine Development Center in Patterson. Charged with sustaining a healthy dog population across the organization, Dr. Sandler will supervise the managers of Guiding Eyes’ breeding kennel, whelping kennel, veterinary hospital, brood stud program, resource administration and facilities. In addition, Dr. Sandler will provide leadership in the strategic planning process and implementation of new programmatic initiatives.

“Jody has been instrumental to our organization’s success for decades,” said Thomas Panek, Guiding Eyes’ President and CEO. “Given the nature of our work, the role of COO demands the knowledge and expertise of an experienced and caring veterinarian. Jody’s dedication to the health of our dogs and rapport with our graduate community makes him uniquely qualified to take on this important role.”

Dr. Sandler has co-authored numerous papers with researchers and clinicians at Cornell University, as well as with researchers at the San Diego Zoo’s Institution for Conservation Research. Last year his veterinary department was awarded Virginia Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine’s Booker Willoughby Service Award for the exceptional care and support provided to Guiding Eyes dogs and graduates. Dr. Sandler serves as a mentor for veterinary students at Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania. He received a BS in Biology from Binghamton University and a DVM from Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

“For almost 25 years, I have had the honor and privilege to work with inspiring colleagues, volunteers and graduates,” said Dr. Sandler. “In my new role, I hope to help steer Guiding Eyes to greater success by touching more lives with our amazing dogs and programs.”


Thoughts from our Puppy Raisers

Why raise a Guiding Eyes puppy? 

The dogs are amazing.  We are continually thanked for raising them but I always want to thank Guiding Eyes for allowing them to be part of our lives.  There are no words to describe how proud we are of Amos.  His accomplishment brings tears to my eyes and a smile to my face. - Denise O’Grady, Central NY

Raising Darien was the most important thing I have ever accomplished.  Giving him up was hard, but I am so happy that he can change someone else’s life just as he has changed mine.  – Erin Snedecor, Fingerlakes

Volunteer puppy raisers from Ithaca CollegeMy husband and I have had dogs all our lives.  Since retirement, we haven’t wanted to commit to the next 10-15 years; raising Guiding Eyes puppies has been the perfect solution.  This has been a wonderful opportunity to give back, and we are honored and blessed to know that Lizzie will help someone live a more productive life. – Nancy Long, Baltimore

We will never forget meeting Cameron’s Heeling Autism family and Art’s graduate. We are eternally proud and grateful to have had these dogs in our lives!  - Jennifer Heinemann, NYC

We weren’t sure we could do a good job with Carson but it seems we did!  We wanted to make a difference in this world and this has helped us to do just that – Ron Cook, Northern CT

Raising Margo was a wonderful experience.  She brought happiness, laughter and love to our family and treasured memories.  We loved every minute of puppy raising.  – Peggy Farrar, New Hampshire

We always had dogs as pets and thought it would be a good family service project to raise a dog that could be trained to help someone.  Six years later, the kids are out of the house and we’re still raising puppies!  – Jennifer Woodward, Central NY


Orange County volunteer puppy raisersAnd some favorite memories…

Raising a guide dog puppy has been one of my life goals since I was in college.  One of my favorite memories was when my fiancé proposed – Payson got so excited that he ran around us in a circle and wrapped us in his leash!  -  Kathlyn Carroll, Westchester

It was a hot summer day and Blake joined us out by the pool.  There was a raft floating, and I got the idea to say, “go place.”  Blake jumped right in and happily floated around – adorable!  – Cathy DiNatale, Erie



Learn more about raising a puppy with a purpose.