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April 2016 Graduating Class

April Class

Emergency Services Fuel Corp. and friends would like to congratulate the graduating teams for April 2016. Special thanks to the staff, volunteers, and puppy raisers of Guiding Eyes for producing such extraordinary dogs. We are deeply humbled to be a part of this day. Best of luck to all of you.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.   Seneca

In loving memory of the first dog I raised who changed the lives of many and in honor of the April 2016 graduating class—best of luck with all your new beginnings.
Nicole Guite & June Fisher

We gratefully acknowledge the Fain Family’s support of our
video streaming capabilities.

 Watch this month’s graduation live by clicking here.

Residential Graduates:
Andrea & Gretzky
Dean & Houston
Elizabeth & Garmin
Emily & Filene
Guillermo & Keely
James & Vern
Kathleen & Frito
Marron & Pruitt
Neena & Fargo
Richard & Kelley

HOME Training
Dorothy & Lia
Lori & Rozzie
Pamela & Maida

Many thanks to our instructors:
Class Supervisor: Melinda Angstrom
Class Instructors: Kathryn Poallo, Kate Petersen
Special Needs Instructor: Andrea Martine
Apprentice Instructor: Louise Thompson
Instructor Assistant: Laurel Smith
HOME Training:
James Gardner, Director, Home Training
Megan Crowley, Home Training Instructor
Stephanie Koret, Guide Dog Instructor


Guillermo and Keely

C. Baena & KeelyGuillermo was born with retinitis pigmentosa, which left him with about 10 percent of his vision. He traveled to Guiding Eyes from Miami for Keely, a female yellow Lab.

Guillermo is originally from Caracas, Venezuela, where he received his bachelor’s degree in Economics. When life there became too dangerous, he moved to Miami with his mother and sister to find a better life. And they have. But working with a guide dog as opposed to a white cane will make things even better for him. Guiding Eyes has been an amazing experience, he says, with amazing instructors. More than he could have imagined.

“This world has been built for people with vision,” he says. As an executive recruiter in banking, Guillermo regularly visits people in their high-rise offices, with elevators and confusing arrangements of office suites. Having Keely will make it all manageable. “I don’t believe illness should slow you down,” he says. “You have to keep moving.  But the truth is we all need a little help.”

Congratulations to Keely’s puppy raisers: The Naclerio Family!


Emily and Filene

E. Charles & FileneEmily took a bad fall three years ago, just when she was about to get her first guide dog.  There was back surgery and a lot of rehabilitation. She couldn’t be happier than to have recently made the trip from Houston, Texas, to meet Filene, a female black Lab who will help Emily with her balance and other challenges.

Emily was born with optic nerve hypoplasia and has minimal sight. Her parents refused to treat her any differently than her siblings so she did gymnastics, karate, and even played an adapted form of baseball. She learned that dreams needn’t be limited by vision loss.

Since she was a little girl, Emily has wanted to be a Supreme Court Justice. Encouraged by her family, she earned a B.A. at Houston Community College and plans to pursue a degree at the University of Houston Law School. Filene, she says, will be a tremendous help traversing the enormous campus as Emily works towards that goal.

Congratulations to Filene’s puppy raiser: Emmaline Putnam!


Marron and Pruitt

M. Allen & PruittMarron became totally blind at the age of 38, the result of detached retinas. The diminishment of his vision had been so gradual that the final loss of sight came as a shock. He still dreams that he can see. As he puts it, “Old dreams mix with new dreams.”

His involvement with his church and the support of his wife Gladys have helped him tremendously, he says. And his loving family—his son, his dad, and his siblings—all check in on him regularly. Still, Marron has longed for greater independence and the ability to contribute financially to his family’s well-being.

Marron traveled from New Britain, CT, to meet Pruitt, a male black Lab. Not so long ago he still couldn’t believe he was blind. Already, with Pruitt by his side, Marron is planning for the future. He expects he will land a job doing assembly work through an organization called CTWorks. As for his feelings about Pruitt, Marron says simply, “I fell in love with him.”

Congratulations to Pruitt’s puppy raisers: Jayne & Lynn Waring and Dan & Aimee Muller!


Andrea and GretzkyA. Conner & Gretzky

An experienced guide dog handler, Andrea returned to Guiding Eyes for Gretzky, a yellow male Lab.  Andrea’s loss of vision continues to diminish due to oval eye, a condition that thins and stretches the retina.  She can see some light and movement, but little else.

Forming a bond with Gretzky will allow for a whole new world of possibilities.  Andrea will be able to move much more quickly, and she and her husband plan to visit their children and relatives who live well beyond their home in Illinois.  She will continue to work at her business, selling a nutritional product called Juice Plus+ at farmers markets and other venues. Andrea knows Gretsky will be an asset to her business, drawing the curious to her table and making it easy to start a conversation about her guide dog and her product.

Congratulations to Gretzky’s puppy raisers: The Hodge Family!


Richard and KelleyR. Smith & Kelly

Richard remembers well the moment he found out that he was at risk of losing his sight. It was Labor Day, 1989. He’d gone to the ophthalmologist for new contact lenses, and the exam was taking much longer than usual. As it concluded the doctor told him he could not drive himself home, that he would need to call his wife to come get him. Richard had juvenile glaucoma, which had advanced rapidly, leaving him with only marginal vision.

When asked what Kelley, a female yellow Lab, will mean to him, he says without hesitation, “Independence and a chance to keep moving, to keep doing things without relying on others.”  Though retired and living in Montgomery, AL, Richard stays on the move, something he’s accustomed to doing. An ordained Baptist minister, he trained with Bernard Lafayette, a colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King, studying at the Center for Nonviolence & Peace Studies at The University of Rhode Island. His Master’s degree is in Theology from the New York Theological Seminary.  He’s done travel studies with students, taking them to important sites from the Civil Rights Era: Jackson, MS; Little Rock, AR; Birmingham, Selma, and Tuskegee, AL.  These days he is the Assistant Chaplain for the Alabama School for the Blind. As a man who believes in God’s plan, Richard now counts Kelley as an important part of that plan.

Congratulations to Kelley’s puppy raisers: The Newman Family!


Elizabeth and GarminE.  Suarez & Garmin

Liz came to Guiding Eyes for Garmin, a male black Lab and her third Guiding Eyes dog. She has a 14-year-old son and eight-year-old twins and lives on her own in Corona, NY.  Liz has a full-time job and is also going to school.  While her Dad helps out as much as he can, a Guiding Eyes guide dog, she says, makes life so much easier.

Liz was born with Leber Congenital Amaurosis, a degenerative disease that affects the retina.  She used a white cane when she was younger but says that a cane is an object-finder whereas a dog is an object-avoider. Liz’s kids loved the previous dogs, but they understood they were not their pets. She points out to them how important it is to maintain the bond between herself and her guide dog. “These dogs put 110 percent trust in us and we in them. That’s a bond we need to take really good care of.”

Congratulations to Garmin’s puppy raisers: Neil Minke and Wendy Minke & The Minke Family!


Kathleen and FritoK. Smith & Frito

Kathleen was a registered nurse when she lost her sight as the result of a brain tumor that damaged her optic nerve. Kathleen, who had raised her kids alone and always lived alone, suddenly had to rely on others.  Her daughter and son-in-law helped tremendously and urged her to apply to Guiding Eyes. But the time wasn’t right for her. She had gained a great deal of weight and was very unsteady on her feet.

Determined to regain her independence, Kathleen went home to Ohio and, with extraordinary discipline, lost the weight. “By then, I had researched every guide dog group in the country,” she says, “and I learned that if you want an excellent guide dog and trainers who will turn you into a good guide dog partner, Guiding Eyes is the only place to go.”  Kathleen beams as Frito, a female yellow Lab, arranges herself at her feet.  “I am beyond excited,” she says. ”I love her, heart and soul.”

Congratulations to Frito’s puppy raisers: Nicole Guite & June Fisher!


Dean and HoustonD.  Booker & Houston

Dean was the victim of a violent crime when he was 18 and visiting friends in Colorado. He remained in the hospital in a coma for three and a half months before he was helicoptered back home to New York for more therapy.  He recovered, but by then he was blind.

Understandably Dean was reluctant to leave his apartment. In fact, he says, he found himself “stuck in fear.” With the help of various organizations, it took a year for him to say, “I can do this.” After only a week and a half of training, Dean says that he and Houston, a male black Lab, were communicating really well.  “He’s not alone–and I’m not alone,” he says. “I can’t wait to get home and take some long walks, just Houston and me.”

Congratulations to Houston’s puppy raisers: The Lea Family and Nick Pierre!


Neena and FargoN. Saloiya &  Fargo

Neena was born three months premature and has been blind since birth. She’s attended both mainstream schools and schools for children who are blind. Early on, she used a small collapsible white cane to help her get around until she received her first Guiding Eyes dog, who brought a new level of adventure and independence to her life.  The dog was also a great companion and comfort as Neena’s parents both died when she was in her twenties.

Recently Neena traveled from Etobicoke, Ontario, to meet Fargo, a male yellow Lab.  She is pursuing a Master’s degree in music therapy at Tyndale Theological Seminary in Ontario, where Fargo will be a great help navigating the campus.  She’s also discovered that her heritage—she’s Jewish, East Indian, and a Christian—is a great base from which to broaden her seminary work and to continue to reach out to others who are coping with adversity.

Congratulations to Fargo’s puppy raisers: Kevin Blake and Alexandrea Matott!


James and VernJ.  St. John & Vern

James came from Nepean, Ontario, for Vern, a male yellow Lab. James says his vision started going fuzzy back in 2001. One morning he woke up unable to see and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The nerve damage to his eyes was irreparable.

James is a graduate of Architectural Design and Civil Engineering at Algonquin College in Ottowa. He works on Ontario’s Accessibility Advisory Committee, reviewing the city’s building standards to ensure people who are blind or disabled have access. It’s work that is meaningful to him personally and also reminds him of his grandfather in a wheelchair struggling to get around.

James refers to Vern as his “wheels on four feet.” Every summer, James and his wife Susan pack up their camping trailer and head for Canada’s Bon Echo Provincial Park. This year, James will explore this lovely spot on a river with hiking trails and blueberries—with Vern by his side.

Congratulations to Vern’s puppy raisers: Carol & John Cavanaugh!