Meet the members of our most recent training class who graduated successfully in August, 2004. Their uplifting stories reflect determination to lead independent lives with greater freedom to fulfill their personal goals. Please consider providing your support to future guide dog teams like them.
Support Guiding Eyes Many thanks to volunteer Marge Widman for contributing the interviews and photographs for this article.
Natasha Almonte and Olympia
Natasha is a first timer at Guiding Eyes for the Blind and lives in Brooklyn, New York. Her boyfriend also has a Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog by the name of Rebel who will soon meet Natasha’s female black Lab, Olympia. Diabetes claimed Natasha’s sight just three years ago. She intends to go back to college as soon as possible to earn a degree that will enable her to do social work. At present, she’s working for a Union, but feels strongly that she wants to do more with her life. Personality wise, she claims to be happy, up front and has a lot of friends, but warns them, “Just don’t step on my toes!” She lives in an apartment with her two young boys, ages 9 and 13. Her extra-curricular interests include karate (green belt), cooking many different ethnic dishes, and music. Natasha describes Olympia as a go-getter, hard headed, wonderful worker – a good match for her mistress. In speaking of the class, she said they were having a lot of fun and considers them all as role models. Olympia enjoys belly rubs, but also sits and relaxes with Natasha when she sits outside with a cigarette looking at the stars and listening to crickets. Natasha had a terrible fear of escalators, but with the help of the instructors and Olympia’s steady direction, she’s no longer afraid of using them.
Fabian Cardona and Urchin
Fabian is an ACTION (Accelerated Client Training Option) student from Dorado, Puerto Rico. Urchin, a handsome male yellow Lab, is Fabian’s second Guiding Eyes for the Blind “doggie.” Guiding Eyes for the Blind was recommended to Fabian by a professor at a School for the Blind, who had done a lot of research on the “best of the best” schools. Fabian lost his sight at the age of 32, as a result of a progressive degenerative eye condition. Having a number of college degrees already under his belt in Communication, Psychology and Law, Fabian, now 38, plans to integrate his academic training in the practice of Law. He hopes to work primarily for the handicapped. Fabian is a talented señor who speaks fluent Italian and English, and a bit of French, as well as his native Spanish. He attributes his communication skills to his grandma, who taught him to speak softly – with expressive lip and hand actions, which seem to confirm his words – the effect is mesmerizing and convincing. Urchin’s quick response to his new master’s soothing, but firm commands is most impressive. Oh yes, Fabian also sings, plays the violin, is a ballet dancer and is currently starring in his University’s production of Madame Butterfly! Urchin, a “correct, happy, excellent worker and playmate,” is reminded every day by these words from his new master: “I love you, my doggie – when I am with you, I feel safe.” Fabian also extols the Guiding Eyes trainers whom he describes as “skilled, understanding, and compassionate.”
Gaya Dalton and Yalta
Gaylia (“Gaya”) and her second Guiding Eyes dog, Yalta, will soon return home to Fayetteville, Arkansas. The young female yellow Lab will also learn to understand a bit of Spanish, for her new mistress spends six months of each year in Mexico. Blind as a result of the rapid progression of Retinitis Pigmentosa, Gaya conducted thorough research through her local library – and found Guiding Eyes for the Blind to be “right there” for her from the very onset. She has been a faithful correspondent and firm supporter of Guiding Eyes for the Blind for the past eight years and is happy to extol their virtues! Gaya, twice married and formerly an elementary school teacher, is a natural lover of life and always tries to “be herself” as much as possible. She has a strong penchant for exploration of all things and expanding her mind. As a lover of nature, she enjoys being out of doors and swimming in the sea. Solitude is also important to her and she expresses her innermost thoughts and emotions by writing poetry. “Yalta”, says Gaya, “will be someone I can talk to and care for – and she will love me in return.” Speaking of the class’ dynamics, she commented: “We are like a family: tolerant and caring. It’s incredible! We laugh a lot and have a good time.” Then she added: “Blind folk receive special guidance – we have angels who watch over us. Right now, Yalta will fill that role perfectly for me.”
Maria Delgado and Corbin
South of the Border, down Mexico way, was Maria’s home, but she emigrated to Louisville, Kentucky after spending time as an Exchange Student in the United States with a host family during her senior year in high school. She later graduated from the University of Kentucky with a Degree in Communications. Maria has been blind since the age of 21, as a result of an arthritis-related auto-immune disease. She is now employed by The American Printing House in Louisville and does extensive traveling on the job – that’s where Corbin will be especially helpful. Maria describes her daily life as “organized chaos” but enjoys a bit of relaxation as she utilizes her talents in writing and art. Corbin, Maria’s second Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog, is shy, gentle and mellow but his “happy- boy self” is quickly emerging as their weeks together unfold. She cherishes his “good-morning kiss” at daybreak. Maria had nothing but superlatives when speaking of the instructors, whom she described as “exceptional, extraordinarily patient and skilled.”
Diana Engle and Indigo
East Lansing, Michigan is home to Diana, who has just met her first Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog, Indigo. She learned about Guiding Eyes for the Blind and its great reputation via the Internet and word of mouth. Born with Glaucoma, Diana became legally blind at the age of 16. Born in the Year of the Ox, she believes this is why she is deliberate, steady and focused. Married, with two children, ages 10 and 14, Diana is busy at home. She is presently a Girl Scout leader and also works for the Michigan Historical Museum as a writer/editor for their web content. She hopes in the not-too-distant future to return to Michigan State University where she earned a B.A. to study for a Masters degree in Communications. In her spare time (does she have any?) she enjoys crafts, hiking and listening to music. Diana describes Indigo as the class’s tiniest dog, weighing in at 60 pounds, but one who has a lot of zip and is very obedient. She also lauds the school for the thorough preparation they have given her in dog care routine and training. She knows that Indigo will enable her to do many more things with ease and with efficient and confident mobility. Her favorite moment with Indigo and one in which she felt they bonded, was when Indigo rolled over and solicited a belly rub from her new mistress. If a grade were to be given to the instructors and trainers at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Diana Engle would grant them an unquestionable A+ for sure.
James Gilliard and Marine
James Gilliard was introduced to Guiding Eyes for the Blind as a result of a field trip, sponsored by the New York Institute for the Blind, when he was a 13- year-old student there. He watched a dog work and was “blown away.” James (who was formally named “Jimmy” – but he’s never liked it) was blind at birth because his mom had a bout of Rubella when she was pregnant. James now lives in Littleton, Colorado with his wife. James is a kind, helper type who loves to laugh with people and gets along with everyone. Marine will accompany him to work at the Radio Reading Service of the Rockies where he is employed as an Engineer’s Assistant. He hopes to pursue studies in a School for Broadcasting. James has been told, and I would agree, he has a very “reassuring, convincing and gentle voice.” With few exceptions, James enjoys listening to music. He says that Marine will impact his home life “big time” – he observed a ten-month hiatus of not having a dog when his former dog passed on. Describing two-year old Marine as laid back, who takes everything as it comes, James is ready to travel, discover and enjoy life with his new companion. Marine shows his love by placing his beautiful head on James’ lap.
Gary Lum and Rocko
Snowy Buffalo, New York is Gary Lum’s hometown. Gary returned to Yorktown Heights this year for his fifth Guiding Eyes for the Blind Dog, Rocko. He obtained his first in 1971 following intensive research and observation of all that was available. Blind since birth, Gary has sustained yet one more physical setback. Because of his constant, daylong, arduous typing and computer work, he suffered nerve damage in his fingers (carpal tunnel syndrome) which necessitated leaving his fulfilling life- time occupation. Presently on Workman’s Compensation, he is learning a speech recognition program that will enable him to get back into the “swing of things.” A graduate of C.W. Post College, John has a B.A. in Political Science and an M.A. in Health Care Administration. He describes himself as having an outgoing, and organized personality and someone who loves people; however, he reluctantly (but truthfully) added: “With me, everything has to be “just so.” Commenting on his new companion and guide, Rocko, Gary says, “I like to see how he works. He’s great!” Describing the August Class – “It’s definitely one of the best classes I’ve ever attended.”
John McIntyre and Charcoal
John was born into an “Intyrely Scottish/Irish” household and returns to Guiding Eyes for the Blind this year from Weymouth, Massachusetts for his sixth Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog, Charcoal. He obtained his first dog in 1966. John was a minute two-pounder and blind at birth; it was later found that his bone growth had been stunted as was his father’s who as an adult measured 4’11. In his youth, John attended The Perkins School for the Blind in Boston. Despite an unhappy childhood and many other obstacles in his life, John possesses a strong “survivalist” urge within that enables him to maintain “life’s pattern,” due, in large part, to his Catholic faith and strong belief in God. He is presently employed as a switch board operator in Boston. Although his parents are both deceased, he remains in touch with his three brothers and one sister. Self described as being somewhat “anti social and a loner,” John is an avid sports fan. He is certain that the affection he bestows on Charcoal will always be returned. They will be buddies indeed. John also appreciates that his experience and training at Guiding Eyes is what is best for him and that which will continue to enable him to live every day to its very fullest.
Kelli O’Brien and Glitter
Kelli, a young and slightly built Irish lassie, hails from Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. While we know that “All that glitters is not gold,” Kelli’s Glitter is a female black Lab who will be worth all the gold in the world to Kelli. Glitter, described as “playful but a wonderful worker,” is Kelli’s fourth Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog. Blind since birth, a friend of one of Kelli’s relatives was an instructor at Guiding Eyes for the Blind and what Kelli heard, convinced her to apply. After a tour of the facilities, all Kelli could say was “WOW!” Kellli sees herself pretty much as others see her: enthusiastic, vivacious, and outgoing but added that she must constantly remind herself to put the needs of others before her own. Presently, Kelli is working as a Customer Care Representative serving diabetics, but will pursue further studies in anatomy and physiology, which will eventually lead her towards a career in physical and massage therapy. Glitter will enable Kelli to travel more easily in Jenkintown and thereabouts and will listen with pleasure (we trust) hearing his mistress play her violin. Kelli felt a very special moment of joy when she realized that Glitter was madly wagging her tail during the Jefferson Valley Mall instruction exercise; Glitter shines at her work!
Sherrie Phillips and Cabot
Sherrie, an attractive and vivacious blond from Chesapeake, Virginia, is a newcomer to Guiding Eyes for the Blind. At the sage advice of her friends, Internet research and her specific appreciation for Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s breeding and puppy program, she came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind to meet Cabot, a two- year-old beautiful Golden Retriever in whom she already feels a full trust – they “work and walk together as one” in wonderful harmony. Sherrie was born with congenital cataracts, and her eyesight deteriorated further as a result of seizures. Self described as being intuitive, one who speaks from her heart, spiritual (she believes there is some good in everyone) she has been told many times in her work as a personal trainer and certified massage therapist that she is “excellent with people.” Sherrie would like to bring her personality, quick mind and training to a very limited and critical field of Manual Lymphatic Drainage for cancer patients and those suffering from edema. She is looking for a school that will prepare her for that role. Presently serving as Vice Chair of The Disability Services Bureau in Chesapeake, she is an advocate for all blind people: that they avail themselves of the valuable aid which services such as Guiding Eyes for the Blind provide. Sherrie cited one very notable situation that she termed as “a real one.” A car was fast approaching during a traffic check in White Plains. She didn’t sense its approach. Cabot stepped up to the bat and stood between them and imminent danger. Whew! Sherrie has found a perfect match in Cabot: he too is intuitive and she feels that in his gentle way, he will aid her in helping others heal.
Melissa Resnick and Alta
Presently getting to know Alta, her fourth Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog, Melissa came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind upon the advice of her parents, who, having done some research, “liked what they saw.” A native and resident of Long Island, Melissa has grown up without ever having seen her surroundings; she was blind at birth. Melissa frankly admits to being “stubborn, pushy at times and defensive” – (aw, come on now, Melissa) on a good day, she is “kind and sweet.” She and her fiancé plan to be married when the “time is right.” Melissa’s friends and relatives have been the beneficiaries of her talent in crocheting, basket weaving, and knitting; I observed her working on a beautiful three-dimensional flower she was crocheting for a blanket. Currently, Melissa is attending Old Westbury College, majoring in Chemistry. She aspires to being a physical therapist. Alta is a “fire ball” – she represents, in the ultimate sense, sweetness, curiosity, play and a happy and thorough approach to work. Melissa vividly remembers one particular moment when Alta, noting the distress on her mistress’ face, licked away her tears. Melissa feels that the August class has “jelled well” and says they all hold the trainers in high regard for their skill, understanding and great patience in instructing the class.
Darryl Salley and Kahlua
Born in Brooklyn, brought up in Queens and now living in Manhattan, Darryl Salley is a seasoned 38-year old New Yorker who has received his third dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. His second dog is now retired in Virginia. Kahlua is a black and tan male Lab who knows what he’s supposed to do for his master. Darryl chose Guiding Eyes from his Internet research because it was one of the top schools that promised to follow on their promise to meet all his needs. SOLD! Darryl became blind in 1979 as a result of Retinitis Pigmentosa. Self-described as a laid back, mellow fellow, Darryl, recently divorced, is working for his Juris Doctor at The City University of New York’s School of Law in January, 2005. He is willing to go anywhere his job will lead him and plans to specialize in defending rights for the disabled. Outside interests include reading, music (not classical or opera), bowling and viewing spectator sports. When speaking of Kahlua, he described his new roommate as outgoing and a good worker who vocally grunts his displeasure on occasion. He and Kahlua are becoming better acquainted each day – it is a good connection. Of the group, Darryl says, “it is great – we get along and work together as a team.”
Bill West and Russet
Straight from the Rocky Mountains, Bill West, another ACTION student, came back to Guiding Eyes for the Blind from Colorado for his fifth dog, Russet, a 22-month-old black and tan lab. Bill took a two-month dog-free hiatus to prepare himself for his new companion and guide. A graduate of Furman University, Bill lost his sight as a result of Retinitis Pigmentosis at the age of 30; he is presently employed as Manager of a State Medicaid Agency in Denver. Self described as an ISTJ (Myers/Briggs Personality Profile), He is a hard worker with an avid curiosity about many things, pursues varied interests and enjoys reading (the classics, fiction, science astronomy and mysteries) and leads an “ordered” life. He and his wife of 20 years take the time to walk their dogs together every day. Russet shares some of his new owner’s personality traits: he takes his work very seriously, but has a playful side as well. Citing his second day of training in White Plains as a highlight of his week, Bill was amazed at Russet’s ability to successfully weave him through the bustling pedestrian traffic. Three cheers for the outstanding patience, skills and sensitivity of the instructors. Bravo!