Meet the 11 members of our most recent training class who graduated triumphantly on August 27. Once you’ve read their perspectives and learned of their amazing past and present lives, 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.
Dana Avant and Alf
Staten Island, New York is the home of Dana Avant. Dana has returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his fifth dog, Alf, a sweet, warm, affectionate yellow Lab. Dana initially came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind after hearing statements of praise from friends whose dogs originated here. Blind since birth with retinopathy of prematurity, Dana has certainly led an exciting and full life. At the age of ten, he went to live with his stepmother to whom he ascribes credit for his education, and positive philosophy of life: “In whatever you do, be honest, have a willing heart and don’t bear resentment.” Self-described as outgoing, friendly and warm, Dana gives the impression of being very comfortable and satisfied with himself. Nor does he lack ambition. Fluent in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese, Dana has earned an A.A. at the Borough of Manhattan College, a B.A at Hunter and a M.A. in Social Work at New York University, after which he was employed as a social worker. Dana is a proficient jazz singer and is now enrolled as a music major at the College of Staten Island. For relaxation, he loves Brazilian music, likes to watch old movies and enjoys eating and cooking. He even has a Braille spice book in his kitchen cabinet. Dana loves to travel and has taken three cruises (Alaska, Nova Scotia, St. Martin) and will embark with Alf on his fourth one in January to Jamaica and environs. He has also written a book about his life experiences titled Bring Back Tomorrow’s Yesterdays. He is now seeking a publisher. At the top of his pastime sports list are cross country and alpine skiing, and a tandem bike trip through Maine and parts of Canada. Extolling Guiding Eyes as “a great school – tried and tested over a half a century,” Dana is confident that Alf will enable him to get about safely overall and especially within his new community that has no sidewalks. Dana related how Alf shows his affection by putting his head in his lap – and oh, can he kiss. Does Dana like Guiding Eyes for the Blind? “Would I be back here for my fifth dog if I didn’t? I love it!”
Jack Behar and Idora
Jack Behar came a long way to acquire his fifth guide dog, Idora, his fourth from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Jack and his wife of 38 years live in Tel Aviv, Israel. Idora is a beautiful, petite, sweet-tempered, and “idora-ble” Lab. She truly lives up to her name. Jack, now 69 years old, lost his sight at the age of 28 from an injury he incurred while serving in the Israeli Army. Jack’s speech is tinted with an accent, soft and almost melodic in tone that reflects his kind, even-tempered, low-key personality. It was clear that Idora already recognized the gentility of her new master as she placed her paw on his arm while we were speaking. He said that a number of times she has even jumped on his lap! Jack finished high school before going in the Army, then married at the age of 32. He developed an avid interest in computers from their very inception and took it upon himself to learn as much as he could about them. Israel ranks third in the world in the computer business. Eventually, Jack and his wife settled down, built a house, and Jack took up gardening seriously. He enjoys working the soil and has fruit trees aplenty which yield an abundant supply of juicy lemons and Clementine oranges. Jack also enjoys recorded books in his down time. He expects that Idora will enhance his ability to get around independently in Tel Aviv, which is a fairly large city. His faith in Guiding Eyes for the Blind is unmistakably positive. “Would I have come such a long way if I didn’t know that I would perpetuate a gift of freedom and a more abundant life?”
Dennis Cassara and Prescott
Dennis Cassara lives in Howard Beach, New York and has returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind to claim his second dog, Prescott. Dennis came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind upon the advice of a friend who urged him to “give it a try.” He’s not sorry that he did! Dennis describes his new dog as a handsome and obedient “sniffer and licker” and like his new master, has an outgoing, happy and friendly disposition. Dennis became blind ten years ago as the result of a serious car accident that rendered him comatose a number of times during a grim struggle over death. He feels that God intervened by saving his life. The experience has given him a purposeful goal of “making a difference in the world” which he endeavors to do every day by helping others. Dennis attended Nassau Community College, majoring in Liberal Arts but left school to seek his fortune in currency trading. Now 30 years old, Dennis faithfully follows a strenuous weight lifting regimen five or six days a week. He hopes to become a personal trainer and eventually to open up his own gym. Citing his dad as his hero, Dennis says that he is not only looking to improve his body, but himself as a kind and caring person. Prescott ably matches his master’s long stride and Dennis knows that with Prescott at his side, he will be able to move about at his accustomed rapid pace. Although Prescott has kept his master’s face awash in sloppy kisses, Dennis feels that a deeper bonding is more likely to take place when they get home to Howard Beach. Speaking of his experience at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, he says, “It is fabulous! From the caring atmosphere, food (especially the Italian dishes), and accommodations to the knowledgeable and patient instructional expertise of the trainers everything here is topnotch – the best in the world!”
Richard Eaton and Remington
Richard Eaton is a real New Hampshire boy and speaks proudly of his hometown, Nashua. Richard has come to Guiding Eyes for his third Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog, Remington. He initially chose Guiding Eyes for the Blind due to their positive response to his inquiry. Richard was in his 20s when he was declared legally blind as a result of retinitis pigmentosa. Driven by the need for help, especially during the cold winter months up north, he was happy that Guiding Eyes for the Blind responded quickly. Born in Massachusetts, Richard is now 43, lives by himself and describes himself as being cheerful, sociable, quiet, and a deep thinker. When queried about his housekeeping, he confessed to being “tidy” around his apartment. He attended Votech College, and took “Distributive Education.” Richard worked at a supermarket as a bagger until 1989. For food, he loves hamburgers and steak, and otherwise enjoys his downtime by listening to the radio, playing cards, bowling (sometimes in a league) and enjoys his own company as he watches comedies on TV and the news. Someday he would like to visit some of the TV studios to see how everything is put together. Remington is a friendly and loveable yellow Lab and has displayed his attention to his new master by his quick and happy response to playtime, and his other consistent recreational activities like chewing his bone and intermittently licking Richard’s face. Speaking assertively of the Guiding Eyes for the Blind program, he expressed appreciation for his dog’s training, his training regimen, the excellent food, the all-inclusive program and care- giving atmosphere. “It just can’t be beat.” Richard has come to trust Remington completely. Commenting on some of the newer commands and the current class instructors, he says “They are so very helpful. Everything I have learned here really has enabled me to know that I can cope with my disability more effectively.”
Kamil Renee Fulwood and Tammy
Kamil Renee Fulwood is a petite young woman who has come from New York City to claim Tammy, her second dog, but first from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Kamil Renee chose Guiding Eyes for the Blind because she had learned that they provide effective training in an informal and familial atmosphere. A native of northern New Jersey, where she grew up as a child, Kamil Renee suffered a stroke when she was 11 years old, which caused her blindness. Now, at age 28, Kamil Renee has an impressive educational resume that reflects her determination to succeed. Self described as outgoing, contemplative and analytical, Kamil Renee graduated from Wellesley College, and furthered her education by obtaining an M.A. at Emerson College in Boston with a major in Integrated Marketing Communication. She now looks forward to establishing an excellent career in investor relations. The other side of Kamil Renee is revealed by her hobbies: shopping for clothing and jewelry and in her other spare moments, reading literature. She looks upon her mom as an icon who represents “all the goodness in the world” and who has taught her daughter by example to treat others as she herself would like to be treated. Tammy is by nature a very calm, sweet, capable dog that shows affection for her new mistress in subtle ways. Kamil Renee trusts her implicitly and fully expects that Tammy will help her to do things much faster and with more efficiency. Touting Tammy’s excellent training, Kamil Renee also holds deep respect for the expertise, understanding and infinite patience of the instructors at Guiding Eyes. “They are truly each a Godsend. I am so glad that I came!”
Janet Hunt and Canine
Janet Hunt came from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada to claim her second dog, “Canine”, from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Janet, now 44, became blind nine years ago as a result of diabetes. Her sight began to deteriorate in June of 1995 and by January 1996, it was gone. Janet initially chose Guiding Eyes for the Blind because of her need for access to medical care and Guiding Eyes for the Blind filled that bill with a full-time nurse on staff. Janet is a quiet, cautious yet fun-loving person who really wants people to like her. Married since 1992, Janet says her husband (Jeff) provides a good balance in their relationship. When need be, he puts things into their proper perspective and – voila – he’s a wonderful cook besides! Janet feels that “Canine’s” personality, with her not-too-quick, easy going and affectionate nature is simpatico with hers and “Canine” will soon become an integral part of her life. Janet has worked for 25 years and is currently employed as a typist, transcribing tapes for an insurance company that covers bodily injury and rehabilitation claims – a field in which Janet has personal interest. As a kidney transplant recipient herself, she also works with groups promoting transplants. “Folks with disabilities love to give back.” With not too much time for hobbies, Janet says she does love music and going to all kinds of concerts. When asked about anything she had done that had been particularly exciting, she thought of a time when she went tubing on a fast river, and fell off the tube. That did not deter her, however, from a desire to parachute from a plane some day. She is very happy that she has returned to Guiding Eyes. “Here, they truly care about the students and their dogs. The instructors go more than the whole nine yards to make sure that you have the best chance possible to be successful. It’s particularly wonderful in an instance when you and your dog have a differing opinion on direction or movement and you find out that your dog was right! Trust is a necessity and your life may depend on it. Do I trust “Canine”? You bet I do!”
Alexandra Hussey and Pepino
Minneapolis, Minnesota is the home of Alexandra Hussey, who came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her first dog, Pepino. Alexandra’s progressive vision loss occurred as the result of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. A computer instructor at the University of Minnesota recommended that she try Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Alexandra is a social person who tries to get along with everyone. She admits to being straightforward and opinionated, but at the same time tries to practice diplomacy. It works for her. She’s a great gal. She credits her father for exemplifying a good life and giving her wise advice. She deeply respects everything he says. At the age of 28, Alexandra is in her senior year at UM, where she has a double major in Environmental Studies and Applied Economics. Her ultimate goal is to be a writer of grants on environmental and low income issues. For relaxation, Alexandra enjoys being with her friends, playing the piano, walking, eating and travel to new and exciting places. Alexandra describes her Pepino as “sweet, a fireball, prancer, tail wagging and very playful pup.” Sounds like a fun combination. She knows that he will make an extraordinary difference in her life, especially at the University, where she no longer will have to ask for directions wherever she goes. After graduation, Alexandra’s next challenge will be getting a job! Alexandra was “blown away” by her second traffic walk in White Plains and the feeling of confidence and trust she felt in her wonder dog, Pepino. “It was awesome.” And what did she say about Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s program? “On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s a 10+, to be sure!”
Agnes Repullo and Libby
Agnes Repullo came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind from San Juan, Puerto Rico for her second dog, Libby. Agnes is bilingual due to the fact that she spent the first seven years of her life in New York City. When she lost her sight in 1996 as a result of retinitis pigmentosa, a director at the Center for the Blind in San Juan recommended that she apply to Guiding Eyes for the Blind, which she did. Since the death of her husband three years ago, Agnes is now a single mom with a six-year old daughter, Paloma. Agnes is a “free spirit” in a true sense. She does only those things that she values and wants to do and doesn’t try to be anyone other than who she is. She extols the influence of her father, who “showed her the way.” As a result, what Agnes likes most about herself as an adult is her sense of independence and that she is in control of her life. Agnes graduated from the Inter-American University in Puerto Rico and today works for the Government in a vocational rehabilitation program that is aimed toward preparing those like herself for productive and gainful employment. Agnes enjoys listening to music from classical to rock, which she chooses according to the mood she is in. Libby, she says, seems to think she’s a queen and ruler of all. “Her Highness” is obedient, smart and appears to think that she is indeed a person. “Libby and I make a great team and I have complete confidence in her ability to help me navigate. She may even learn a little Spanish in the process.” Agnes speaks with enthusiasm of Guiding Eyes for the Blind. “The instructors are very patient and responsible here in their insightful and expert training of both the dogs and students and yet the atmosphere is also relaxing. I have no doubt that every student will be fully prepared when they leave to go home.” Her opinion of the program? “Es lo mejor!”
Christine Stolze and Atlas
Mastic Beach, Long Island, New York is the home of Christina Stolze, who has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind to claim her first dog, Atlas, a loveable, obedient and very affectionate black male Lab. Christina came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind from observing and hearing about the school from several of her friends who urged her to apply. Christina, now 40, has been blind from birth as a result of rubella. Married for 20 years, she has an 18 year old son and a 15 year old daughter and feels it’s about time to do something more with her life outside the home. When asked if she likes to cook, she says that she has deferred that responsibility to her wonderful husband. “I cook only when I have to!” Christina described herself as an easygoing, passive person but she admitted that often she is laughing on the outside while crying on the inside. At present she enjoys working with the Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped and especially enjoys working with and teaching children who are disabled. In her heart of hearts, she would like to go through some training for operating a vending stand and to maintain that as a business. Christina looks forward now to taking Atlas home, which she describes as “starting life all over again – like being a newborn baby! He will help me to get around much more and give me the independence I’ve always longed for.” She also loves having her face licked by Atlas. On a traffic walk in White Plains, Atlas pulled her back from colliding with a stopped bus. What a dog! Christina now truly appreciates the fact that she listened to the good advice of her friends. She totally agrees with their words of praise for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. “It’s all true! I love it!”
Rylan Vroom and Gerald
Rylan Vroom, from Hudson, Quebec, Canada is a 17-year old student who has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind to claim his first dog, Gerald. Rylan describes his new mate as a calm, but mischievous, alert male black Lab. Rylan expects that when he returns home, he will become an early riser due to Gerald’s early wake-up time. He also knows that with Gerald’s help he will be able to travel trouble- free to more places and won’t have to worry about safely crossing streets. Rylan found Guiding Eyes through careful internet exploration for a program that could meet his specific needs. Born into a strong religious family, he has three sisters and two brothers. Rylan has been blind since birth from microphthalmia (eyes which did not develop). Describing his personality as “outgoing, confident, talkative and hyper,” Rylan admits to having a strong determination not to allow anyone else to control his life. With a strong philosophy of “being stoic in any situation,” Rylan is more than a survivor, he is an explorer. He is a Braille reader whose senior year curriculum in high school allows him to take courses at a first-year University level. Rylan aspires to completing a four-year undergraduate major in Computer Science and then moving on to law school to prepare himself for being an internet lawyer. He presently operates a small computer parts wholesale business from his home. Describing his “artistic side,” Rylan plays guitar in a band that performs local shows and concerts and he de- stresses with meditation and yoga. Of his experience at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Rylan says that it has been “really good; on a scale of 1 to 10, it is definitely a solid 10.” His flight to Guiding Eyes for the Blind was a notable journey. It was his first ever trip on a plane, and a real thrill for him.
John Watt and Aidan
John Watt has come from Margate, Florida to claim his second Guiding Eyes dog, Aidan. John first chose Guiding Eyes for the Blind because his mom, who he describes as having wielded a great influence in his life, knew someone who had a Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog. Not only did John apply as a result, but a sizeable donation was made to Guiding Eyes by a company in his community who sponsored him. John also credits his grandfather who took time to “show and tell” his young grandson how to behave properly. John was born with retinitis pigmentosa and his eyesight progressively deteriorated until, by the age of 13, he needed help getting about. John has a colorful history. Now at the age of 47, he speaks proudly of his 30 years of training horses and observing and instructing trainers to individualize their methods at all levels. He also spoke of his exciting short-term adventures as a bull rider. John happily portrays himself as being “good looking, easy going, with a keen sense of humor” and describes his male black Lab Aidan as being, likewise, “handsome, witty, intelligent and unafraid to tackle the complexities of life.” He knows that Aidan will be a great companion for him as he walks (he now clocks himself at 2.23 miles in 40 minutes) and negotiates busy street crossings. In his spare time, John loves to freshwater fish, especially for bass. John was formerly employed by a product development company as a telemarketer, receptionist, public relations representative and office manager. He now works “Jack of all trades” for disabled folks. With nothing but super accolades for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, John stated that he has met folks in the August class with whom he will remain friends forever. Impressed with the quality of the animals, the training process, accommodations and program in general, his overall assessment was “excellent!” He says that his greatest challenge in life right now is learning how to use the coffee machine. But in a more serious tone, he admitted that he is committed to successfully raising his twelve year-old daughter to be a solid citizen.