Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Avelash and O’Neil

Meet Graduate Avelash

Avelash and O'Neil sit for their indoor team portraitGraduate Team:  Avelash and O’Neil
About the Team:  O’Neil,  a male yellow Lab, is Ave’s 1st guide dog
Location:  Gaithersburg, Maryland
Training:  May 2023 On-Campus

Avelash is not only settling into his new role as guide dog handler, but also his position as a recruiter, assisting veterans in securing positions in fields such as aviation and aerospace. He finds the work gratifying and a way of giving back – helping a vet find a direction, find their way, and make a plan. He enjoys providing that support.  Ave is a veteran himself, having completed two tours in Afghanistan with the Marines, enlisting in hopes of making a difference. In the military, he discovered his passion for running. Ave found his thinking is clearest when he’s running, and it became a part of him. As he was leaving the military, an eye exam disclosed RP and eventually, he lost his night vision and ability to run safely. A therapist, also blind with RP, was the key to helping him navigate this difficult and life-altering period. These days, he has been considering a return to college to complete his Psychology degree. Ave originally emigrated from Germany with his parents, and last year he and his wife married and bought a house. Now his guide O’Neil has joined the family, and even made friends with her cats.     

How would you describe your guide dog?  “When I first met O’Neil, everybody described him as a frat boy because he has so much energy, joy, and fun. We have such a strong bond. In harness he is great. In our first walk around a block, there was an overwhelming sensation of joy, freedom, and independence, all rolled into one.  With every walk we take I feel happier and safer.  He enjoys it too. We trust each other.  From the moment I met him, I knew he was the pup I was going home with.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes?  “My therapist had RP and said I needed cane training; that it would help me.  I was hesitant, but the cane changed my life.  However, I couldn’t go running. She said the next step in acceptance is to get a guide dog, and suggested Guiding Eyes because of the Running Guide Program. I did the research, and there were so many good things. The program was accommodating and user friendly.”

How has a guide dog impacted your life? “Having a dog is therapeutic, you never feel alone –  you feel watched after. He’s a guardian angel. On stairs he is always at my left side, protecting me. Off harness he is always watching after me.  He doesn’t sit next to me. He sits with his head on my foot, or leaning against my leg, so I’ll know he’s there.  O’Neil is beyond anything I expected. The class I was in was diverse in age and our time being blind.  We developed a sense of community and still stay in touch. Friends forever.”

Were there any training highlights? “The night walk was what impacted me most because I had avoided going out at night for so long.  Also going into Manhattan -the train station, the subway, cars, people -it was a learning experience. One thing that stood out was the training that the staff at Guiding Eyes has had about working with blind people. When putting food on the table, the kitchen staff would describe ‘the water is to your left, your fork and knife are to your right.’  I didn’t feel like I was out of place.  The instructors were amazing.  It takes a special person to train these dogs, and the blind person to trust the dog.  The people at the school are probably some of the best people I’ve met.  So many made an impact on me.”  

Meet Guide Dog O’Neil

DOB:  5/12/2021
Litter ID: 3O21
Color/Breed:  Yellow/Labrador Retriever
Gender: Male
Brood: Capri
Stud: Octane
Littermates: Otis, Orla, Oliver, Oahu
Region: Southwestern CT
Regional Puppy Instructor: Maureen Hollis
Puppy Raiser:  The Capecelatro Family
Facebook: Southwest CT Puppy Raisers

Photos of the Team…