Meet the members of our most recent training class who graduated successfully on December 4, 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.
Russell Carrick was one of three students from Denver, Colorado in this month’s class. Russ participated in Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s ACTION program (Accelerated Client Training Option) which is available to experienced guide dog users. In Russ’ case, he was training with his fourth Guiding Eyes dog. He received his first Guiding Eyes dog 26 years ago! Russ lovingly spoke of the loss of his most recent dog, long-time friend and guide, “Fletch.” After a month’s hiatus, Russ now has Barton at his side. The two have bonded and his feelings of independence, confidence, companionship and joy have returned. When Russ first investigated guide dog schools, he was a bit concerned about how far Guiding Eyes for the Blind was from his home, but he said this became incidental once he realized the quality of Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s dogs and training. Although born blind as a result of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), Russ attended Denver’s public schools from kindergarten through high school. He was the first blind student ever to graduate from the Denver public school system. A devout Christian, Russ is self- described as crazy, gregarious, and a “people lover.” He has an obvious determination to live a full, happy and successful life. Russ is a graduate of the University of Northern Colorado, where he majored in foreign languages. He is currently employed by QuestCom as a Load Specialist (he dispatches technicians that repair telephone lines) and has been in that line of work for 26 years. Russ hopes to retire in four more years and is learning Morse Code in order to obtain an Amateur Ham Radio License. With his hand lovingly resting on Barton’s head, he described his new partner as being gentle, sweet, responsive and demonstrative. The highlight of his stay at Guiding Eyes for the Blind was the Juno walk – “I knew then that everything was going to be just fine.” Russ has served on Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s Graduate Council and is absolutely and positively sure that he would never go anywhere else for a guide dog. “Guiding Eyes for the Blind just cannot be beat.”
Barbara Esposito, an ACTION (Accelerated Client Training Option) student, hails from Collingswood, New Jersey. She first came to Guiding Eye for the Blind in 1969, at the advice of a college rehab counselor. Barbara liked what she had heard about the school, and it was geographically within reach, so she applied. She was accepted and, four Guiding Eyes dogs later, the rest is history. Her newest companion, Van, is an obedient, happy, tail-wagging, male black Lab who is a great worker. From the very beginning, his rapidly thumping tail announced his total pleasure with his new mistress. Barbara is looking forward to introducing Van to her everyday life and anticipates that they will go many places together. He will have two dog “roomies,” Imus and Willow, when he arrives home. Barbara has been totally blind since the age of two from Retinitis Pigmentosa. She is small in stature and describes herself as a “good time girl,” intelligent, and a strong advocate for the disabled. She is busy working with high school students with disabilities. She leads small discussion groups which deal with topics such as self esteem, rights for those with disabilities, education, and contractual agreements for the disabled and minorities. Her goal is to enable the participants to “dream a dream” and bring it to reality. Barbara has a daughter who is a senior in college. Barbara’s husband, who is also blind, runs a growing business called New Age Distributors which deals in housekeeping products. Barbara loves to read, cook and bake. As proof of the latter, she treated the class to her special peanut butter brownies! Barbara said the class was a fun group and extolled the excellence of the trainers– their patience, consideration, knowledge and emotional and intuitive help. “The Guiding Eyes for the Blind experience just cannot be beat.”
Tony Colello comes from Swiftwater, Pennsylvania. Though he has had two guide dogs previously, John is Tony’s first dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Blind since birth from Retinitis Pigmentosa, Tony describes himself as independent, perhaps a bit impatient, but kind and well- mannered. He graduated from college with a Masters in Chemistry and worked for many years as the chief supervisor of a chemistry lab for a major chemical company. Now, at the age of 70, he has retired. Though he misses his friends at work, Tony thoroughly enjoys puttering and working in his garden at home. His greatest pleasure though comes from walking. He plans to do three to four miles a day with John at his side. Tony also loves to cook. Being Italian, he makes his own pasta noodles for real home-style lasagna. Tony spoke enthusiastically about his classmates, describing them as a wonderful mix of ages and geographic backgrounds with folks from North Carolina, Colorado and Alaska. He described the folks at Guiding Eyes for the Blind as accommodating and helpful and he said the meals were great – even the lasagna!
Michael Leone is currently living in Baltimore, Maryland though he would much prefer to live in New York City. New York had been Michael’s home until five years ago when he lost his sight as the result of a rather mysterious medical phenomenon and moved to Baltimore to live with his family. Michael graduated from Capitol College in Maryland with a major in Communications and minor in Computers. He presently works at The Maryland Department of Disabilities in Information Technology. Michael is proud to be “pure Italian.” He describes himself as being opinionated, outspoken, and a listener (who hates to listen). He has a keen sense of humor but also carries a pinch of obstinacy in his personality packet. “I want answers, NOW!” Mike came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his second Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog, Navy. Navy affirmed his affection with his new master by occasional impromptu acts, like sitting on his master’s lap (forbidden) in the Guiding Eyes for the Blind van while traveling about. Mike shared that he has an aversion to crowds – he would much rather be with a smaller group of friends. “My most valuable lesson here at Guiding Eyes for the Blind is learning that I can go wherever I want to go with Navy at my side – even in a crowd.”
Gary Lum who hails from Buffalo, New York, joined this month’s class to train with his sixth Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog, Kai. He first came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind in 1971, having selected the school through extensive research. Blind since birth, Gary has recently 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). Ultimately, the condition forced him to leave his fulfilling life-time occupation. Presently on Workman’s Compensation, Gary 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, Gary 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 loving to be around people. He reluctantly added, “But, with me, everything has to be just so.” Commenting on his new companion and guide, Kai, Gary said, “Kai is definitely the class “heavyweight.” I love to see how this giant blond Lab works. I think I know who’s boss and so does he. He’s great!”
One of the three classmates from Denver, Colorado, Crissie McLaughlin came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind this month for her first dog, Clay. She heard about Guiding Eyes for the Blind from a friend and knew it was just what she was seeking. Crissie attended the University of Montana in Missoula, majoring in Design and Advertising, before losing her sight from Diabetes six years ago. She hopes to return to college to earn a Business Degree and eventually wants to own her own business. She is currently employed by DoubleTree Hotels as a PBX operator, working the 3:30 p.m. ’til midnight shift. Chrissie is 29 years old and has been married for two years. She has varied hobbies including listening to rock n’ roll, playing clarinet and the pan flute, and collecting rocks – a passion she inherited from her grandfather. She is a quiet and observing member of her class – she particularly appreciates her supportive colleagues who have encouraged her along the way. Describing Clay, she said he is a sound sleeper and a laid back worker who is very happy and smart. “We are in tune with each other,” she added. Crissy was particularly impressed with Clay when, during a pedestrian/traffic exercise on the busy streets of White Plains, he adroitly led her around a worker with a jack hammer and a car which was parked on the sidewalk! She feels that Clay will make her life much easier at home, giving her more mobility as well as companionship. “He just wows me!”
Gertrude Moylan, from Woodstock, Connecticut, is by virtue of her multi-motherhood record, “Class Matriarch.” She has brought ten babies into the world (between 1955 and 1978), nine of whom are still living. All nine children have settled in Connecticut. She lives on the same property with one of her daughters and is the proud grandmother of nine! Blind since birth from Retinitis Pigmentosa, Gertrude’s greatest ambition when she was young was to be a physical education teacher. In lieu of that, she now captains her very own “family team!” Gertrude graduated from the Oak Hill School for the Blind. It was one of her instructors there that first led her to apply to Guiding Eyes for the Blind. She is now training with her fifth dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind Ballou. Gertrude describes herself as “quiet, but outgoing” and says she enjoys reading, knitting and cooking. She ruefully admits that she gave up smoking three years ago and says she should have done so much earlier. She said: “It was very, very hard.” Speaking of Ballou, she described the female black Lab as being cute and tidy (she licks her feet). Gert loves to hear the gentle thumping of Ballou’s wagging tail as she gives her tummy tickles. Once home, she said she will look to Ballou not just for leadership but also for day to day companionship. When asked what she thinks of Guiding Eyes for the Blind and the student experience, Gert’s face broke into a big smile: “I come here to have fun. It’s all so great . . .It’s the best school, camp, and resort all wrapped into one; it’s a real home away from home. And the instructors are wonderful!”
William Packee came all the way from Alaska to claim his first Guiding Eyes for the Blind Dog, Rio. Guiding Eyes for the Blind was recommended to him by a graduate, Charles Hanby, who also lives up in the “north country.” Born in Wisconsin, Bill (a husky 40 year-old) moved to Fairbanks in ’96 with his wife. Just prior to coming to Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Bill had the joy of visiting with his son, a Marine, on leave from Iraq. The last two years have been tough on Bill. First, he suffered three strokes, the last one of which affected his eyesight. That was followed by surgery to correct a hole in his heart. Despite all that has gone on in his life, Bill is looking forward to returning to school. “I wanna be the best at what I can do.” He added, “I’d like to run for President!” Bill is self- described as being mild-mannered, friendly, inquisitive, family-oriented and a Christian. He loves college football and also enjoys cooking. Rio is a good match for her new master; she is fun loving, smart, well trained, disciplined and a sweetheart. When Bill and Rio return to Alaska, the short December days will have only two hours of gray daylight (between 11 am and 1 pm) – something that might require a slight adjustment for Rio. But Bill is confident that Rio will afford him independence and security in any environment. Speaking of his classmates, Bill said, “We are all one big family. When one hurts, we all hurt. When one has a shining moment, we all rejoice!” Bill’s most memorable moment was when the instructor walked in harness alongside him, and then the instructor “detached.” Bill and his dog were on their own, and Rio proved to be a spectacular guide!
Alan Sheets comes from Millers Creek, North Carolina. He is training with his second dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a female black Lab named Gypsy. Alan became legally blind 20 years ago as a result of Retinitis Pigmentosa. He applied to Guiding Eyes after learning about the school from a local Lions Club member at Camp Dogwood. Alan currently works in information systems at the Wilkes Vocational Workshop at Wilkes Community College and continues to study for his Certification III in Special Equipment. His personality speaks for itself through his “southern-ese”: he is a 48-year-old outgoing, fun loving, serious (when he wants to be), “child of God,” who comes across as a downright good person. He loves to work with computers, plays guitar (sort of), and likes music: classical, rock, and inspirational. Reminiscing over the loss of his last beloved dog, Nissan, he tells how, a few months ago, when she could no longer walk, he would carry her. It was just like becoming blind all over again. He is thrilled to have Gypsy now at his side. He says she is obedient, really “wired” and interested in everything. He knows that their bonding has taken place and is getting stronger every day. He described his Guiding Eyes for the Blind classmates as “top of the scale!” He also praised the newer commands he learned in class, which he believes are more efficient. About the school, its instructors, and staff, he said, “Y’all are the greatest!”
Kim Utley, from Dover, Delaware, came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind at the recommendation of Bill McCafferty, a Guiding Eyes for the Blind graduate. Kim is a 36-year-old single mom who will bring her first guide dog companion, Camille, home to live with her daughter (8) and son (14). Kim was deemed legally blind as the result of an auto accident in 1988. She has a “tunnel” vision view of her surroundings. Kim describes her personality as bubbly, outgoing, helpful, liking people and quiet. She describes Camille as bubbly, eager to work, and happy. They’ll make an excellent pair. Before her accident, Kim attended Delaware Technical and Community College’s nursing program. After losing her sight, she became adept at medical transcription. She is currently Retail Associate of a Blind Industries and Services military base supply store in Maryland. Kim was crocheting a shawl as we spoke. Her other hobbies include surfing the Internet and listening to rock ‘n roll and pop music. She knows that Camille will enjoy her mistress’ love of long walks and will make it easier for Kim to get out and about. Kim had high praise for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. She described it as a “wonderful place positive and reaffirming.” She went on to say, “The instructors are wonderful, kind, sincere and loving. The class is a great group. We all get along and are there, on the spot, to help each other.” When asked about bonding with her dog, Kim related how Camille wakes up, emits a soft whine, and puts her head on the bed, all the time wagging her tail. Her favorite experience happened right in the beginning when she and Camille embarked on their team walk in White Plains. “We did it, Camille and I! – All on our own!”
John Urioste was the third of three students in this month’s class from Denver, Colorado. He came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind on the advice of his mobility instructor. John lost his sight ten years ago when, at the age of 29, he suffered the effects of a virus. (He rather playfully demonstrated the mobility of his one false eye for me.) John is an outgoing, caring, single man who likes to help others and loves science fiction. He does not like large social gatherings, but prefers a more intimate setting with friends. John is a Braillist and likes working on computers. He hopes to find a job that will suit his personality and talents and is now searching for one through a vocational employment agency. Before losing his sight, John loved to build ship/plane models and also to paint. A real outdoorsman, John finds tremendous pleasure in trout fishing, boating and hiking. Ansel is John’s first Guiding Eyes dog. John expects that his new companion will give him a lot more freedom and independence and will help to steady his balance. He’s looking forward to walking five to ten miles a day with Ansel- something he hasn’t been able to do in quite a while. John speaks of Ansel in superlative terms when it comes to obedience, beauty, love, intelligence and energy! He is equally complimentary in describing the school. “Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a great school: these folks really know what they’re doing; the dogs are expertly and thoughtfully-partnered with each individual student.” In speaking of a bonding moment with Ansel, John said, “Watch this” and invited Ansel to give him a bear hug – actually it was a dog hug. It sure convinced me. “I have learned to trust my dog. The instructors here are miracle workers!”