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December 2009 Graduating Class

Meet some members of our recent student class.

And many thanks to our instructors:

Angel Dockham and Imanya

Angel is a recent graduate of the University of Southern Indiana, with a degree in Interactive Media Design. She stayed at school every summer in order to complete her degree in four years.  For her, guide dog training means that she will now be able to choose from a wider array of job opportunities than when she was a cane user.   She is 26, and was born prematurely.  As sometimes happens in these cases, her early birth resulted in retinopathy of prematurity, a blinding condition. She was inspired to come to Guiding Eyes by her “best friend in the world” and mobility instructor for several reasons.  Working with Imanya, Angel has learned that she can walk much more quickly than before, and has also found Imanya to be a good listener and companion.  The color pink is very important to Angel, and she surrounds herself with as much pink as possible.

Carmela Cantisani and Peace

Carmela has been blind since birth.  She is multi-talented, having been an Italian teacher and the founder of “Camela’s Gourmet Salad Dressings,” a line of six delicious toppings for vegetables and other dishes.  Established 15 years ago, her products were the first food product to have labels printed in English text and Braille.  She is in the process of closing down the business and retiring, giving her more time for European travel, tandem bicycle rides, skiing, and just being outdoors.

Carmela was born in Italy and came to the United States in 1964.  Today she is a California girl who lives near the beach, a wonderful place to take her first Guiding Eyes dog Peace.  She had guides from another school, but decided to try Guiding Eyes this time.  “Changing schools was not easy,” said Carmela, “but I am enjoying the very positive approaches of our instructors and the meticulous training.  And I am more comfortable in my private room.”  Carmela shares her life with her husband, who is chairman of the French-Portuguese Department at the Defense Language Institute.

Evelyn Evers and Omega

Evelyn suffered damage to her optic nerve at birth.  She made the decision to enroll in the December class with her husband, Mike.  She met him at the National Industry for the Blind in Texas, and today they live in North Carolina.  “It was love at first sight,” reported Evelyn.  Evelyn was very clear about her decision to attend Guiding Eyes.  “I had heard that Guiding Eyes was well organized and had the best training.  I was tired of my cane breaking. It’s aluminum, not alive and warm like a dog. I know that having a guide will be special.”  Evelyn works with the children in her church’s daycare center, and for an agency for the blind.

Thomas Gibson and Opus

Puppy raisers from the Delaware region inspired Tommy Gibson to enroll in the December class, although his previous dog was from another school.  He spoke to these dedicated volunteers as they were training their pups in Rehoboth, and was impressed by their love for and handling of their dogs. His sight loss was caused by a virus, and he has undergone 30 eye operations in an attempt to resurrect his vision.  Formerly a data network manager at Smith Barney, today Tommy is a certified massage therapist.  His private practice recently took a wonderful turn when he started working with veterans returning from overseas.  Tommy was honored that they were willing to share their stories with him as he worked on them, and now will be turning more of his attention to serving military personnel.  Tommy is also an active volunteer.  He speaks to children with autism about blindness and works in an outreach program for troubled youth in Delaware, who, he said, “expand my mind.”  His partnering with Guiding Eyes Opus has been a positive experience, and he is impressed by the “incredible instruction” here, especially nuances in body language pointed out by his instructors.  He says this attention to detail made a big difference in his dog handling skills, and that no one had ever pointed out these to him before.

Luis Palacios and Titan

Luis Palacios lives in Spain and came to Guiding Eyes for Titan, his second dog, but first from Guiding Eyes.  He lost his sight when he was 18 from retinitis pigmentosa.  He learned Braille so that he could go to university, but didn’t pick up a cane until he was 37.  “I hated the cane from the beginning,” said Luis, “but I wouldn’t stay at home.”  His dog changed his life dramatically.  “I can count on my guide for everything.  The dog makes me happy, and I take him everywhere.”

During the application process with Guiding Eyes, Luis had a “great and wonderful surprise.  John Detloff came to my home in Spain for the home interview, and to check my mobility skills.  He communicated trust, acceptance, and respect, and I knew that I wanted my next dog to come from Guiding Eyes.”

Luis earned his doctorate in language from the University of Madrid and retired as a high school teacher.  He and his wife Susanna travel extensively.  In Spain he is the president of a foundation dedicated to retina research and services for the vision impaired.  “I know that I’m going to work perfectly with Titan.  My dog is my life.”

Joe Jessie Cooler and Imari

While working in New York City nine years ago, Joe began noticing that his previously diagnosed macular degeneration was starting to significantly affect his vision. Soon thereafter, he moved to build a new life on the sunny British Virgin Island of St. Croix.

Joe received valuable assistance as a visually impaired veteran and thus is motivated to give back in his new home.  As the Vice President of the Puerto Rico Regional Group of the VA Clinic in St. Croix, and an avid disabilities awareness advocate, Joe works tirelessly to bring attention to numerous issues ranging from handicapped parking, white cane awareness, and the latest in Assistive Technology.

Guiding Eyes Imari is Joe’s first guide dog. He appreciates how she looks out for him to assure his safety.  Getting around St. Croix is challenging, as there are there are no sidewalks and crossing streets.  Joe is sure that Imari will make his travels much easier.

Luc Allen and Ingrid

When the time came to retire his “faithful, excellent working dog”, Luc says it was an easy choice to return to Guiding Eyes for his second guide Ingrid.  He appreciates how thoroughly the staff evaluates students’ needs before matching them with their guide dogs.  He also found that his already-positive class was enhanced by Guiding Eyes’ new single occupancy dormitory rooms, and the new motivational dog training techniques that facilitate the bonding process between handler and dog.

After losing his vision due to a work accident in 1999, Luc found that traveling with a guide dog was faster and easier than using his can, and that he also feels more confident to travel farther distances.   He also believes that with his guide he can accomplish many more things. With greater determination he returned to school to earn an advanced degree, He owns three workout gyms, travels internationally, and enjoys time with his teenage daughter.  He is also determined to return to school to earn an advanced degree. Luc said that he continues to dream, reach for his goals, and looks forward to living life to its fullest with Ingrid by his side

Michael Evers and Teresa

Michael is pleased with how well Teresa works with him, and he is amused by her full personality. Visually impaired since birth due to congenital cataracts and glaucoma, Michael realized at an early age that he preferred traveling with a guide dog, finding himself to be more confident and appreciative to be able to avoid obstacles in his path.

New to Guiding Eyes, he and his wife Evelyn, who is also visually impaired, chose our program due to its exceptional reputation and their ability to attend the 26 day residential training program together.  They have been married for two years and recently relocated to North Carolina, and they look forward to traveling with their new guides and continuing to build their lives together.

Teresa will accompany Michael to work everyday.  In their free time they’ll be hiking, exercising, and traveling with Evelyn and her Guiding Eyes dog Omega.

Dorothy Moorcroft and Pansy

Dorothy, who lives in Canada, and her two brothers all have degenerative eye diseases. She embraced the inevitable decrease in her vision and recently completed her advanced education, establishing a career as a Rehabilitation Counselor.  She also learned to travel with a white cane. However, in the last 3 years, due to her decreasing vision loss, she became more reluctant to travel.  This is when she began to seriously consider applying for a guide dog.

Dorothy says it was clear from the feedback of other guide dog users that traveling with a dog would be easier.  Having recently settled in a town with a very rocky, hilly terrain, and no straight sidewalks, traveling as a person with low vision was a nightmare for her.

“Attending Guiding Eyes is the most amazing experience I have ever had. Since the moment I arrived the staff has been friendly, supportive, and very approachable.  The first time I picked up the harness handle to walk with my guide Pansy, I felt joyous and free. I was empowered and realized it was not a solitary venture anymore. It has been a long time since I have felt this way about anything.”

Leonard (Keith) Redding and Jackson

Keith’s sight has been slowly decreasing over the past 20 years due to histoplasmosis. He worked many years for a veterinarian and currently raises emus, ducks, and geese.  Keith knew it was just a matter of time until he applied for a guide dog.

When driving was no longer an option he began consulting with other guide dog users before making the decision to apply to Guiding Eyes. Keith says, “Attending Guiding Eyes, and being matched with Jackson, my new pair of eyes, has been a Triple A experience, truly awesome.”  Keith looks forward to taking his daily 10-15 mile walks in his South Carolina hometown with his Jackson leading the way.

Kari Young and Linden

Kari enthusiastically returned to Guiding Eyes for a fifth dog and was pleased to say that once again it surpassed her expectations. “You don’t feel like you are in an institution. You are treated like an individual with individual needs.”  Kari enjoyed working, for the first time, with a German shepherd as a guide and finds Guiding Eyes Linden’s unique personality and cautious nature a lot of fun.  She is excited about introducing him to her daughter, two grandchildren, and sister.

Once home, in her small Pennsylvania town, she will be seen traveling with her sister who is also visually impaired and a current Guiding Eyes dog user.  Kari offered that she is proud to be traveling with a Guiding Eyes dog and appreciates the respect the public pays to them as a team.