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December 2018 Graduating Class

Congratulations to our December 2018 graduating class!

God’s blessings to the December 2018 graduates. – The Gasvoda Family

In loving memory of Maximus, our beloved dog and friend.  Merry Christmas and congratulations to all. – Paul Marchand

Congratulations to Team Bevy, Team Echo and Team Harvey. May you have many safe and happy adventures together. Thank you to the puppy raisers of these amazing dogs for all they do to support the Guiding Eyes mission. Special thanks to Regional Manager, Joy Hawksby, for her guidance and support in helping the Central NY raisers and puppies be the best they can be! – CNY Region

We gratefully acknowledge the Fain Family’s support of our video streaming capabilities.

Watch this month’s graduation live

Residential Graduates:

  • Annette and Ginny
  • Barbara and Danish
  • Christy and Clancey
  • Emily and Bevy
  • J.R. and Sabba
  • Jari and Omar
  • Jennie and Jenga
  • Joseph and Echo
  • Jose and Dex
  • Joy and Welles
  • Maricar and Cliff
  • Patricia and Truffle
  • Richard and Edison
  • Sherrel and Ava

Home Training Graduates:

  • Bonnie and Cristy
  • Burnice and Baker
  • Stephanie and Harvey
  • Tina and Lennon
  • Craig and Elsie
  • Kathleen and Prancer
  • Marybeth and Morgan
  • Stela and Potter
  • Cody and Tango (S)

Many thanks to our Training Staff:

  • Class Supervisor: Miranda Beckmann
  • Class Instructors: Nikki Wentz, Laurel Sheets and Kathryn Poallo
  • Action Instructor: Stephanie Koret
  • Specialized Training Instructor: Andrea Martine
  • Running Guides Specialist: Nick Speranza and Jolene Hollister
  • Instructor Assistant: Meghan Davis
  • Home Training Instructors: Alyssa Tilley, Chrissy Vetrano, Graham Buck, Jim Gardner, Julie Angle, Stephanie Koret, Megan Baker

S: A special gift was made to personally name the following dogs:

  • Tango was Special Named by Loretta Warsow.

Meet the Residential Training Graduates

Graduate Annette and guide dog Ginny

Graduate Team: Annette and Ginny
About Ginny: Ginny, a female yellow Labrador, is Annette’s first guide dog
Hometown: Chattanooga, Tennessee

Annette is the owner of a Vending Machine Company in Chattanooga, and an avid runner. She has recently completed her first half-marathon and a sprint triathlon! She loves to be outdoors, whether it is hiking, kayaking or running. Annette has a 12 year old son, and they are both looking forward to having a guide dog join in on their adventures.

How would you describe Ginny?  “Ginny is so smart and very eager to please, and she loves to run. But when she isn’t working, Ginny loves to play and she knows what she wants. She wants to pick the perfect toy out of the toybox herself, ignoring any other toy you throw her way.”

Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “People have been suggesting a guide dog to me for a while, but it was the Running Guides program that really sold it for me. I love to run. Running is a huge part of my life.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home? “My son is 12, and he absolutely cannot wait to meet Ginny. I can’t wait for them to meet either! I can’t wait to take Ginny to the beach and maybe even paddle boarding!”

Any training highlights? “My first run with Ginny was absolutely life-changing. Her personality really comes out when we run and I loved every second of it. Our trip to NYC was amazing as well. To be able to walk around a place like Manhattan and not have to watch the ground, is really freeing”

How will having a guide dog impact your life? “It will open up a whole new world and allow me to be safe while exploring it. There are so many things that I want to try, and it makes me feel safer knowing that Ginny will always have my back.”

What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “Really think about what you want and need. A guide dog is so much more than a pet. It’s obvious Ginny loves her job as a guide dog.”

How do you feel about Guiding Eyes?  “I’m so grateful to the puppy raisers, trainers, and Guiding Eyes for bringing us together. It has been such an easy process, from applying all the way through to class. Everyone is so friendly and helpful. I was nervous about flying in, but Guiding Eyes was waiting for me just outside the gate! The kitchen staff is amazing and have bent over backwards for us. The instructors each have their own insights and really individualize our programs. I don’t know why you’d go anywhere else.”

Congratulations to Ginny’s Puppy Raisers, The Zoerlein Family!

Graduate Barbara and guide dog Danish

Graduate Team: Barbara and Danish
About Danish: Danish, a female black Labrador is Barb’s first guide dog
Hometown: Randolph, New Jersey

Barb has a degree in computer science and retired after working as a programmer for 14 years. She continues to be very active, has many hobbies, takes art classes and likes to go places to meet friends for social activities, especially in New York City where she loves to walk.

How would you describe Danish?  “She’s a bundle of love. Just so lovable and sweet that I fell in love with her immediately. She’s very gentle and perks up her ears when she hears little kids’ voices. What she represents is for me to be able to travel on my own, which is a miracle…major.”

Why did you decide to get a guide dog?  “The main reason I got a dog was to travel on my own and be more independent. I used to go to New York all the time when my vision was better. I used to walk all over. Those long walks in New York City –  that’s my goal.   I want to enjoy my retirement and go to museums. I’ll be able to do that myself with my little buddy. That’s the key really… the independence.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home?  “I’ll be able to meet my friends and do things by myself. If I meet my friends in the city, the trip is less enjoyable for them because they’re worrying about me. Now I’ll be independent and like anyone else meeting for lunch, seeing things and running errands. I’m really looking forward to the freedom.”

Any training highlights?  “Immediately the speed was incredible. This dog took off and I could follow and trust her.  She gets me around everything and does the thinking for me. The first day I got to walk by myself, it was wonderful. I went from crawling along to motoring along. It was a huge, huge difference!”

How will having a guide dog impact your life?   “I’ll be able to take an Uber by myself and take classes at the college because I’ll be able to get around campus with Danish. I couldn’t have done it before. I was afraid I couldn’t find my way at night.”

What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog?   “I belong to a low vision group and none of them have a guide dog, so I am excited to tell the group of my experience – how much faster you can get around!  Someone once said to me it’s like the difference between a clunker and a race car. You really get to move and feel free and safe. It’s a very different feeling.”

How do you feel about Guiding Eyes?  “No matter how good I could have imagined it – it’s better. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with this whole operation. Every single person I’ve met – from instructors to kitchen staff – everyone is wonderful. It’s incredible. I could not come up with a complaint if I tried, you know what I mean?”

Congratulations to Danish’s puppy raisers, the McKernan Family!

Graduate Christy and guide dog Clancey

Graduate Team: Christy and Clancey
About Clancey: Clancey, a male black Labrador is Christy’s 3rd guide dog
Hometown: Temperance, Michigan

Christy is an experienced guide dog user and a licensed massage therapist. She recently retired Guiding Eyes Reagan and returned here for her next guide because she was so impressed with the staff and training. Christy says she can’t wait to introduce him to everyone back home.

How would you describe Clancey?  “He’s a show-off and he’s got personality! When he walks, he prances. Clancy’s in the house! He’s a very good learner and he remembers things. If something new comes up and he’s a little unsure, he does an awesome job the next time. I’ve had so much fun. He is nothing but joy. He’s all that and he knows it.”

Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “I’m not that confident with my cane. I know enough to get around, but I feel like a guide dog can get me farther in my traveling experiences. I wouldn’t go as many places with the cane alone. It’s the independence.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home?  “He’s a lot faster than my last dog, so I’m looking forward to getting a bit more exercise. I can just tell I’m going to have fun with Clancey and he’s going to make life very interesting and fun.”

Any training highlights?  “I tend to talk very fast when I work with my dogs and I just transitioned to doing that with him, but when I slowed down and spoke like the trainer we really started to click.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life?  “I go more places. The companionship is big, too. You’re never alone. People are more willing to approach me and help me with a dog than with a cane.”

What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog?  “I would say you need to find the school that makes you feel the most comfortable. When I found Guiding Eyes, I fell in love.”

How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “I love Guiding Eyes.  The people are so friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. They care about these dogs even after you go home. The support I got during the retirement process of my previous dog was just incredible.”

Congratulations to Clancey’s puppy raisers, The Meler Family!

Graduate Emily and guide dog Bevy

Graduate Team: Emily and Bevy
About Bevy: Bevy, a female German Shepherd, is Emily’s first guide dog
Hometown: Portland, Oregon

Emily is a first-time guide dog user who works full time for a non-profit. She enjoys cabin camping, hiking and road trips with her family. She is very excited and proud to be part of the Guiding Eyes Running Guide program and is looking forward to becoming more active again with Bevy. Her motto is “Go big or go home!” so she is committed to working hard and being able to run again.

How would you describe Bevy?  “Bevy’s very strong, both physically and in personality. She’s a leader for sure. She’s smart, patient, driven and playful, which are all traits that fit my personality.”  

Why did you decide to get a guide dog?  “I’m so very independent and was a reluctant cane user. Having a dog next to me is so much more reassuring and secure. If I get scared, instead of being there alone, I can take a minute with the dog while I regroup, get back on track and say okay we’re safe.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home?  “I feel like as a team we’re just going to kill it out there.  We’re ready to go. We move fast as a team and we’re just going to rock the world.”

Any training highlights?  “The first day that we had traffic checks, a car pulled out and she stopped! Then I realized even more how well she’s been trained.”

How will having a guide dog impact your life? “Obviously, safety and security, but also acceptance of myself and my disability. Walking down the street with a dog I feel more confident.”

What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog?  “Do it. It’s lots of work up front and a lot of time, but it’s worth every minute of it.  I always say Go Big.  You have confidence with a dog, another being by your side, and that’s going big and it feels good.”

How do you feel about Guiding Eyes?  “I’m really excited to represent Guiding Eyes and the Running Guide program. I’m excited to be on the cutting edge of things. That’s kind of how I roll.  So, to be part of a group that’s doing these things makes me proud and happy that I picked this school.”

Congratulations to Bevy’s puppy raiser, Sarah Riester!

Graduate JR and guide dog Sabba

Graduate Team: James “JR” and Sabba
About Sabba: Sabba, a female black Labrador is JR’s third guide dog
Hometown: Fruit Heights, Utah

JR is returning to Guiding Eyes for his second guide dog from our school, third overall. A software engineer with a BS in Computer Science and ham radio operator, JR is married with two children and four grandchildren. He loves to explore new places with his guide dogs.

How would you describe Sabba?  “Sabba sometimes puts both paws on my knees, as if to say give me a hug, or crawls up in my lap like a Lap-rador! She is willing to play whatever game that might be on for the day. When working she is right on focus when aiming for targets. Her favorite thing to play with is me and the second thing is her ball, but she also loves toys that screech.”

Why did you decide to get a guide dog?  “A friend recommended Guiding Eyes because they breed and train the best dogs in the world. In 2007 I went back to school to finish my degree in computer science. When walking across campus with my cane I though if I had a dog I could get to class in less time. I got a dog from Guiding Eyes and was able to cut 10 minutes off my travel across campus.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home?  “Doing a lot more traveling around the city. We have new rail systems and I’m looking forward to teaching Sabba targets in these systems. I’m a techy and I look forward to introducing Sabba to the staff at my local apple store.”

Any training highlights?  “Guiding Eyes is always improving; the command set has changed and they have added some skills that are going to be useful. Targeting is really exciting to me – I can’t wait to try it out at home!”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “Challenging areas like hotels can be frustrating when traveling with a cane. When I work these areas with my guide dog, these challenges vanish.”

What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog?  “Do it. The difference in independence is incredible. Even if you are a very good traveler you can increase your speed.”

How do you feel about Guiding Eyes?  “The raisers do such a good job raising these dogs that have fabulous and unique personalities all their own! The things a guide dog user accomplishes in the years working with a dog is phenomenal and that wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of our donors and raisers.”

Congratulations to Sabba’s Puppy Raisers, Collin Wright and Family and the Beauregard Family!

Graduate Jari and guide dog Omar

Graduate Team:  Jari and Omar
About Omar: Omar, a male yellow Labrador, is Jari’s 2nd guide dog
Hometown: Livingston, Texas

Jari is receiving her second guide dog. She has two adult sons and two grandchildren. Jari and her husband own an RV and enjoy traveling the country visiting national parks. Jari served in the Air Force prior to starting a family.  

How would you describe Omar?  “Omar is a good guide who reads me well and senses when I need to slow down. I have MS and some days are better than others. On days that I’m not at my best he will adjust for me.”

Why did you decide to get a guide dog?  “To have a companion to help me around places when I need to go out by myself. We plan to travel a lot and I’m happy that I’ll have Omar with me making me feel safe.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home?  “My husband and I purchased an RV and are going to travel to as many National Parks as we possibly can. I’m looking forward to bringing Omar to the Giant Redwoods in Sequoia National Park or the Grand Canyon!”

Any training highlights?  “Every day has been a highlight. I knew this was the dog for me because he just loves being out in the open. It feels like he is just bouncing and that’s what the outdoors feels like to me too. That’s where I’m the happiest and I look forward to working him in the parks!”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life?   “Being able to go for a walk outdoors whenever I want is the best!”

What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “It is the best thing that a blind person can do. They don’t just assist you. They are a companion the whole day through.”

How do you feel about Guiding Eyes?  “I am amazed. The entire staff is wonderful. I haven’t needed support from remote staff yet, but I know it will be there whenever I need it, even after I graduate.”

Congratulations to Omar’s Puppy Raisers, Kate and Tim Fanti!

Graduate Jennie and guide dog Jenga

Graduate Team:  Jennie & Jenga
About Jenga: Jenga, a female yellow Labrador, is Jennie’s first guide dog
Hometown: Renton, Washington

Jennie’s family is so excited to meet Jenga, they already refer to her as the newest member of their family.  Jennie hopes her 12 yr old cat, Buddy, can live up to his name and be Jenga’s best buddy too. Jennie loves to crochet.

How would you describe Jenga? “It amazes me how much she helps me. Everyone told me that a dog would do me wonders, but it’s just so different when you actually experience it. When I work with her I get so emotional because I can’t believe how wonderful she is. I’m getting teary-eyed just thinking about it!”

Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “Using my cane helped, but it wasn’t enough. I got to the point where I wanted to take the next step and when I told my family I was going to apply, they all said, ‘Took you long enough!’”

What are you looking forward to about returning home? “I’m excited for the independence Jenga will give me and can’t wait to be able to stroll by the river, walk to the church or going grocery shopping with Jenga by my side.”

Any training highlights? “The first time I worked with Jenga, getting around things so easily was amazing. You know a bit about what guide dogs do before you come here, but actually being with them when they do it, is a different story.”

How will having a guide dog impact your life? “She has enhanced my life so much more than I could even have imagined. I feel so much more relaxed having her with me. I am excited for new adventures with my new best friend.”

What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “If they were thinking about it, I’d definitely tell them to just go for it. These dogs really are a miracle.”

How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “This is the most amazing place. I am serious. Everybody here is so nice, friendly, and understanding. It is so wonderful here.”

Congratulations to Jenga’s Puppy Raiser, Hannah Matthews!

Graduate Jose and guide dog Dex

Graduate Team: Jose and Dex
About Dex: Dex, a male yellow Labrador is Jose’s 3rd guide dog
Hometown: Anaheim, California

Jose has worked as a teacher of special education, instructing visually impaired children of all ages and with multiple disabilities, as well as a volunteer for the Junior Blind of America. He is currently a student, having gone back to college for his general education degree.  Not one to sit idle, Jose can tell you how to get just about anywhere in Anaheim as he knows all the streets and bus lines like the back of his hand!

How would you describe Dex?  “Excellent. There are no other words to describe this little man.  He reminds me a lot of my first guide dog.”

Why did you decide to get a guide dog?  “A guide dog makes you feel more free. My first guide dog was with me until he retired. I hope this guy will be with me many years.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home? “I’m looking forward to going back to work.  I want to feel that experience of walking freely on the sidewalk without bumping into obstacles, like I had when I used to have guide dogs.”

Any training highlights?  “All the instructors are very helpful. I feel confident. I’m a retrain, so as soon as they tell me something, it clicks in my head. ‘Oh, I used to do that!’  I think Dex and I are a good match.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life?  “It’s fabulous. I love my dog. With a guide dog you need to be active every day and play with them. You must take them out for a walk, so it’s good motivation.”

What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog?  “I would say you should try to get a guide dog and I would definitely recommend this school. A guide dog is the best.”

How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “Again, excellent. There are no words. You guys are great and everybody’s so helpful. Thanks for all the support you guys give us. I’m impressed.”

Congratulations to Dex’s Puppy Raiser, The Kitzel Family, the Cmolik Family and the Smith Family!

Graduate Joseph and guide dog Echo

Graduate Team:  Joseph & Echo
About Echo: Echo, a male black Labrador, is Joseph’s second guide dog from Guiding Eyes
Hometown: Boston, Massachusetts

Joseph is a big-time traveler and hiker who is excited to be bringing home his second guide dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. He started working with his first dog, Cecelia, in 2005 and they worked together for 9 years! Joseph will enjoy exploring with Echo, whether it’s an outdoor adventure or a Red Sox game.

How would you describe Echo? “Echo is a hard-worker with a nice steady pull. He is always raring to go! We’ve started to bond, and he has a similar personality to my last guide dog, Cecelia. They are both big kissers and love to stay close.”

Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “I was really drawn to the idea after seeing friends with their guide dogs. It was amazing the way they were able to navigate through crowds so smoothly. I really wanted to have that freedom and ease of movement.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home? “When I retired Cecelia, I started to use my cane again, but it isn’t as easy to navigate. I found that I didn’t go out as much, with friends or on my own, so am looking forward to exploring more and enjoying the world with Echo.”

Any training highlights? “The first day that you get behind the harness handle is the best. You take off down the sidewalk and it feels great. With a cane you find an obstacle and then you must figure out how to get around it. With a dog, you feel them steering you around it then it’s gone in a second. That freedom is an awesome feeling.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? I travel quite a bit and even when I was someplace new, I never felt lost when I had my guide with me. These dogs give you a sense of assurance that together you’ll be able to find the place you’re going.”

What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “You should look at the places you want to go to. Then think about the reasons you’re currently unable to reach them and if a guide dog would help you get there, then you should definitely pursue it.”

How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “I spent a couple of years researching and what drew me to Guiding Eyes was the family feeling. It doesn’t feel like a school or an institution. The people here, and even the website, have this welcoming atmosphere. I got my first dog in 2005, and Guiding Eyes has always been supportive the entire time.”

Congratulations to Echo’s puppy raisers, Erica and Isaac Ocana!

Graduate Joy and guide dog Welles

Graduate Team:  Joy and Welles
About Welles: Welles, a male black Labrador, is Joy’s second guide dog from Guiding Eyes
Hometown: Chillicothe, Illinois

Joy has been working guide dogs for more than 30 years. She works as a social worker conducting group therapy within the child welfare system of Illinois. Joy is married, and she and her husband have two high school aged children.  

How would you describe Welles?  “When he walked in the room I felt calm. He is playful and fun, but he has this very calming feeling about him.”

Why did you decide to get a guide dog?  “In high school I had a hard time accepting the cane. One of my student teachers had a guide dog. I was attracted to the increase in freedom and independence that I would get from a guide dog. Instead of attending my high school graduation, I went to receive my first guide dog!”

What are you looking forward to about returning home?  “There is a neat strip mall that I like to walk to and get coffee. I’m looking forward to exploring and getting back into the swing of working with a guide dog again.”

Any training highlights?  “A couple of weeks into training, Welles and I were so in sync I was able to relax to the point of daydreaming while walking. Normally as a blind traveler, I’ve got to be alert as to whether I’m staying on track.  We were in harmony, he was keeping me safe, I was relaxed, and it was amazing. I didn’t want the route to end!”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “It’s that freedom to go where I want, when I want, and not think about what’s in my way. There is someone there with me, no matter what. A guide dog makes me feel safer and more confident in my travels and allows me to attend conferences and conventions I would not likely attend with a cane. Also, a guide dog is a companion and friend. It is incredible.”

What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog?  “Do your research and know what you want from training. Working with a guide dog is the best thing, but hard work. If you are willing and able to put in the work, you are going to get 150 times back. Just make sure you are ready.”

How do you feel about Guiding Eyes?  “This past summer my previous guide dog was taken at a young age by cancer. This has been the toughest transition for me. Guiding Eyes took the extra step of hosting a group session with students going through similar experiences. I loved it! Having someone listen to what you are going through, who understands, really helped. Everybody has been just fantastic and I’ve been impressed all the way around!”

Congratulations to Welles’ puppy raiser, Diane Grier!

Graduate Maricar and guide dog Cliff

Graduate Team: Maricar and Cliff
About Cliff:
Cliff, a male black Labrador, is Maricar’s second guide dog
Oakland Gardens, New York

Maricar is receiving her second guide dog. She works for the Helen Keller National Center as an Independent Living Supervisor. She lives with her husband who also works at the HKNC. Maricar enjoys swimming, ethnic dishes, Broadway shows, Central Park, canoeing and going to the beach.

How would you describe Cliff?  “The first time I met him, I fell in love with him. I could see he has a lot of possibility and felt like we would be a good team. We are going to do a lot of traveling together and he will allow me to be more independent.”

Why did you decide to get a guide dog?  “I commute back and forth to Helen Keller National Center where I have worked for 20 years now. I use a white cane and it’s a great tool, but choosing to work with a guide dog it will make my travel easier. I will be able to navigate better.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home? “I want to be able to run! I see so many possibilities, especially because I will be able to run.”

Any training highlights?  “Definitely experiencing running with Cliff. I’m deafblind so first we needed to discuss a system of communication since Jolene, the Running Guides Instructor, doesn’t know sign language.  We worked as a team to develop a system of taps on my back. They showed me the special harness developed for running, how to put it on and how it will feel to run with Cliff, then gave me the opportunity to practice communicating with my instructor. I thought wow I can really do this! The next day I went with the same group of instructors to run with Cliff and I don’t even know the words to describe how I felt. I was enthralled and touched by this connection that we have! Running was so smooth and so much fun!”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life?  “Having a guide dog makes travel smooth and graceful – it is so freeing.”

What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “I work with the deafblind population who can benefit from having a guide dog. I recommend really thinking about having a guide dog and learning about the value it can add to your life by improving your freedom to travel. Come to Guiding Eyes and see the program. It is an opportunity for the deafblind population to train. Using technology and interpreters, they fill the deafblind needs, allowing us to be part of the general population.”

How do you feel about Guiding Eyes?  “My experience here has been amazing and the staff is so nice. As the only deafblind person in class, communication was challenging at times, but overall I’ve had the best communication experience. The cooperation to overcome communication challenges through technology and interpreters, really has been wonderful.”

Congratulations to Cliff’s puppy raisers, The Flint Family!

Graduate Patti and guide dog Truffle

Graduate Team: Patti & Truffle
About Truffle: Truffle, a female black Labrador, is Patti’s first Guide Dog
Hometown: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Patti is a first-time guide dog user. She is a retired Speech Pathologist and previously ran a pharmaceutical research company with her husband.  Patti enjoys spending her time training with her blind rowing team.

How would you describe Truffle?  “Truffle has an open hearted and humorous personality. She is an extremely smart dog. It’s like she can almost read my mind and seems to know where I want to go. It couldn’t have been a better match – she is amazing!”

Why did you decide to get a guide dog?  “I relied heavily on my husband to help me navigate the world, but he passed away five years ago.  A good friend of mine, a guide dog user on my blind rowing team, inspired me to get a dog. I’m elated at the freedom. For the past five years I haven’t felt comfortable walking independently, but working with Truffle gives me a freeing feeling I’ve never felt before.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home?  “Independence. I’m excited to share my story with the world through motivational and educational public speaking.”

Any training highlights?  “When I think about meeting Truffle for the first-time, tears of joy bubble up – she ran to me like we already knew one another.”

How will having a guide dog impact your life?  “It seems like I’ve known her forever. Waking up to her being fun and happy to see me has made my outlook on the day more positive. She has put us on a schedule and is opening a new chapter in my life. It’s a life changing opportunity for me. “

What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog?  “Do it! Don’t hesitate – just go for it. Come to Guiding Eyes.”

How do you feel about Guiding Eyes?  “Everyone is kind and upbeat and the Guiding Eyes staff is amazing! I’m pretty hard on myself, but they are understanding and make learning less stressful by making it OK to make mistakes. I have experience in fund raising, so I’m blown away at how they fund this endeavor. What a gift!  Phenomenal…you guys are great!”

Congratulations to Truffle’s puppy raisers, The Trujillo Family and the Cromwell Reed Family!

Graduate Rich and guide dog Edison

Graduate Team: Rich & Edison
About Edison:
Edison, a male black Labrador, is Rich’s first guide dog
Seattle, Washington

Rich is a volunteer at the local zoo and the father of two children, a 9-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy. They are so excited to meet Edison and can’t wait for their dad to get home! Rich is curious to see how they will interact with Edison and how he will handle his new position at the zoo. Most of all, Rich is looking forward to getting out and about, working with Edison.

How would you describe Edison? “My first impression of Edison was that he was a great, big, playful puppy, but now I know that he is a great, big, smart, playful puppy.”

Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “As a diabetic I began to lose my sight and at that point decided to pursue a guide dog.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home? “My kids are so excited to meet him. They’ve been asking for months when I was going to get my dog, so it’ll be great to see them together.”

Any training highlights? “The moment I met Edison!”

How will having a guide dog impact your life? Having a dog will be a major change in my life.”

What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “Talk to others that have already gone through this process. Do your research and make sure that you know what is involved. This is the hardest thing, but the best thing I’ve ever done. Once you’ve really read up on it, I say go for it!”

How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “I would definitely recommend Guiding Eyes as the people to go to. I found Guiding Eyes to be the friendliest and with the easiest process. Everyone has been so helpful, accommodating, and easy to get along with. Once I found Guiding Eyes, I didn’t even look any further. My search stopped there!”

Congratulations to Edison’s Puppy Raiser, Ms. Stephanie Sacco!

Graduate Sherrel and guide dog Ava

Graduate Team: Sherrel & Ava
About Ava: Ava, a female yellow Labrador, is Sherrel’s second guide dog from Guiding Eyes
Hometown: Frankfurt, Kentucky

Sherrel started her journey with Guiding Eyes in May of 2007 when she got her first guide dog Nessa, whom she worked with for 10 years! Sherrel works at the State Capitol in Kentucky and is excited to bring Ava home to follow in Nessa’s footsteps.

How would you describe Ava? “Ava works very hard. Ava’s smooth and is all business when she’s working. When she doesn’t have her harness on, she’s a girl with an attitude. She’s very independent!”

Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “I met Becky Davidson from Guiding Eyes for the Blind at an NFB conference and she was just such an inspiration to me. That was when I knew this was something I wanted to do.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home? “I can’t wait to bring Ava home. I work at the State Capitol and I’m looking forward to working her there. Once everyone finishes swooning over her, I’m excited to start teaching her to target certain places.”

Any training highlights? “I’ve really enjoyed learning the new commands that Guiding Eyes has incorporated since I was here with my last dog Nessa. Guiding Eyes has been evolving and they’re improving on things that I thought were already perfect!”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “The companionship is huge and the freedom you get is amazing. With a cane, you’re trying to get that tactical feel, so your entire attention is on the cane and what you feel through that cane. With a dog, I am able to take in the rest of the world around me as I walk down the street.”

What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “First, get your mobility skills down and get comfortable using a cane. Then go for it! It is so worth it.”

How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “Oh my gosh, I love it here. The kitchen staff have just been amazing, they bend over backwards for us. And it’s the same with the instructors. They are so dedicated, and their passion for their work is obvious. You can’t miss it. The people here care about more than just what is going on while you’re here in class.”

Congratulations to Ava’s Puppy Raisers, The Faust Family and The Joynt Family!

Meet the Home Training Graduates

Graduate Bonnie and guide dog Cristy

Graduate Team: Bonnie and Cristy
About Cristy: Cristy, a female black Labrador, is Bonnie’s 5th guide dog and 3rd from Guiding Eyes
Hometown: Kirkland, Illinois

Bonnie says she is absolutely tickled with her new guide Cristy. Bonnie loves to take walks and looks forward to walking with Cristy, meeting people and socializing along the way. She enjoys staying connected to the puppy raisers, gaining information and insight into her guide’s life as a pup!

How would you describe Cristy?  “Oh she’s wonderful!  She’s so gentle and well behaved. And she’s a good worker – the more we practice together the better we get. Such a blessing! I’m so tickled with her.”

Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “She’s able to get me to the post office, beauty shop, bank, restaurants and to visit friends. I’m independent and I’m not stuck in the house! She’s a real helper for me, plus she’s my companion.”

What are you looking forward to about working with your guide dog?  “I’m a social person and enjoy talking to the people that come up to me when I’m out walking. I love to walk and Cristy is really good at taking me around those snow banks the plows pile up at the intersections.”

Any training highlights? “I enjoyed going to the mall. It was such a great feeling when she led me in and out and around the people. I was so lucky to get into home training and it was a very good experience having the trainer come to my house.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “I’m able to get out to visit people more than with the cane. Not only does she give me a reason to get out of bed in the morning, the day goes by so much faster. Having her here with me has made such a big difference in my life.”

What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “I would definitely tell them to go to Guiding Eyes For the Blind.  The staff is so caring and kind. It will change your life. It’s so much easier to get around with a guide dog.”

How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “With every guide dog I’ve had, I always make it a point to keep in contact with the puppy raisers.  They are always so nice and I learn more about my dog. They should know what an important part they play in our lives.  Guiding Eyes has the best dogs and the puppy raisers give them such good beginnings. I praise them so much.”

Congratulations to Cristy’s Puppy Raiser, Scout Hansen!

Graduate BB and guide dog Baker

Graduate Team: Burnice “BB” and Baker
About Baker: Baker, a male black labrador, is BB’s first guide dog
Hometown: Atkinson, North Carolina

BB, a first-time guide dog user, was once a successful car builder for NASCAR. He enjoys spending time outdoors on his rural property and looks forward to being more active with Baker. BB also, enjoys worship music, playing guitar and fellowship at church, as well as spending time at home with his wife.

How would you describe Baker? “He’s good to be around and he’s become my little friend. He’s very committed to me. Wherever I go, he goes.”

Why did you decide to get a guide dog?  “My eyesight was getting worse and I knew I needed help getting around safely.”

What are you looking forward to about working with your guide dog?  “He gets me outside and moving around. I live in the country and like to go walking.”

Any training highlights? “He’s very smart and he listens and minds really well. The more we walked and trained together, the better and better it was.” 

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “He’s very good with the grandkids when they come to visit and he likes other people. He is very helpful and well-behaved when we go to church and everyone looks forward to seeing Baker. When we went visiting over the holidays, he traveled well and was a big help to me.”

What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog?  ”It’s a lot of work to have a guide dog, but then he becomes a friend and a good companion.”

How do you feel about Guiding Eyes?  “I thought everything was good! My trainer was very knowledgeable about the dog and helped us a lot as we trained together.”

Congratulations to Baker’s Puppy Raisers, Mini Saraswati and Jayashree Bidari!

Graduate Cody and guide dog Tango

Graduate Team: Cody and Tango
About Tango: Tango, a male black labrador, is Cody’s third Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown: Spokane, Washington

Cody recently retired his second Guiding Eyes dog Vern, who he worked with for ten years! He treasures the feeling of independence a guide dog provides. Cody likes to walk, listen to the radio, watch TV, has a great love of music and his philosophy in life is “You’re as young as you feel!”

How would you describe Tango?  “He’s a good worker and when the harness is on, he means business! He’s also become a good friend and likes to stay close to me.”

Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “ I wanted to be more independent and get out of the house more.”

What are you looking forward to about working with your guide dog?  “I like to walk to the coffee and sandwich shops with Tango.”

 Any training highlights?  “ I enjoyed taking the bus downtown. Tango was well-behaved and stayed tucked under the seat, out of the way of other riders.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “I get more exercise when I use a guide dog, because they help get me to the places I need to go. I also get to talk to other people more.”

What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog?  “Go for it!”

 How do you feel about Guiding Eyes?  “This is my third dog from Guiding Eyes and they’ve all been great dogs. I like to keep in touch with my dog’s puppy raisers and I’ve been very happy with each of the trainers that have worked with me.”

Congratulations to Tango’s Puppy Raiser, Liz Wilbanks!

Graduate Craig and guide dog Elsie

Graduate Team: Craig and Elsie
About Elsie: Elsie, a female black labrador, is Craig’s second Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown: Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey

Craig is an insurance agent and business owner, and just retired his first Guiding Eyes dog Haskell, who he worked with for almost eight years. Craig maintains an active lifestyle and is married with two grown children.

How would you describe Elsie? “She’s just great! She’s very affectionate and loves to curl up on my lap when I sit on the floor. As a working dog she’s fast and very focused and takes good direction.”

Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “As I was losing my vision, I had more and more difficulty navigating through town to the train station. I felt a dog would be a better fit for me than the cane. When using a guide dog, I have more interaction with people. Sometimes the dog’s presence even has a positive effect on their mood on the train.”

What are you looking forward to about working with your guide dog? “As my first dog Haskell was approaching retirement I noticed the changes. It’s been interesting and fun to see how focused and energetic this younger dog, Elsie is.”

Any training highlights? “This was my first time being part of the Home Training Program and it was wonderful to train on my route every day. Within two days, I could tell how well this was working as she was quickly remembering the details of the route.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “The independence piece. When you are losing your vision you become more dependent on other people. Even with the little things, it’s wonderful not having to call upon someone to help you. It’s all about the independence.”

What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “I would say that as long as you understand it’s a commitment, it’s the way to go. It’s great how the community rallies around you and is willing to help when they see a guide dog.”

How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “I love you guys! I came back – a return customer! That should say it all.”

Congratulations to Elsie’s Puppy Raisers, The Anthony Cappelli Family!

Graduate Kathy and guide dog Prancer

Graduate Team: Kathleen and Prancer
About Prancer: Prancer, a male black labrador, is Kathleen’s third Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown: Eugene, Oregon

Kathleen is a long-time guide dog user with a hectic full time administrative position. She enjoys outdoor activity, such as camping and hiking in the mountains. She and her husband are involved with parrot rescue.

How would you describe Prancer? “He’s awesome with lots of personality and a great willingness to please. He gets up in the morning joyful and funny and happy to start the day.”

Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “For the increased mobility. I work fulltime and must travel between two cities so for me it’s very important for my job.”

What are you looking forward to about working with your guide dog?  “I think he’s going to work out perfectly. He has the willingness and the drive to work.”

Any training highlights? “He was out-of-the-box ready to go. It felt like we’d been together the whole time.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “It affects all facets of life. It has given me the opportunity to continue working and be as independent as possible. Having a guide dog allows me to be social and involved in outdoor activities. It’s the ability to engage outside of the home, as well as at work that’s important.”  

What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “It’s like the difference between walking and flying. Without a dog you’re walking more slowly and, in my mind,, limited in where you can go.”

How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “I’ve been coming to Guiding Eyes for a very long time. I go back for the quality of the training and the superior dogs. They are healthy, well rounded and well-trained dogs.

Congratulations to Prancer’s Puppy Raisers, Cynthia and Darleen Farley-Marvin!

Graduate Marybeth and guide dog Morgan

Graduate Team: Marybeth and Morgan
About Morgan: Morgan, a female yellow labrador, is Marybeth’s sixth Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown: Arlington, Massachusetts

Marybeth is currently a student, finishing up a master’s degree in Vision Rehab Therapy (VRT). She has worked with Guiding Eyes dogs since 2002. A dog lover, Marybeth says companionship is also an important aspect, along with the independence and greater ease, a guide dog like Morgan provides.

How would you describe Morgan?  “She is amazing. Just awesome!”

Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “Having a guide dog is a much easier way to get around and to travel, but I love dogs and the companionship is important too.”

What are youlooking forward to about working with your guide dog?   “Walking at my normal speed because I’m much slower with the cane.  When I am with a guide dog I can walk much faster. In general, there’s greater ease.”

Any training highlights?   “Morgan nailed a couple of suggested turns. I wasn’t expecting her to pick up on them as easily as she did!”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life?  “I’m more interested in going places when I have a guide dog.”

What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog?  “It depends on the person, but I would say they should fit your life style and having a guide dog, overall, I would recommend it.”

How do you feel about Guiding Eyes?  “Oh, I love the school.   It’s a good group of people!”

Congratulations to Morgan’s Puppy Raisers, The Holmes Family and Kathy & Alex Piwowar!

Graduate Stela and guide dog Potter

Graduate Team: Stela and Potter
About Potter: Potter, a male German Shepherd, is Stela’s first guide dog
Hometown: Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Stela is an energetic college student, whose new guide and “perfect dog” Potter arrived just prior to final exam season. That’s certainly a busy time for any student, but despite the timing Stela is extremely happy and grateful to have Potter before the Canadian winter sets in!

How would you describe Potter? “Potter’s beautiful and so intelligent. He’s a great working dog when the harness is on – focused at all times, loyal and caring and not distracted by people. He’s very sweet and I know he has my back. He loves his tennis ball!”

Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “Having had full vision until recently, I missed walking at my normal stride and pace when I used a cane. He steers me around things and that freedom is very special.”

What are you looking forward to about working with your guide dog?  “I’ve always been an athletic person, but before Potter it was quite difficult to keep active. He was trained as a running dog and I look forward to further training to learn to run with him and increase our activity.”

Any training highlights? “I enjoyed seeing how the loyalty and bonding grew stronger as we trained together. During our first days, I was offered a last-minute singing engagement. Potter walked me into the outdoor stadium and calmly stayed by my side as I sang our national anthem.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “I dreaded walking across campus to class, but now Potter’s given me a new sense of freedom and independence. He’s a pretty fast walker and I’m never late for class now! I feel so much safer, especially when I need to walk back in the dark.”

What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “It’s a lot of responsibility seeing that the dog’s needs are met, but as a student it’s been so beneficial to me. Taking the time to care for him actually gives me a mental break from my studies.”

How do you feel about Guiding Eyes?  “It’s a great organization. You’ve provided me with a new set of eyes and my best friend. I feel such support from the training staff when I have a question. I couldn’t be happier – the home training was very effective; my trainer Jim was great and Potter was the perfect match.”

Congratulations to Potter’s Puppy Raisers Victoria Radel and the Berschig Family!

Graduate Stephanie and guide dog Harvey

Graduate Team: Stephanie and Harvey
About Harvey: Harvey, a male German Shepherd, is Stephanie’s second Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown: Mount Pleasant, South Carolina

Stephanie has really enjoyed getting to know Harvey and incorporating him into her life. She regularly visits Charleston for festivals, dinner with friends, or shopping, and Harvey is getting the hang of the area. They also visit the beach, church, and will be attending a book club! Stephanie’s family loves Harvey and are happy to see how much calmer and more courageous Stephanie has become with Harvey by her side.

How would you describe your guide dog? “He is a spectacular dog. He has a lot of energy, but he is so sweet and personable. Guiding Eyes matched us perfectly.”

Why did you decide to get a guide dog?  “My Orientation and Mobility Instructor actually suggested it. I didn’t feel confident and safe walking with a cane.”

Any training highlights?  “It was hard work, but so worth it. Getting comfortable with the obstacles that Harvey and I found difficult in the beginning was so satisfying.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life?  “I don’t have to be afraid of steps and curbs anymore. Harvey lets me have independence and safety.”

What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog?  “If you like dogs, DO IT. You have to respect them and treat them right and be motivated to really put in the work, but it is so worth it.”

How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “I loved Home Training with my instructor, Graham. He is an excellent teacher and I love that Guiding Eyes emphasizes gentle and positive reinforcement. I just loved the attitude at Guiding Eyes – I knew it was the place for me.”

Congratulations to Harvey’s Puppy Raiser, Donna Lynd!

Graduate Tina and guide dog Lennon

Graduate Team: Tina and Lennon
About Lennon: Lennon, a male black labrador, is Tina’s first guide dog
Hometown: Kings Mountain, North Carolina

Tina is a high school Spanish teacher and librarian who loves the outdoors, whether walking or fishing. She’s the mother of a 7-year-old boy who loves Lennon to the moon. Lennon accompanies Tina to church weekly, where she’s a member of the church choir. Her students are amazed by Lennon’s behavior and ability to help Tina. He has become a part of the family and they couldn’t imagine life without him.

How would you describe Lennon? “He is amazing. Sometimes I don’t even need to tell him what to do – he just does it on his own. He works so hard, but when he’s not working he becomes a big puppy. Everyone tells me he never takes his eyes off of me!”

Why did you decide to get a guide dog?  “I am a teacher and at one time had two service dogs in my class. I was amazed at how well behaved they were and how they were able to help my students. I thought there must be a dog that could help me too.”

Any training highlights?  “My Home Training Instructor Megan was a godsend. We have similar senses of humor and it was like having my sister there with me. Her candor really made it easy for me to understand how best to communicate with Lennon and I really appreciated that about her.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life?  “Lennon is not just a guide dog, he is part of our family. He brought us so much light and we just want him to be happy too. He took us from a bad situation and brought happiness to us and he allowed me to get on with my life.”

What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog?  “You don’t have to be afraid anymore or feel like you are stuck. There are things out there that can help you, and Guiding Eyes is one of them.”

How do you feel about Guiding Eyes?  “From the very beginning, Guiding Eyes was always in contact with me. I have always been welcomed to call and ask any questions I have. I really felt like everyone there was working hard for me.”

Congratulations to Lennon’s Puppy Raisers Danielle Dell’Aria and Joseph Swearenge!