December 2019 Graduating Class

 In Graduations, News & Events
December-2019-Class

Congratulations to our December 2019 Graduating Class!

We thank this month’s sponsors for their generosity…

“Congratulations & Merry Christmas!”

– Paul Marchand

 

“Congratulations and Best Wishes to the December 2019 graduating guide dog teams.  Go forward and do great things.”

–  The Erie Region

 

“In Memory of Stella and Salvatore Cambriello. —  Always in our thoughts.”

–  The Cambriello Family

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

Residential Graduates
Allyson & Jefferson
Darrow & Ramona
Harry & Hans
Kari & Hershey
Lynette & Hope
Nicholas & Nitro
Noble & Buckley
Sabrina & Bruce
Thomas & Clifford

Home Training Graduates
Christina & Hilo
Marisa & Dustin
Mark & Elvis
Rodger & Beacon

Many Thanks to Our Training Staff
Class Supervisor:
Jolene Hollister
Class Instructors:
Laurel Sheets and Alyssa Tilley
Instructor Assistant:
Madison Swab
Running Guide Specialist:
Nick Speranza
Home Training Instructors:
Chrissy Vetrano, Susan Kroha,
Nikki Wentz and Jim Gardner

Meet Our Residential Training Graduates

Graduate Allyson and guide dog Jefferson

Graduate Team:  Allyson & Jefferson
About the Team:  Jefferson, a male black Lab, is Ally’s 2nd guide dog
Hometown: 
Groton, Connecticut

Ally, currently a Junior in high school, enjoys spending time with her friends and is looking forward to going to college in a few years. She’s considering different career paths, leaning towards Social Work or Speech Pathology. Ally lives with her mom, step-dad and two step-brothers. She also has a sister, away at college, who visits home as much as she can. When she and Jefferson head home, he will be joining Ally’s retired guide Irving, as well as the family pet dog, Jax and cat, Bella.

How would you describe your guide dog? “He is super cuddly; he loves to give kisses and I’m pretty sure he’d be perfectly happy living in my lap. When it comes to working, he is really driven and walks very quickly, which I love. I’m excited to get back into the swing of working with a guide dog and can’t wait to introduce Jefferson to my retired guide, Irving.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I came to visit Guiding Eyes with my Orientation & Mobility Instructor and a group of students a few years ago. It was great to see the campus and how everything works here. We learned about guide dogs and what is involved, and we even got to try walking with one – that won me over for sure.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “I would say Independence, 100%. I never really enjoyed using the cane, so when I would go out with friends, I’d typically walk with a sighted guide. It can be tough having to be attached to someone, so it’s great to be able to just get out and go on my own.”

Were there any training highlights? “When we did Juno walks the first day, I was very nervous. I wasn’t sure what to expect or whether it would feel ‘right’, the same way it did with my first guide. But when Jefferson and I walked together the first time, it was so natural that it felt like we had been working together for years.”

Congratulations Jefferson raisers, The Coligan Family, The Tucci Family and Grace Kneidel, Northern CT Region

Graduate Darrow and guide dog RamonaGraduate Team:  Darrow and Ramona
About the Team:  Ramona, a female yellow Lab, is Darrow’s 1st guide dog
Hometown:  Hamden, Connecticut

Darrow was an electrical engineer for 20 years, and during that time, he commuted for four years to Australia for a helicopter project. He was also a consultant to the French Navy. Later in life, his desire for a helping profession led him to spend 15 years as a police, fire, and EMS dispatcher.  Darrow is a huge fan of both classical music and ice hockey and hopes to resume playing chess. He enjoys walking and would love to get back to biking by learning to ride a tandem bicycle. Darrow and his wife have been together for 25 years, and being a dog lover, he fell in love with her English shepherd, as well as her when they met!

How would you describe your guide dog?  “Ramona is a big help to me, guiding me around and getting me places.  She’s got a wonderful personality and I can feel that we’re bonding already.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes?  “I’ve always had pet dogs and am a dog lover.  When I became legally blind, I became proficient with a white cane, but didn’t feel totally confident with that.  I’d heard that guide dogs really help a lot, and there’s no doubt that the biggest impact is confidence building.  I was looking online at guide dog schools and found Guiding Eyes was close to home.  I was invited to attend to a graduation, so my wife and I came, and within ten minutes we were sold!  Everyone was so nice, and we could see how things operate. Then, it turns out I met a graduate at NFB and she, and everyone else we’ve talked to, highly recommended the school, so it was kind of obvious where to go.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog?   “I’m a classical music lover and attend the philharmonic concerts at Lincoln Center, so I’m very much looking forward to Ramona guiding me on Metro North, through Grand Central and on the subways in Manhattan.  She’ll help me in New Haven, at Yale University too, where there’s a world of concerts and interesting lectures, that I’m fairly active in. This dog will give me tremendous confidence there.”

Were there any training highlights?  “The highlight was the very first time I walked with Ramona and my trainer, and I really felt how good it is to walk with a guide dog!”

Congratulations Ramona’s raiser, Georgia  E. Male, Northern CT Region

Graduate Harry and guide dog Hans

Graduate Team:  Harry & Hans
About the Team:  Hans, a male German Shepherd, is Harry’s 3rd Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown: 
Pompano Beach, Florida

Harry, originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, earned his bachelor’s in Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences specializing in Chemical Oceanography, a Master’s in Engineering, and an MBA, at the University of Michigan. He taught freshman Engineering Computing as a graduate student and remains a huge fan of the University to this day. Harry worked in Project Management for many years, for several massive projects, including the Big Dig in Boston and Port Authority of New York/New Jersey. Harry is a cancer survivor and triumphed over a spinal cord injury. He’s a huge supporter of Guiding Eyes, always carrying information in his pocket to hand out. He looks forward to many adventures with Hans.

How would you describe your guide dog? “Hans is happy, helpful, and always willing to learn. He is such a lovey-dovey dog. I’ve never had a shepherd that wanted to kiss me so often. When he isn’t working, he has unlimited energy; just wants to play, play, play. He’s given me this exponential increase in that feeling of freedom.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “Before I applied for my first guide dog, I was at the Miami Lighthouse and met their CEO, a graduate of Guiding Eyes. She, along with my Orientation & Mobility Instructor, suggested I apply here. I applied to a few different schools, but that, and the response from Guiding Eyes, made the choice very clear.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “Just that I’ll have my best friend with me all the time. I’m excited to continue to build on our partnership and the camaraderie that comes with that. I travel a lot. I flew almost 100 times with my first guide Georganne, and probably about 50 times with my second guide, Lance, so I’m excited to see what adventures Hans and I will get up to.”

Were there any training highlights? “Training has been phenomenal. It was just an exuberant feeling. We were patient with each other and really worked well together; it was just flawless. As an overall experience, Guiding Eyes is fabulous across the board. The food service, housekeeping, refreshments, you’re not wanting for anything. I’d never go anywhere else.”

Congratulations Hans’ raisers, Julie & David  Albany, Richmond Region

Graduate Kari and guide dog HersheyGraduate Team:  Kari and Hershey
About the Team:  Hershey, a male yellow Lab, is Kari’s 7th Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown:  Reedsville, Pennsylvania

Kari will soon mark her 21st anniversary with Guiding Eyes, as she returns for her 7th dog.  She volunteers with New Visions and is currently serving her second three-year term on their Board of Directors. Kari has also volunteered, doing presentations to schools, senior centers, and other organizations, to promote blindness awareness and guide dog etiquette. Kari enjoys reading, walking, talking with friends, and is particularly passionate about traveling and hopes to do more. 

How would you describe your guide dog?  “Hershey absolutely adores affection; he’s the largest lap dog I’ve ever had!   He’s my first yellow Lab.  All my dogs have been black, including my shepherd. He is learning what I’m comfortable doing, like going slower on rough sidewalks.  When things come together, it’s like, oh wow, we really fit!

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes?  “Guiding Eyes has never let me down.  They’ve always been understanding, compassionate, and willing and eager to do what they can to help. The follow-up support has been amazing.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life?  “I consider myself a fairly independent person.  I’ll figure out a way to get there one way or another, but a dog makes it easier.  People aren’t as hesitant to approach you with a dog, as they are if they see you with a cane. Also, a guide dog gives me more independence, so I need to rely less on others, particularly as I love to walk.  It’s companionship, too.”

Were there any training highlights?  “I think it’s the fact of getting more and more comfortable; the getting to know one another.  When you first feel it starting to happen, it overflows your heart.  It’s working together to keep each other safe.”

Congratulations Hershey’s raisers, The Kelly Family,  Maas Family, and Lynette Fox, Erie Region

Graduate Lynette and guide dog Hope

Graduate Team:   Lynette and Hope
About the Team:  Hope, a female black Lab, is Lynette’s 1st Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown:  Eagle Point, Oregon

Lynette is a seasoned guide dog user who volunteers at elementary schools in a Smart Reading program for First and Second graders, that encourages literacy. She also teaches Sunday School for students 15-17 years old. Lynette enjoys working with people and would like to find employment as a teacher’s aide. She is fond of reading and taking walks with her dog and she loves to bake. Be sure to ask her about her Pumpkin Muffins and Indian Fruit Cake! No doubt, Hope can look forward to enjoying pleasant smells coming from the kitchen when they get home to Oregon.

How would you describe your guide dog? “She’s such a love and a sweetheart. I call her ‘Princess’ because of the dainty way she eats a few pieces at a time – unlike most Labradors! She’s very cautious and conscientious when working, learning quickly that I need to go slowly and carefully on the stairs. She’s smart and takes initiative and I love that. I’m over the moon for her.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I heard lots of good things from former students. I was hoping they’d give me a chance and they did. One thing I like about this school is that we’re treated with respect. I appreciate that. It’s been a fantastic experience. If I believe strongly in something, I want to back it, so I want to tell everyone about Guiding Eyes.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “Ah, it makes life so much easier. You can get around better, avoiding things the cane might catch on. A guide dog shows you things you may not have known were there. You’re a team that works together. I appreciate the cane, but a dog is my preferred method of travel. Tell them ‘find the door’ and zoom-zoom, you go.”

Were there any training highlights? “The first time I picked up the harness handle, I knew this was the dog for me.”

Congratulations Hope’s raisers, Natalie and Noora McCormick, New Hampshire Region

Graduate Noble and guide dog NitroGraduate Team:  Nick and Nitro
About the Team:  Nitro, a male black Lab, is Nick’s 6th guide dog and 2nd from Guiding Eyes
Hometown:  Endicott, New York

Nick is happily retired after working more than 40 years in the Electronics/Computer industry, including his 31 years at IBM.  He loves to fish when he can find the time, as he and his wife enjoy spending as much time as they can with their grandchildren. Nick says he is as busy with them as he was when he was working, and if he and his wife had known how much fun it would be, he might have retired sooner! No doubt the little ones will be looking forward to meeting Nitro when he and their grandfather return home.

How would you describe your guide dog?  “Nitro is very unique.  He seems to be very, very smart – he almost anticipates and his movements are very smooth, which really impresses me.  The first year seems to be a real learning curve, when you bond and figure out how to work with the dog, and I’m sure, the dog has to figure out how to work with the person, too.  I’m looking forward to that.  It’s a great match, which is attributable to a top-notch staff; I can’t say enough about that.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “Like I said, the staff is top notch; from the administrators, to the trainers, to the people who work in the kitchen. In my opinion, this school is the best in the country. My first dog from here, Fairfax, was wonderful; a great dog I had for many years.  I normally don’t like leaving home, but now I’m here with Nitro and I’m glad I did.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life?  “Having a guide dog makes life far safer and more efficient.  It’s much faster. What I can do using a cane, I can do at least 50 percent faster and safer with a dog; easily.”

Were there any training highlights?  “I noticed a big difference in the training. It’s all positive, but I was personally surprised at how much the training procedures and protocols have changed since my first time here.  It’s an evolution; finding better ways to do things. The trainers are just great.”

Congratulations Nitro’s raisers, Ken & Barbara Martin, Adirondack Region

Graduate Noble and guide dog Buckley

Graduate Team:  Noble and Buckley
About the Team:  Buckley, a male yellow Lab, is Noble’s 1st guide dog
Hometown: 
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Noble is employed at the Louisiana Department of Veteran’s Affairs, doing data entry for the federal program. He is a sports enthusiast, citing football and baseball are his favorites, but he and his family are avid fans of the Louisiana State University Tigers. Over the past 17 years, Noble has attended the Sugar Bowl and many championships and games against LSU’s key rivals.  He’s looking forward to future games with Buckley, and his supportive family and coworkers happily anticipate meeting Buckley, when the new team returns home.

How would you describe your guide dog?  “Buckley’s a good dog. He does a good job when he’s in the harness; he’s serious because he knows he’s working. He can be laid back, but he loves to run around; he has a lot of energy first thing in the morning! Buckley really loves tug of war with his toy bone, when we play together.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I know this was the best school for me. I applied to a few schools, but Guiding Eyes was the one that responded quickly, and I was really honored that a representative took the time to come to Louisiana to speak with me. I was blown away at how hands-on Guiding Eyes is, even supporting you after you graduate. I was a little nervous about traveling by plane to the school, but it’s such a welcoming environment when you get here, all that nervousness left me. Everyone – staff and classmates, have been very supportive.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “I look forward to Buckley learning my routes and meeting my family and our dogs at home. We’ll be a good team. He’ll help expand my horizons and opportunities at work, because I’ll be able to do more, like running errands. I won’t need to rely on other people as much with a dog and I’ll have better mobility. I’ll be entrusting my safety to him.”

Were there any training highlights?  “Getting to know this guy. I’ve really liked bonding with him and learning together. I love dogs and have always been around them as pets, but watching him work – it’s pretty cool.”

Congratulations Buckley’s raiser, Gayle A. Papesh, Cleveland West Region

Graduate Sabrina and guide dog BruceGraduate Team:  Sabrina & Bruce
About the Team:  Bruce, a male yellow Lab, is Sabrina’s 1st Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown: 
Hanahan, South Carolina

Sabrina is originally from northern California, but now resides in South Carolina with her husband Robert and 8-year-old daughter, Cheyenne. Sabrina loves to cook, (“anything she can get her hands on”), and trying different recipes for her family. She enjoys reading, singing and playing piano, and looks forward to joining the worship team at her church, but most of all she loves to spend time with her family. Every day they’ve been in training, Cheyenne has ‘Facetimed’ with her mom and Bruce, and can’t wait to meet him when they return home.

How would you describe your guide dog? “Bruce is so lovable; he loves to snuggle and give kisses. I like to call him my big teddy bear.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I have always had a fascination with guide dogs. Having a dog is like having sight. I don’t have to worry about running into trash cans or a telephone pole. I’ve had guide dogs from other schools, but when I met my husband in 2004, I met his Guiding Eyes dog, Diamond, and fell in love with them both at the same time. They brought me to Guiding Eyes and I’m so glad to be here.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “I think the biggest impact of a guide dog is their loyalty to you. They love you unconditionally and the fact that they put your safety first means so much. They’re concerned with your safety, above all.”

Were there any training highlights? “That first initial walk with him was a highlight for me. It was like we were made for each other; it was this instant bond. I am so happy that I came here to Guiding Eyes. Everybody just seems like family here.”

Congratulations Bruce’s raisers, Justin K. Sowden, Breanna Fleet, Deb Dik, Erin Niedzielski, Maine Region

Graduate Thomas and guide dog CliffordGraduate Team:  Thomas and Clifford
About the Team:  Clifford, a male yellow Lab, is Tom’s 2nd Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown: 
Janesville, Wisconsin

Tom retired from being a Chemistry and Biology teacher for Jr and Sr High School students after 34 years. After receiving his first dog, he served a 3 year term on the Guiding Eyes Graduate Council. One of Tom’s hobbies is carving replicas of old Indian soapstone pipes. Having been an outdoorsman all his life, Tom truly enjoys being part of a Fur Trade Era reenactment group, participating in living history from the French and Indian War period. He has no doubt, that his “big red dog” Clifford, will fit right into this world of buckskin, back country and 30 ft canoes.

How would you describe your guide dog? “When asked to describe the type of dog I was hoping to get, I said a male, yellow, large, robust and rowdy. And that’s Clifford.  He’s also very mellow and loving. When we’re just chilling, he’s very calm, but when we play, he’s more like a Tyrannosaurus Rex. He’s great.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes?  “I have lived with a progressive eye disorder and as my vision worsened, I decided a guide would be very helpful.  At a Low Vision conference, a woman came in with her Guiding Eyes guide dog. She described Guiding Eyes and the training, so I called here, and I liked what I heard. The experience was such an adventure; such a fantastic experience. They were so prompt and efficient in helping me and sending out a field rep. After getting my first dog, J.J., there’s no place else I would ever go. I wanted to stay connected, so I joined the Graduate Council. It’s an awesome place. Guiding Eyes dogs are superior, and I believe the school is of the highest quality; such attention to genetics and training, and the instructors are incredibly good.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “The difference between walking with a dog and the cane is just incredible. There’s such confidence and freedom when you know you can go wherever you want to go. I know those who have pets love their dogs, but if you’ve never had a guide dog you cannot understand the connection; the bond. We’re joined at the hip. We go everywhere together. You learn to read each other’s minds. A team. It has to be experienced. It can’t be described.”

Were there any training highlights?  “The almost instant bond between the two of us. The first time I put the harness on him, I knew… this is the guy.”

Congratulations Clifford’s raisers, Elizabeth Williams and Family, Southern Tier Region

Meet Our Home Training Graduates

Grad Christina and guide dog HiloGraduate Team:  Christina and Hilo
About the Team:  Hilo, a female black Lab, is Chrissy’s 2nd Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown:  Dunmore, Pennsylvania

Chrissy is a very outgoing person and one of her favorite things is simply social interaction. She regularly participates in the activities held at her local Blindness Association, enjoying everything from exercise and life skills classes, movie day and book club to social group and sensory development crafting. She is also involved in her local chapter of the American Council of the Blind. Hilo will be a welcomed companion when she and Chrissy take part in all their many weekly activities and socialization opportunities.

How would you describe your guide dog? “Hilo and I are continuing to get to know each other and bonding more with each day. She’s precious; a beautiful, loving and amazing dog. She loves to work and she loves to play! Guide dogs are phenomenal animals. They get so excited when they see that harness. The tail starts wagging – we’re going to work!”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I looked to a guide dog for increased independence and to feel more secure and safe. I went to Guiding Eyes to receive my first dog, Atlas, because the school came highly recommended from a graduate. A very good friend of mine had received all of his guide dogs from there.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “It’s the freedom, the independence and constant companionship… and the loyalty. A guide dog is the gift that keeps on giving. As long as you are there with the praise and show them the love and compassion, they’ll give it all right back to you. They are amazing animals and it’s a team effort.”

Were there any training highlights?  “I have been in the Residential Training program and now, in the Home Training program. I liked them both. I enjoyed the atmosphere at the school and interacting with other blind classmates. However, this time I really enjoyed training in my own neighborhood and introducing it to Hilo.  I was familiar with the routes and I could experience Hilo learning them as well.”

Congratulations Hilo’s raisers, Hugh Sigmon & Paula Wiles Sigmon, The Maron Pastilha Family, Jill Snadecki, Southwest CT , Westchester and Dutchess Regions

Graduate Team: Marisa and Dustin
About the Team:  Dustin, a male yellow Lab, is Marisa’s 3rd Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown:  Staten Island, New York

Marisa returns for her 3rd Guiding Eyes dog. She is a very active traveler and as a musician, often travels with her guitar or other instruments on her back. Whether on routes within their own neighborhood or in New York City, Marisa and Dustin will be found using public transportation like the ferry, subways and trains, on their frequent journeys and future adventures. 

Congratulations Dustin’s raiser, Connie McCullough, Baltimore Region

Grad Mark and guide dog ElvisGraduate Team:  Mark and Elvis
About the Team:  Elvis, a male black Lab, is Mark’s 3rd Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown:  Manchester, New Hampshire

Mark has a master’s degree in Dog Behavioral Science and is self-employed at Advanced Canine Training. After years of training dogs for those who work in the field of police, detection and search and rescue, he has transitioned into private training. He teaches dogs, (and their people!), basic obedience, citizenship, agility and show dog training. Mark likes walking and hiking, but most enjoys watching TV and movies with his wife, his main source of support, who Elvis has taken quite a liking to, as well. The three of them look forward to life and good times together.

How would you describe your guide dog? “He’s an awesome dog with his own personality. He’s laid back and he loves to please. It really blew my mind how well we were matched. It’s as if we’ve been working together for years. Just a magical bond.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes?  “I had two stunning and incredible dogs from Guiding Eyes and I wouldn’t go anywhere else. The trainers are incredible and the training style is professional yet homey, with flexibility geared towards making sure you and your dog are working right together. My trainer, Nikki was very accommodating and great to work with. The focus at Guiding Eyes is on sending out good teams, and the follow-up support is beyond phenomenal. The care and concern I received from the vet staff, when my second dog, Tammy, reached the end of her life, meant the world to me.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “It was a complete 180° turn around. I can let the dog do his job. Guiding Eyes has given me the freedom to be the husband I want to be. To be able to go on a date with my wife, where I’m free to hold her hand and focus on listening and talking to her, rather than looking for the next bump or obstacle. My social life is so much more positive.”

Were there any training highlights? “Elvis blew me away at our very 1st training session. Here was this dog I’d barely met the day before, and he guided me off the sidewalk to avoid the overhead branches I have been walking into almost every day. Then he steered me right back and we continued on. I was brought to tears. It was one of those drop to your knees moments.”

Congratulations Elvis’ raisers, Barb and Garry  Paszul, Adirondack Region

Graduate Team: Rodger and Beacon
About the Team:  Beacon, a male black Lab, is Rodger’s 2nd Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown:  Brooklyn, New York

Rodger is retired from an administrative/clerical position. He enjoys the independence of walking and doing errands with a guide dog around his Brooklyn neighborhood. He returns to us for his second dog Beacon, citing a wonderful experience regarding his years with retired Guiding Eyes dog, Fancy. Rodger is very excited to bring Beacon into his home, maintaining his independence and mobility.

Congratulations Beacon’s raiser, Alexandra de Foucault, Erie Region

Hara, a black lab, lays on her back on the wooden floor and looks up playfully at the camera.Thomas Panek sits on the couch during a Today Show segment along with the hosts.
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