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Drew and Russell

Meet Graduate Andrew

Drew and yellow Lab guide dog Russell sit for their team portraitGraduate Team:   Andrew and Russell
About the Team:  Russell is a male, yellow Labrador Retriever and Drew’s 1st guide dog.
Location:   Del Valle, Texas
Training:   April 2024 On-Campus

Drew grew up in El Paso, Texas, dreaming of a career in law enforcement, however, during his senior year of high school, he was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). Unsure about his future career path after living with a visual impairment, he decided to go to college and explore all the possibilities of careers for him. This decision led to a rewarding college and professional journey, igniting a passion for Assistive Technology. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from the University of North Texas (UNT), a master’s degree in educational technologies, (emphasis in Assistive Technology), from Northern Arizona University, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Leadership in Special Education from Texas Tech University. Today, he proudly serves as an Assistive Technology Access Coordinator at the University of Texas at Austin, his dream job. His mission is to help individuals achieve higher education degrees and secure better employment opportunities for an enhanced quality of life. He’s come to realize that making a significant impact on someone’s life doesn’t require a badge. Drew is married to the love of his life, Natalie, and they have been blessed with two wonderful daughters, Eiley and Emery. Outside of spending time with his family, Drew is passionate about running and is an avid supporter of the Dallas Cowboys. He also enthusiastically cheers for the Texas Longhorns in both men’s and women’s sports. Since his diagnosis, he has been unable to run independently. However, with Russell trained as his running guide, Drew eagerly anticipates their partnership in upcoming running events in Austin, Texas.

How would you describe your guide dog?  “Russell’s loving nature is especially evident with my toddlers, and each morning he eagerly wakes up, ready to help me break down barriers. In harness, he remains highly focused. Navigating the University of Texas campus presents numerous challenges, including diagonal street crossings and distractions from students rushing to class, all while contending with the heat. Despite these demands, Russell performs exceptionally well and is adapting admirably to life in Texas.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes?  “With the support of an exceptional team, we established a non-profit organization in El Paso affiliated with the American Council of the Blind, a national chapter. As President, I encountered several members who had highly trained guide dogs from Guiding Eyes. Through one of these members, I was introduced to Mike, a Regional Guide Dog Mobility Instructor with Guiding Eyes, at a national ACB conference where I received a scholarship. During the conference, I visited the information booths of various guide dog schools to compare their programs with what I had learned about Guiding Eyes. Based on my research and interactions, I decided to apply with Guiding Eyes and was paired with Russell the following year.”

How has a guide dog impacted your life? “There’s a saying that when using a cane, you find everything, and with a dog, you avoid everything.  At difficult street crossings, when I tell Russell to go to the curb or the ramp, he hits it every time. Trust is there and it’s continuing to build. It’s life-changing, knowing that he will get me across the street safely and where I need to be. Russell is a trained running guide, and simply having the freedom to hold the harness without needing to hold onto someone’s shoulder, was a very emotional moment for me, knowing I could go running whenever I want.”

Were there any training highlights?  “The train ride to Beacon, NY, was a remarkable experience. The trainer pointed out that West Point was just across the river, which was a special moment for me, knowing that America’s finest were so close by. Russell has profoundly transformed my life for the better, a change made possible by the dedication and support of the Guiding Eyes team, their supporters, and volunteers. I extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone involved for their hard work, which truly changes lives.”

Meet Guide Dog Russell

DOB:  3/10/2022
Litter ID: S-6N22
Color/Breed:  Yellow/Labrador
Gender: Male
Brood: Emblem
Stud: Everett
Littermates: Richie, Neala, Nigel, Nutella, Nexus, Navy, Newton, Nomad, Nashville
Region:  Richmond
Regional Puppy Instructor: Madeline Bruggeman
Puppy Raiser:  Aaron, Lily, & Joanna: The Yao Family
Facebook: Richmond Puppy Raisers

Special Recognition: Russell was special named by Wendy Milden in memory of her father, Russell, who loved dogs though he never had one of his own. Interestingly enough, her father’s middle name was Andrew.

Photos of the Team…