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February 2004 Graduating Class

Meet the members of our most recent training class who graduated successfully on February 21, 2004. Their uplifting stories reflect determination to lead independent lives with greater freedom to fulfill their personal goals. Please consider providing your support to future guide dog teams like them.

Support Guiding Eyes Many thanks to volunteer Marge Widman for contributing the interviews and photographs for this article.

Cody Christiansen and Tucker

Cody hails from Spokane, Washington – way across the country. He was referred to Guiding Eyes by his mobility instructor and describes his initial encounter with the school’s staff as “pleasant and receptive.” Cody says he has met the perfect partner in Tucker. He is particlarly fond of Tucker’s penchant for seeking out his master’s discarded clothing, pulling it onto the floor and sleeping on it for the night (a nice soft bed with a familiar aroma). Cody, who does not have the use of his right arm, says he doesn’t expect perfection from his companion, but gives high praise for Tucker’s incredible, innate adaptability to his master’s special needs. Cody also gave high praise to Guiding Eyes’ compassionate staff. Dan Lazich and Josh Dan participated in Guiding Eyes’ accelerated training program, ACTION. He and his wife live in Tonawanda, New York and both have guide dogs. Unfortunately, because of his accelerated schedule, Dan was not available for an interview.

Grant Marshall and Charcoal

Grant comes from Calgary, Alberta in Canada and is a student at Bow College. He has been blind since the age of eight. Grant said he learned about Guiding Eyes through an introductory pamphlet about the school and its programs. Living in Canada, he wanted to be sure there would be snow in his training locale and we certainly had plenty of that for him this February! Grant’s dog, Charcoal, especially enjoys ball retrieval during his playtime with Grant. Charcoal would most probably describe his master as being laid back, but sociable and liking to make people laugh. Grant, who is adept at computer programming, aspires to becoming a lawyer. He expects that with Charcoal, he will experience greater confidence and independence. It was hard for him to pick a favorite pastime during his stay at Guiding Eyes, but he did say that the trip to Manhattan was “super great.”

James Thompson and Hansel

James describes himself as a Virginia transplant, who having lived there for many years, feels he is by now almost a native. Before he became sightless four years ago, James was engaged in construction work. When he returns home from Yorktown Heights, he looks forward to working with Lions’ World – (a company parented by Lions Clubs of America) where he does small engine repair work. James is also a talented guitarist and likes all types of music from metal to classics. He plays and leads the music program for approximately 30 tots in his Lutheran church at home. Apparently they have as much fun in the program as he does! James treated the audience at Graduation to his own original composition – music and words, based on life with a Guiding Eyes dog; there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. James says that Hansel has given him much more confidence in his ability to get around. He especially appreciates Hansel’s competent direction on busy street crossings. Regarding the class, he said “You couldn’t have picked a better bunch of people – we’re all on the same wave length.”

Jim Gelardi and Grady

Grady is Jim’s second guide dog; his former guide dog passed away last November. It wasn’t instantaneous, but Jim bonded for real with Grady, during their second week together at the training school. Jim and his wife live in Valhalla, New York and are the parents of twins, age 27. Although Jim has formally “retired” from a full-time law practice, he does do legal work for local advocacy groups. Of particular importance to him, is his horse, Cajun, who is kept at a stable in Putnam County, where they do ring work together. Grady and Cajun are sure to meet soon. Full of praise for Guiding Eyes’ instructors, Jim said his favorite training period was the time he spent with the class at the Jefferson Valley Mall. Ken Tanner and Racer Ken is a returning Graduate of Guiding Eyes. He lives in Blasdell, New York. Unfortunately, he was not available for an interview.

Matt Lynn and Vale

Matt comes from Chesapeake, Virginia. He learned about Guiding Eyes through research on the Internet. When he contacted Guiding Eyes, he was impressed with their friendly and thorough approach and their obvious desire to accommodate his needs. Matt is finishing his last year in high school; his ambition is to study for a career in teaching Special Ed. Matt (thinking hard, then smiling) describes himself as a “multiple personality.” He feels that with Vale at his side, he will experience an independence that will enable him to travel with ease, locally and afar. He enjoys Vale’s appreciation for playtime, but praises him for his valuable guidance as well. “Oh yes.” he added, “the food here is great!”

Nate Cooney and Fisher

Nate, who is from Springfield, Ohio, researched many guide dog schools but his choice was easy once he had spoken personally with the Guiding Eyes team in Yorktown Heights. Nate was blinded in February 2002 as a result of accidental exposure to a toxic chemical in the chemistry lab at the college he attended. Nate sees himself as others see him: an outgoing, “people person” who likes to laugh. His goal in life is to “love the Lord and to serve others.” He will enter Wright State University (Dayton, OH) this spring to further that pursuit with studies in clinical psychology. Nate says his experiences so far with his new guide dog, Fisher have been “life changing.” He says Fisher is a dog with a mission; “He’s all business and just takes me along for the ride – I can’t imagine not having him by my side.” He also talked about some wonderful emotional moments with Fisher which confirmed their bonding. What he enjoys most is “being able to walk with a new sense of freedom and independence, to trust Fisher and learn how to read his movements, and to have him not just as my guide, but as a companion who loves me and looks out for me.”

Nicole Pedone and Lorenzo

If Webster’s dictionary included a definition for the persona of Nicole, it most likely would be something like: a petite, “20-something” female, full of positive emotional and physical energy, who has a contagious zest for life and inter-personal communication and relationships with others. Nicole had high praise for Lorenzo’s puppy raisers, who took on the awesome and challenging assignment for a Girl Scout project. Thanks to their faithful and sensitive training, Nicole has become the happy recipient of a laid-back but subtly mischievous, alert, obedient and dependable Lorenzo, who constantly affirms his affection for her with sloppy kisses. Nicole was particularly impressed with Lorenzo’s expertise in guiding her around a potentially dangerous patch of ice. When Nicole returns to her home in Cleveland, Ohio, a new and challenging job awaits her. Her talent and sensitivity in communicating was evident when she spoke at her class’ Graduation. She describes her fellow students’ camaraderie as “wonderful.” Everyone, she said, although different in so many ways, was knit together by our common purpose of building personal motivation and confidence. She especially enjoyed the sense of humor which prevailed.

Ruth Humes and Judd

Ruth, a 25-year old vivacious redhead, came all the way from St. Peters, Missouri to meet her first Guiding Eyes dog, Judd. Ruth describes Judd as very sweet and they clearly make a wonderful combination. In addition to her blindness, Ruth has trouble keeping her physical balance. Judd seems to understand that and foresees and warns her of all possible impending mishaps. She spoke with pride about how Judd adroitly maneuvered her position in an elevator during their training at the Jefferson Valley Mall. Thanks to moments like that, she says she lost her fear of “solo walks.” At home, Ruth serves at an animal shelter one day a week and as a receptionist for her Mother who is a massage therapist. Ruth said the obedience training was her favorite part of the Guiding Eyes program. She also commended her instructors for their expertise and kindness. Ruth shared all these feelings and more in a poem she composed for her class and presented at Graduation.

Tracy Garbutt and Vargo

Another Canadian, Tracy is from Winnepeg, Manitoba. He was introduced to Guiding Eyes at a conference he attended. Vargo is Tracy’s first guide dog and the bonding between them took place immediately. Tracy describes himself as being energetic and sociable – and describes this class’ dynamics as being enjoyable: a variety of totally different personalities, brought together and fired with purpose and ambition for lifetime success. He feels, like many others, that his training here will lead to greater independence at work and as a traveler. Tracy is a rehabilitation teacher for the sight-impaired – both with groups and individuals. One of his favorite memories was the training day he spent in New York City – the hectic traffic, the bustling commuter train, the New York subway and all of the city’s other challenges. It was all great!