Meet the members of our most recent training class who graduated successfully on February 19, 2005. 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.
Wayne (Squirrel) Field & Hadley
Wayne (Squirrel) Field, who hails from Worcester, Massachusetts, has lived an extraordinarily interesting and exciting life. He is termed legally blind because of cataracts but lost even more of his sight in a serious automobile accident 25 years ago. Following the death of his mother, Wayne was advised by her doctor to come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for a dog. He’s now back for his third. (Florence Jean, his second dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind is now happily retired at home.) Wayne describes himself as upbeat, outgoing, loving sports and helping others. A former student at Virginia Tech – majoring in Architectural Drafting – Wayne has always kept himself busy with a plethora of activities. At the age of 45, he serves as a JAG officer and Military Attorney and is working to secure greater benefits and protection for blinded Veterans. Married now for two years, he admits to having a “quiet side;” he loves to read books and to write “light poetry.” Speaking of his new dog’s personality, Wayne says Hadley behaves like a typical male: stubborn, thick-headed, but a great worker. He’s sure that Hadley will enjoy participating in hospital pet therapy, accompanying him into the courtroom, and taking trips (like a Horizon Cruise). Bonding with Hadley has been “the total experience:” cuddling, playing, doing everything a canine loves to do! Wayne speaks of Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s staff as “fantastic.” He said, “they will do everything they can for everyone! They are immeasurably wonderful!”
Marybeth Gilchrest & Linda
Marybeth Gilchrest came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind from Arlington, Massachusetts to claim her second dog, Linda. Marybeth is 26 and a “very happy camper” at Guiding Eyes for the Blind where she says she can develop her life skills with a guide dog. Blind since birth with Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis, Marybeth describes herself as being “laid back, hyper at times, but likes people.” She also values her own “alone time.” Marybeth attended public schools but later matriculated through the Perkins School for the Blind from the sixth through the twelfth grade. It was there that she learned Braille, as well as other important living skills. After studying for two years at the University of Massachusetts, Marybeth now works for the National Braille Press, a rapidly growing non-profit organization which produces book materials for the blind. In her “downtime,” she enjoys reading (no Westerns, though she says). She describes her new dog, Linda, as scrappy, sweet, independent, and very eager to please. Marybeth knows that Linda will give her greater mobility when they are back home together and will be attentive to her mistress’ thoughts, frustrations and ideas (but won’t tell a soul!). Voicing generous accolades for Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s staff of instructors, Marybeth says they “take care of everyone and respect our differences.” Marybeth feels a bonding has already taken place with Linda. As Linda lies on her back and begs for a tummy tickle from her new mistress, it’s obvious that they both enjoy the exchange of affection very much.
Linda Hackett & Ginny
Toronto, Canada is home to Linda Hackett who came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her sixth guide dog. Ginny is her second dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Linda learned of Guiding Eyes from her friends. She was born blind from bilateral Retinoblastoma. Linda is a sensitive, warm, quiet, independent and friendly person who enjoys meeting and learning about others. She was employed by Bell Canada as a long distance overseas operator but, when the company downsized, was one of many who were given leave. She now enjoys working as an office volunteer for Meals on Wheels and pursuing her collecting hobbies. She has a large collection of stuffed bears and a vast collection of bells. She especially favors brass and Swiss bells because of the beautiful music they produce. Linda loves music, especially music from the sixties and seventies – oh, and the Beatles! When asked to describe her new guide and companion, Linda enthusiastically exclaimed that, “she is gentle, wants to please, is patient, and is a wonderful worker.” Recently recovered from a bout with breast cancer and resultant mastectomy, Linda treasures each day and is eager to go on with a vibrant and useful life. She feels that Ginny will not only be a wonderful guide in helping her to move about and regain her independence, but an invaluable companion. In Linda’s words, “Guiding Eyes is a great institution – a supportive, happy and constructive environment filled with sympathetic, empathetic and helpful listeners.” Linda loves the February class and rates it as “great.” “Ginny loves me, I know,” says Linda. “She kisses me a lot and in the morning, at wake-up time, nudges me by gently putting her head on my foot. My most exciting moments were when Ginny led me around the campus building for the first time. I was able to feel confident about getting around once again!”
Thomas Hartman & Rusty
Thomas Hartman from Chicago, Illinois, is claiming his first dog, Rusty, from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. He came to the school at the advice of a friend, Nancy Koehler. When Tom was six weeks old, he was diagnosed as having Congenital Cataracts. Every three months brought yet another operation and, ultimately, led to a final diagnosis of Glaucoma. After a multitude of checkups and more medications, Tom was diagnosed as “legally blind.” Tom is self-described as being nice, friendly and eager to meet new people. That has led him to work for the last ten years for the Chicago Hilton as a Steward Utility Worker, a job that he really enjoys. Single and now 46 years old, Tom claims that he is a good teacher and is articulate in communicating his feelings and knowledge. He puts these skills to work in training classes for the Light House for the Blind in Chicago. Tom boasts of being a “good Lutheran” and says his hobbies include reading, listening to tapes, watching TV, shopping, and enjoying dinner with friends. Rusty, a handsome tan and black Lab, is friendly, affectionate and a concentrated worker. “He will be a big help to me,” Tom said. “ Rusty already has given me an unbelievable feeling of confidence in walking around, finding curbs and other obstacles.” Tom was effusive in extolling the work of Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s trainers and instructors. “Their consideration, help and correction are inconceivable. They really care about us!” Tom is termed as a “Special Needs” student due to a bad ankle and requisite leg brace, which at times cause him to lose his balance. Rusty is very special in that he is a right-side dog, trained to work on the opposite side of his master from most guide dogs. Tom was amazed by Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s ability to accommodate his particular need with this specially trained dog. He is immensely grateful for Rusty, even when he paws his master to wake him up early every morning. It’s just Rusty’s way of confirming his allegiance and devotion.
Jenice Heck & Gaston
This month’s class included two ACTION (Accelerated Client Training Option) students, the first of whom is Jenice Heck from New Orleans, Louisiana. Jenice first chose to come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind through research on the Internet. Now she is returning for Gaston, her second dog. (She brought her former four- legged pal along with her to be placed in Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s Adoption Program.) Jenice was termed legally blind at birth as the result of Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis (a gene deficiency). Now 32, Jenice is married and is happily three months pregnant with her first child. Self-described as outgoing, a bit stubborn but compassionate, Jenice feels that she has achieved most, if not all, of her life goals. After training at Louisiana State University Medical Center, she became a Licensed Occupational Therapist and Practitioner. She then earned her Masters in Mass Communications from LSU at Baton Rouge and is currently employed as Program Coordinator of Adult Education and Community Relations for The Light House for the Blind. Jenice’s new dog, Gaston, is easygoing, playful and a good worker. She is certain he will enable her to travel about with more confidence and greater ease when they are home in Louisiana together. Jenice describes Guiding Eyes for the Blind as “top-notch quality – the very best there is.” She added, “The trainers know what they’re doing, are totally dedicated, and really deliver the goods.”
Yvonne Hill & Kaiser
Yvonne Hill is from Union, Oregon, a small town with 1,100 inhabitants, located in the very northeast corner of the state. This energetic, sixty-year-young woman, mom of three biological offspring and one foster daughter, is truly a “frontier woman.” She said that coming to Yorktown Heights and White Plains have really been a “culture shock” for her. But that didn’t stop her from returning to Guiding Eyes for her second dog, Kaiser. Yvonne lost her sight 25 years ago as the result of Retinitis Pigmentosa and Retinal Detachment. Shortly thereafter, when not completely blind, she was blindfolded for six months at the Oregon State Center for the Blind to acclimate her to vision loss. Yvonne describes herself as an outgoing, outdoorsy, involved woman. She has just bought an old house to renovate – she is decorating it herself from the inside out – and a new horse named Three Socks. Retired from the job she held for thirty years as a 911 Dispatcher, Yvonne says she now loves to garden, hunt ducks, elk and deer, and go ice camping and fishing! She also loves indoor sports like knitting, quilting, crocheting, and canning. Yvonne describes her new dog, Kaiser as a “gentle giant” who works well. She says he will fit into her life style. She will give Kaiser Mondays “off” to have fun and play. The rest of the week he will walk to the market with her, accompany her on her other errands and tasks, and on Sundays, will attend her four-hour Mormon Church service. About Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Yvonne said, “I love it here. The people are kind, the instructors are great, and the accommodations wonderful.”
Alfred (AJ) Inglesby & Gigi
Alfred (“AJ”) Inglesby traveled down from Canandaigua, New York in the Finger Lakes region of New York State to claim his second dog Gigi, from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. He chose Guiding Eyes for the Blind through research on the Internet and advice from his mobility instructor. AJ is legally blind as the result of Congenital Cataracts that ultimately developed into Glaucoma. He can, however, see light and colors. AJ recounts that he made great efforts for a year to be without a dog, but then decided to reapply and “get on with his life.” One look at AJ, and you can guess that this 24- year old is a happy, outgoing, friendly (yet laid back) individual who loves to “hang out” with friends. With a few interruptions for surgery, he has matriculated at Niagara University for two years and now hopes to finish his college education. His major? Sports and Tourism Management! AJ loves sports and is presently interning towards being a certified coach, focusing on football, basketball and baseball. (He feels strongly that coaches often take too much blame, and receive too little credit for what they do.) AJ also enjoys listening to books on tape and music. Describing Gigi as “laid back, with an attitude of sassiness,” he knows that she will give him more mobility when he goes back to college and to work in the community. He says that at playtime, Gigi has been his instructor – she has taught him how to play! Speaking of the February class, the instructors, and the training, AJ says his experience at Guiding Eyes for the Blind has been “fabulous, in every way!” Al’s bond with Gigi is growing by the day. He said that she gives him her paw for attention and places her nose and muzzle on his lap for a welcome ear-scratch. Ah, love.
Patrick Lynam & Grant
Patrick Lynam hails from Wilmington, Delaware and came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind to claim his first dog, Grant. He learned of Guiding Eyes for the Blind through a convincing recommendation from the Delaware Division for the Visually Impaired. Now 53, Patrick has experienced a slow and progressive degeneration of his eyesight due to Retinitis Pigmentosa. Pat describes himself as being easygoing, very organized and one who likes being around people. A graduate of the University of Delaware, earning a B.A. in Special Education, Patrick spent many years teaching classes of 12-15 youngsters with learning disabilities. Pat is recently retired and says that he is now happy doing jobs in and around his house and for members of his extended family (he boasts of having 16 nephews and nieces.) He walks a regimented three miles per day, shovels snow, cleans windows, and works around the yard, all for pleasure and recreation. He describes his new dog’s personality as calm, easy going, and a good listener and adds that Grant really likes attention – especially at 6 in the morning when it’s time to get up. He speaks of the Guiding Eyes for the Blind environs, staff and experience, all in terms of greatness. “Everything is great. The program is very well organized. The staff truly cares about each student and they know what they’re doing. It’s like being back in school, only I’m the kid!” Patrick expressed absolute delight and confidence in his traffic walks with Grant as well as all the other training exercises.
Mark McLean & Impala
What a pleasure to meet Mark McLean from Raleigh, North Carolina. Impala is Mark’s first dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. He learned about the school through his Mobility Instructor and then decided to come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind because of the Admissions Department’s quick, courteous and educated response to his initial inquiry. Mark lost his sight in 1999 as the result of a bout with pneumonia, which attacked his immune system, causing severe sight impairment. Mark has a very positive, down-to-earth, energetic and responsive personality; he loves people and looks for the “good” in them. He says that since and through his sight loss, he has met a lot of wonderful folks. Now 39, Mark is happily married and has two children, a 15-year-old daughter and 17-year old son. He works with the Lions for the Blind Clinic in Raleigh where he handles military supplies. A man of strong faith, Mark likes to listen to books on tape and spend time with his family (they’ve vacationed together in Florida, DisneyWorld, and in Myrtle Beach). He also loves sports. When I met with Mark, he and other members of the February class had just watched the Super Bowl. He was not too happy about the Eagles’ loss. Mark described Impala as relaxed but always “at the ready” to go. He said that his family can’t wait until he gets home with him. Mark expressed his earnest appreciation for Guiding Eyes for the Blind: the trainers and staff, the facilities, his class – everyone and everything. He said, “it is all inexpressibly wonderful. They are all there to help me!” He and Impala have already formed a close bond. At day’s end Impala covers his new master with hugs and wet, sloppy kisses – Mark returns them in kind. They have developed a mutual trust and love for each other that extends through work and play. One cannot hope for more than that!
Leonard Richardson & Romeo
Leonard Richardson (age 36) is a “local boy” from Yonkers, New York and has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind to claim his first dog, Romeo. Born in Belize, Central America, Leonard heard of Guiding Eyes for the Blind from a friend/adviser at Light House International. Leonard became blind as a result of an automobile accident in 1996 and further complications from diabetes. Before losing his sight, Leonard attended trade school to prepare for work in the field of Air Conditioning and Refrigeration. That vocation no longer being an option, Leonard now wants to acquire computer skills. Leonard is self-described as being outgoing, happy-go-lucky and a sort of “crazy guy.” The story of his private life is a tale of miracles. Now married for three years, he met his sweetheart in what he calls “an accidental phone call.” Not long after, he suffered kidney failure and needed a transplant to save his life. The aforesaid “phone call girlfriend” offered to be tested for a “match.” The match worked and so she gave him one of her kidneys. Leonard’s life was saved. But she gave him her heart as well. Their relationship moved forward into another “match” – their marriage. (Leonard’s wife is a physical education teacher in Manhattan; Leonard has a 12- year old daughter by a former marriage.) His new guide dog, Romeo, is another perfect match: he too is spunky and a good worker. Leonard is looking forward to the mobility, freedom and confidence that he will have with Romeo as his guide. “Romeo is my new boss,” he exclaims. Speaking of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, he touts it as “a wonderful school – at the top of everything they do.” He would love to become an advocate.
Kathlyn Shields & Zoe
Kathlyn (pronounced Kath-lin) Shields lives in Rochester, New York and has come back to Guiding Eyes for the Blind to claim her fourth dog, Zoe. Kathlyn came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind at the recommendation of her mobility trainer when she was working in Buffalo. Totally blind since her three-month premature birth, Kathlyn is an upbeat, adaptable, people person. She graduated from College in Buffalo with a degree in Sociology and Psychology. Now 49, Kathlyn, was raised in a family with two sisters and a brother and has been happily married for ten years. She is presently employed part time with Xerox doing assembly work. Kathlyn loves to read, enjoys country music and TV, and takes long walks as part of her daily routine. She describes Zoe as being stubborn at times but a stoic worker with a cheerful and obedient demeanor. Kathlyn expects that Zoe will become quite a conversation piece when they return to Rochester. With her black and tan coloring, Zoe is sometimes mistaken for a Rotweiler and people step back a pace or two when they see the two of them coming! As for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Kathlyn says, “I love it here. There is a relaxed atmosphere, but the focus is on work.” She also observed that when you tell your dog to “go” you had better be at the ready yourself! Zoe has shown her affection to Kathlyn by hugging and licking her new mistress – the bond becomes stronger day by day.
Yadira Uranga & Uno
Yadira Uranga brought her first dog, Uno home to Odessa, Texas when she graduated from her training at Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Yadira has been blind since her birth 25 years ago as the result of Optic Nerve Hypoplasia. She learned how to read Braille in her local elementary public school. Yadira is a happy, quiet young woman, who is also self-confident and loves animals. When I met with Yadira for her interview, I noticed her hair was shorter than when I had taken her picture a day and a half before; she looked like a different person. As it turned out, a Guiding Eyes for the Blind volunteer beautician had cut her beautiful wavy brown hair between my visits and it looked lovely. Yadira hopes to return to Austin Community College to study music; she is a soprano and loves to sing. She also loves to listen to the radio and TV. Yadira describes Uno as a good worker and she trusts his direction implicitly, something that will be a great asset when they return home. Yadira is most complementary about her Guiding Eyes for the Blind training and her classmates, all of whom she says, really get along well together.
Dawn Walters & Umbra
Dawn Walters is a second ACTION (Accelerated Client Training Option) student in the February class. She comes from Wellsville, New York which is in the southwest section of the state, near the Pennsylvania border. She has returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her third dog, Umbra. Dawn has been legally blind since birth as a result of Retinal Detachment. Then, when she was 18 years old, a direct hit in the eye from a carelessly thrown snowball caused almost a total loss of sight. Dawn describes herself as being motivated (she has a Bachelors Degree in Psychology from Alfred University and plans to move on towards a Doctorate) but also sees herself as being easy going, thoughtful, and a “people person.” Dawn also had her hair cut seven inches by a Guiding Eyes for the Blind volunteer beautician. (I took another picture!) A divorcee and mother of one son, now nine years old, Dawn says her life is filled with activity. She works as a volunteer for Youth for Christ in the role of advisor and friend in their “Drop-in Center” for teenagers. In her younger years, she remembers loving to fish, roller blade and ride horseback, but those things have been put on hold, at least for a while. Umbra is much like her new mistress: a no-nonsense worker who also loves to play. Dawn spoke very enthusiastically about her experiences at Guiding Eyes over the years. She said, “they are the best – most helpful. And, they really know what they’re doing!” She was particularly delighted about the upgrading of the technology room and the introduction of some very effective, new commands.