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February 2011 Graduating Class

February 2011 Guide dog graduating class

James Bergeron & Reuben
Pilar Acedo & Olana
Wendy David & Wafer
Isidoro Otero & Idaho
Nancy Koehler & Susie
Kira Larkin & Lolly
Craig Loftus & Haskell
Renea Maestas & Kent
James McLemore, Jr. & Larson
Tracy Ramsey & Laddie
Maria Ponce & Ianna

Home Training Graduates
Marianne Schmidt & Nick

Many thanks to our instructors:
Dell Rodman, Class Supervisor
Graham Buck, ACTION Instructor
Woody Curry, Class Instructor
Stephanie Koret, Class Instructor
Julie Angle, Special Needs Instructor
Krissy Andersen, Home Training Instructor
Kate Marston, Instructor Assistant

photo of James Bergeron and ReubenJames Bergeron and Reuben
James “Jim” Bergeron will return to Canada with his fifth guide dog, Reuben, a yellow male Golden Retriever – Labrador mix.

Jim met his wife in University while obtaining his Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture and environmental biology.  They have two grown daughters.  Jim went on to earn his MBA attending night school.

Jim lost his sight to diabetes. Before that, he worked in product development for an international multi-foods firm.  He went on to work as a program analyst. Today he is a customer relations representative and project manager for a major airlines in Canada.

He played college football and amateur rugby and remains a member of the rugby team. Through the Rugby Club, he ran Bucks for Pups, an art auction and music concert fundraiser for Guiding Eyes.  Jim enjoys playing guitar.

Jim was introduced to Guiding Eyes at the Montreal Association for the Blind. “A lot of the good things in my life are connected to Guiding Eyes.  Getting around before felt like moving through a vat of jello, unsure of where you are going. Everything changed from the first step with the dog.”

Jim is looking forward to introducing Reuben to his retired dog at home.  He’s also excited about the bond that he and Reuben are forming. “Trust the process.  The bond takes time to form, but when it does it’s real… there is a wonderful sense of accomplishment for both of you.”

photo of Pilar Carrasco Acedo and OlanaPilar Carrasco Acedo and Olana
Pilar Carrasco Acedo is one of three students from Spain.  She will return home with Olana, a yellow female Lab.

Pilar is the youngest of four children. She is married and has a son.  She went through the mainstream education system and now works for an organization that provides support for programs offering assistance to blind and visually impaired Spanish citizens.

Pilar is very artistic and outgoing. She enjoys painting and walking, and often spends time with her friends and family.

Olana is Pilar’s first guide dog.  She came to Guiding Eyes because of the four-year waiting list to receive a guide dog in Spain. Her experience has been very good; the staff is super and, “the best of everything is the dog.”


photo of Wendy David and WaferWendy David and Wafer
Wendy David traveled across the country from Washington State for Wafer, a yellow female Lab.

Wendy lost her sight as a child, caused by what is known as Stevens-Johnson syndrome – a severe reaction to a medication.  She has a supportive family nearby with her dad, three sisters and a married son.  Her partner is also blind and a guide dog user.

Wendy holds a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of Washington, where she is now an adjunct faculty member.  She works mainly at the VA Hospital. She is also on the Board of a cross-country ski group for the visually impaired, Ski for Light, and is a Guiding Eyes for the Blind Board Member.  Wendy particularly enjoys being involved in fund raising.

Wendy’s hobbies include downhill skiing, hiking and crochet. Her favorite thing is travel and with her dogs, she can do so independently. She loves staying in touch with the puppy raisers.

Wafer is Wendy’s fourth dog from Guiding Eyes. “All have been different. Wafer has the softest ears; she’s like velvet – The Velveteen Labrador – who loves to work and please me.” Wendy is excited to get home, start working around their area and then travel with Wafer. There is a long list of places she wants to go.

photo of Isidoro Dios Otero and IdahoIsidoro Dios Otero and Idaho
Isidoro “Isi” Dios Oter will return home to Spain with Idaho, a black male Labrador.

Isi is married and has two daughters.  He enjoys watching TV and especially likes going to the sea, where he spends time with his family at the shore.

Isi was very excited when united with Idaho. He is teaching the dog a little Spanish. The experience at Guiding Eyes has been very good.  Though Isi and his fellow Spanish students require an interpreter, language hasn’t proved to be a hindrance among the class. The other students have polished up their high school Spanish and everyone is enjoying getting to know each other.

Isi looks forward to working with Idaho and having him as a member of his family. Isi equates having Idaho to having more of a normal life. 

photo of Nancy Koehler and SusieNancy Koehler and Susie
Nancy Koehler returns for her second Guiding Eyes dog. Susie, a yellow female Lab, will accompany Nancy back to Illinois.

Complications at birth partially damaged Nancy’s optic nerve and caused her vision loss.  She holds an Associates Degree and has received additional training in computer and office skills.

Nancy enjoys swimming and reading, and she loves using a computer.  She is active and likes exercise – especially walking with her dog.  Nancy is pursuing her dream of working as a pet therapist.

Nancy was always a cat person, but ultimately decided a guide dog would improve her quality of life.   She knew other successful Guiding Eyes graduates and finds the program family oriented with great instructors. “You feel like you are being treated like a person while the dog takes you away from obstacles.”

photo of Kira Larkin and LollyKira Larkin and Lolly
Utah resident Kira Larkin was matched with yellow Labrador Lolly.

Kira lost her sight to two brain tumors; she sees only light and large shapes.

Kira received Bachelors Degrees in psychology and human development. She was the first blind student at Utah Career College and has an AAS in paralegal studies. Today Kira works at the Utah Council for the Blind; she performs home trainings for blind and visually impaired members.

Kira enjoys crochet and likes to read and write. She is working on a novel and has already conceived a sequel.  She also likes to sing and has performed in three musicals.

Lolly is Kira’s fifth guide dog and first from Guiding Eyes. She has learned much about herself here and the training is easily understood. The instructors strive to send the student and the dog home as a spectacular team.

Kira is looking forward to being with Lolly and having the companionship when she travels.  She is excited about taking the train again and being able to use public transit more than ParaTransit.  Kira will be significantly more mobile with Lolly by her side, and she’s excited to head outdoors during spring and summer.

photo of Craig Loftus and HaskellCraig Loftus and Haskell
Craig Loftus is from New Jersey, and he’ll head back home with black Lab Haskell.

Craig met his wife at the Jersey shore when their younger sisters introduced them.  She began driving him home on the weekends, and now they are married with two children.

Retinitis Pigmentosa caused Craig’s sight impairment. He was a skier before his vision became too bad. Now “wrangling children” is his biggest hobby – juggling between basketball, soccer and lacrosse. They still enjoy weekends at the shore and taking walks downtown to the various shops.

Craig graduated from Ithaca College with a major in business administration. Today, he works with his brother in their third generation family business.

Haskell is Craig’s first guide dog. His eyesight deteriorated to the point where he required a mobility aide, and he found using a cane to be embarrassing.  People became awkward and standoffish, and he felt very unapproachable. He applied to Guiding Eyes after meeting another graduate.

Craig is impressed with the amount of work, the detailed and involved process that goes into preparing a dog to become a guide.  He looks forward to the transition into life with a guide dog, and to the newfound independence that this lifestyle will bring. 

photo of Renea Maestas and KentRenea  Maestas and Kent
Renea Maestas is from Colorado and has been paired with her first guide dog – black Labrador Kent.

Doctors disagree on what caused Renea’s blindness, attributing it to macular degeneration or diabetes.  She has no sight in her right eye and a very small field of vision in her left eye.

Renea is a high school graduate and enjoys knitting and reading.  She has taken voice lessons, and love to sing and listen to music.  She also regularly stays active through walking and swimming.

Renea is so happy with Kent. Not only is he her first guide dog, he is the first dog she has ever had. She is looking forward to her life with Kent and can’t wait to get him home.  Even her neighbor is excited to meet this special addition to Renea’s life.

Like many of the other students, Renea learned Spanish but forgot all but the basics.  It has been fun picking it up again in order to communicate with her Spanish classmates.  Simply put, Renea’s experience at Guiding Eyes has been wonderful. 

photo of James McLemore, Jr. and LarsonJames McLemore, Jr. and Larson
Alabama resident James McLemore was matched with Larson, a yellow male Lab.

James has two brothers and shares his home with his girlfriend and three Yorkies. “It will be very interesting introducing Larson to them,” he shares.

James attended college and enjoys white water kayaking and competition slalom water skiing.

Larson is James first guide dog. The anticipation of getting a guide dog was replaced with pure satisfaction when James met Larson. He is everything that James expected and more. Larson loves playing tug of war and having his back scratched, especially at the base of his tail – it makes him curl around James legs like a cat.  James is looking forward to doing everything in life with his new friend at his side.  

photo of Tracy Ramsey and LaddieTracy Ramsey and Laddie
Tracy Ramsey and Laddie, a yellow male Lab, return home to Indiana.  Tracy’s sight impairment was sudden; her diabetes triggered a detached retina.  Surgery gave her back some sight in her right eye, but she remains totally blind in her left.

Tracy was born in Mississippi and has family throughout the country, providing her with the opportunity to travel regularly.

Tracy is a graduate of Bosma Rehabilitation for the Blind.  She likes to sing and cook and is very involved with her church.  Tracy works at a dog day care and training facility.

Tracy was so very excited when introduced to Laddie.  Her family shares her enthusiasm; they can’t wait to meet the very special Labrador.  With Laddie, Tracy can walk faster and feels more confident and outgoing.  She looks forward to traveling independently – especially around the country to see her family.

photo of Maria Inmaculada Valero Ponce and IannaMaria Inmaculada Valero Ponce and Ianna
Maria Ponce, “Imma”, has been paired with Ianna, a black female Lab. The two return home to Spain.

Imma is a university student studying to be a music teacher.  She plays the guitar and the trumpet, and also enjoys chess.

Receiving Ianna has been an incredible experience.  Imma was impressed with every part of the program.  She has particularly enjoyed hearing and speaking English – it’s provided her with great language practice!

Imma looks forward to her new life with Ianna – one in which she will be much more independent.  It already started at Guiding Eyes, and she knows it will only get better.  The team has many exciting journeys ahead.