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February 2020 Graduating Class

Congratulations to the Graduating Class of February 2020!

We thank this month’s sponsors for their generosity…

“Congratulations to the February graduating class and guide teams.  Healthy Vision Association is proud to support Guiding Eyes and all the great work you do.”

– Healthy Vision Association

“To Katelyn and Aliana, you are my strength and pride. Couldn’t have made it without you. Ann Chiappetta, Nicole Fiest and Rachael Hill, thank you for making this possible. Carol, Kristen and Alba, thanks for being here.”

“In loving memory of the late Rachelle Marie Saylor for her love of Guiding Eyes for the Blind and the puppies and dogs.”

– Melissa and Maxwell Saylor

Congratulations Carmen and Susan.  We thank you for your military service. God Bless America.”

– The training of Carmen and guide dog Susan was sponsored by the George and Barbara Paletta Foundation.

Residential Graduates
Carmen & Susan
Catherine & Dozer
Dana & Duffy
Danielle & Ellie
Lenell & Bodie
Macletus & Linden
Mary Abby & Joy
Melissa & Maxwell
Shelbi & Kristen
William & Wish

Home Training Graduates
Alexandra & Walton
Randall & Brad

Many Thanks to Our Training Staff
Class Supervisor:
Kathryn Poallo
Class Instructors:
Shannon McGee and Louise Thompson
Instructor Assistant:
Kimberly Hansen
Running Guides Specialists:
Nick Speranza & Mike Racioppo
Home Training Instructors:
Graham Buck
and Michael Goehring

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

Friends and Family:  Watch this video to learn more about  Working with a Guide Dog Team.

Meet Our Residential Training Graduates

Grad Carmen and Guide dog SusanGraduate Team: Carmen & Susan
About the Team: Susan, a female black Lab, is Carmen’s 1st guide dog
Bronx, New York

Carmen is retired from the United States Army after 30 years of combined active and reserve duty. She has a Master’s in Clinical Psychology from Jacksonville State University. Carmen was a NYC Public School Teacher and an adjunct professor at the University of Arizona, teaching military courses, elementary education and counseling.  Carmen has two daughters, Kat and Ali, who she credits as her source of strength in life. She is extremely proud of both of them and cannot wait to head home to introduce them to Susan.

How would you describe your guide dog? “It’s freedom, security, and unconditional love, because we’ve already bonded to the point, that I can tell how happy she is when she sees me. I feel comfortable with her and I trust her.  It makes me realize all the places I can travel to without worrying about anything. I love this dog.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “It was actually my daughter who suggested a guide dog. I attended a service dog workshop in White Plains, conducted by Guiding Eyes graduate Ann, who then introduced me to Ben from the Admissions Department. The instructors have been amazing here, so it was definitely the right decision.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “I’ve developed an understanding of the responsibilities placed on these dogs.  They’re amazing.  I’ve learned to trust Susan and have enjoyed a sense of freedom and independence that was lost when I became visually impaired.”

Were there any training highlights? “The whole training process is so well organized and the staff works in such a cohesive manner, that I felt comfortable from the moment I was picked up and brought here. The two highlights involved working with the dogs – the first, was when I was assessed with a candidate, and then when I finally received MY dog.  I felt like a kid at Christmas. When Susan and I started working as a team, reality hit as to my new level of independence.  Thanks to Susan, I felt like my old self again.”

Congratulations Susan’s Puppy Raiser, Emily Altchiler

Grad Catherine and Guide dog DozerGraduate Team:  Catherine and Dozer
About the Team:  Dozer, a male black Lab, is Katie’s 1st guide dog
Hometown:  Seward, Alaska

Katie comes to us, all the way from the shores of Alaska, for her first guide dog. She attends classes at the Alaska Center for the Blind & Visually Impaired, where she is learning Braille, baking/cooking, activities of daily living (ADL) and computer skills. She also participates in various “TRAILS” events through her local Independent Living Center.  Katie enjoys playing the flute, painting ceramic bisque ware and baking cookies, often gifting batches to the fire department or seniors center. She is looking forward to introducing Dozer to her two young nieces, ages 4 & 8, who have “Facetimed”, but anxiously wait to meet this new furry member of the family in person.

How would you describe your guide dog? “He’s amazing. He has so much energy and is always ready to go for a walk. We’re learning to work together; I just love him.  He loves his job and works hard. He has that good, steady encouragement about him. He also has a fun personality. He’s such a goof and loves to play with the other dogs in class. He’s always watching what’s going on around him.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “As my vision was declining, I was curious about having a guide dog. My instructors encouraged me, so I did my research. Listening to the other guide dog users at the Center talk about their experiences with Guiding Eyes, and seeing their dogs’ behavior – how excited they were to work – made me want to apply here.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog?  “It’s going to be a whole new world! Being on our own, navigating differently. Instead of cane ‘zig zags’ in the snow, there will be pawprints! It’s going to be fun and interesting, because he’ll be a focal point in my small town where people know me and there are no other guide dogs. A new adventure; especially if I get the chance to pursue a B.A. in Social Work at the University of Alaska. That’s a goal I’m working on.”

Were there any training highlights? “Meeting him by name, working on the training, meeting the classmates and working together – that’s been really cool and interesting. Especially being here for my first guide dog and learning a new way of doing things and not running into people! We trained on escalators and I was hesitant the first time, but he was great. His talents are really amazing; how he helps me navigate. Everyday things – a store, a walk, the curbs; that solid trust – it’s a big thing.”

Congratulations Dozer’s Puppy Raisers, Kristin Meredith, Holly McGuire & Linda Hodge and The Petillo Family

Grad Dana and Guide dog Duffy

Graduate Team:   Dana and Duffy
About the Team:  Duffy, a male yellow Lab, is Dana’s 7th Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown:  Bronx, New York

Dana is retired after many years with the City of New York, where as a Social Worker, his contributions included support groups, parenting classes and family counseling. Dana is a Jazz enthusiast, singer and songwriter and has performed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He has a love for learning as well, enjoying Jazz vocal workshops and auditing classes in music, media and languages at Hunter College. Dana speaks multiple languages and loves meeting people, reading non-fiction, travel and cruises. He looks forward to attending classes for the Visually Impaired at the Whitney Museum and other adventures with Duffy. 

How would you describe your guide dog? “Duffy is very sweet, docile and mild mannered. His work is excellent and when he’s not working, he loves to play. If I throw something, he is very happy to go after it.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “Way back in 1968, I was in training at the Lighthouse to be a transcriber for the City of New York. I had friends who had graduated with guide dogs from Guiding Eyes and they told me this would be a good idea – ‘it will give you more independence’. Soon after I applied and received my first guide dog.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “It’s great, because it gives you more independence to get around. I wouldn’t want to be without dog. Having had a difficult start, I was personally motivated to make a better life for myself and having guide dogs helped the process.”

Were there any training highlights? “I think the program has made some wonderful improvements. I like that lectures are earlier in the day and commands have changed for the better, and I feel the school is even more sensitive to student needs. The trainers are personable and have been very caring and supportive in my transition from my previous dog Aiden to Duffy.”

Congratulations Duffy’s Puppy Raiser, Cassondre J. Kronau

Graduate Team:  Danielle and Ellie
About the Team: Ellie, a female yellow Lab, is Danielle’s 1st Guiding Eyes dog
Lafayette, Louisiana

Danielle is a retired Special Education teacher for students in the 2nd through 5th grades. She is considering a return to teaching, to provide Braille instruction for elementary and middle school aged children. The mother of three children, now aged 20, 18 and 16, Danielle has spent a considerable amount of time volunteering at school events and also for the non-profit organization, La Leche League. Danielle enjoys yoga and is interested to see Ellie’s reaction to her yoga lessons. She can’t wait to head home with Ellie and traverse her home area with her new partner.

How would you describe your guide dog? “Ellie is confident and playful, but cautious when it’s needed. She’s really affectionate and will run right into my arms. She has no issues with manners at all and has been doing great in class. The dogs here at Guiding Eyes are very responsive.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I know a graduate from Guiding Eyes and his dog was so disciplined and well kept. I was impressed, because the dog was so young, but I’ve never seen a dog that focused.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “I think the biggest impact for me has been having a companion in travel. This is a ‘living being’ that you can talk to when you get a little flustered or lost. You just take a few breaths and figure it out together.”

Were there any training highlights? “I liked seeing the change between our first day and our second day, with the dogs. Everyone’s gotten more and more comfortable and confident, and the dogs are so relaxed. It’s really good to see the great control and the teams becoming more solid.”

Congratulations Ellie’s Puppy Raisers, Cindy & John Beauregard and Katie Long

Grad Lenell and Guide dog Bodie

Graduate team:  Lenell (Lionel) & Bodie
About the Team: Bodie, a male black Lab, is Lionel’s 1st Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown: Sacramento, California

Lionel is a certified Massage Therapist, who comes to Guiding Eyes for his third guide dog. Having retired his previous dog several years ago, he is looking forward to safer and more independent travel with Bodie. Lionel has been studying braille and Adaptive Technology through the Dept. of Rehabilitation in Sacramento. He likes to take one day at a time and see where life leads him, and now he will have Bodie by his side. 

How would you describe your guide dog?  “Bodie knows what his work is and gets the job done. We work well together as a team – he’s a perfect match. He can be playful and energetic, and he’s very affectionate – a big kisser!”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog at Guiding Eyes? “The counsellor at the Department of Rehabilitation referred me to Guiding Eyes. I liked the hospitality offered, such as transport to the airport.  It’s out of this world compared to other schools and the trainers and other staff are excellent.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog?  “Before, I was a cane traveler and had to worry about things like the curbs running out or the cane getting stuck. But with a guide dog, you can do what you want; it’s basically ‘Get up and go’. It’s a partnership that I’m looking forward to. With things like shopping, I won’t have to wait on people to help me, so it means more independence and taking public transportation. He’ll enrich my life.”

Were there any training highlights? “The instructors take the time to teach the dogs how to help us. When we went to Macy’s, Bo impressed me with his ‘gung-ho’ spirit and helped me get reoriented. These dogs are full of surprises and that has impressed me most!”

Congratulations Bodie’s Puppy Raisers, Barb and Garry Paszul

Grad Macletus and Guide dog LindenGraduate Team: Macletus and Linden
About the Team: Linden, a male yellow Lab, is Macletus’ 1st Guiding Eyes dog
Vallejo, California

Macletus has dedicated much of her life and work to helping others, a reflection of her caring and nurturing personality. Her efforts have included helping NAS infants, work in a group home setting and 20 years as a Behavior Technician within a school district. She loves to work with people and continues to do so through outreach events with her church, where she speaks about non-violence, caring for children and building a community atmosphere. Macletus raised her six children, as well as three others, and has 14 wonderful grandchildren, whom she loves to spend time with. She looks forward to heading home to sunny California with Linden, and plans to stretch her comfort zone around technology, at her local Lighthouse.

How would you describe your guide dog? “Linden is just the perfect dog for me. Of course, we will continue to get to know each other and learn with each other, but I’m very happy with him and his work. He is so sweet, too. He slept sitting up the other day, just so he could lay his head in my lap.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “Keeping my independence was very important to me, so when my Orientation & Mobility Instructor suggested a guide dog, I knew it was the right fit. I have a friend who is a long-time Guiding Eyes Graduate. Her dog’s temperament was wonderful, so that gave me the confidence that Guiding Eyes would be a great school.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “I don’t have to feel like I’m on my own. If ever anything starts to go wrong, they’re right there with you. The way they solve problems is amazing and it’s comforting to have someone to work through things with.”

Were there any training highlights? “The staff here doesn’t give up and they give you one-on-one attention. The trainers came up with solutions that really fit my particular needs and my confidence just shot to the roof. There’s just a great attitude here, which is really rare; everyone’s family.”

Congratulations Linden’s Puppy Raisers Lynn Stas and the Gelinas Family

Grad Mary Abby and Guide dog Joy

Graduate Team: Mary Abby & Joy
About the Team: Joy, female yellow Lab is Mary Abby’s 2nd Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown: Cranston, Rhode Island

Mary Abby is an Assistive Technology Coordinator at a Vision Rehabilitation agency. She has a degree in Elementary Education and is working towards a master’s degree from the Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments program at UMASS, Boston. She lives with her parents, loves baking and reading, particularly Harry Potter.

How would you describe your guide dog? “We’re in good shape. Joy is a hard worker, very affectionate and a bit of a goofball!  She’s feisty, with a bit of attitude, like she knows what she wants, but she’s a fun dog. Joy’s vocal, loves tennis balls and likes to play tug, just like my first dog Kylie.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog at Guiding Eyes? “Guiding Eye’s graduate support is phenomenal. There’s always some form of support; someone ready to help. The financial vet support is very generous. The training here is very receptive and attentive, personal and supportive; it’s all very welcoming.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog?  “I’m excited to feel confident again on routes; starting fresh, knowing she’s happy and able to work. Finding exits and entrances easily again is a big deal, and coping with crowds, particularly in airports. I’m excited for her to meet my family, and to introduce her to my retired guide Kylie and pet dog Alex.”

Were there any training highlights?  “Our first traffic check. She was working at a good pace, suddenly slowed and turned her head, as a car was coming down a driveway. She was very aware of it and it made me feel good to know that. Also, the Juno walk on day two, where you have a ‘test drive’ with the dog to make sure you are comfortable with everything, like pace and pull. They’re making sure it’s the right match for the student and the dog.”

Congratulations Joy’s Puppy Raisers, Mr. and Mrs. Peter Bellagamba

Grad Melissa and Guide dog MaxwellGraduate Team:   Melissa and Maxwell
About the Team:  Maxwell, a male black Lab, is Melissa’s 3rd Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown:  Jeffersonville, Indiana

Melissa has been working for the past 6 years as a Statistical Clerk for the U.S. Census Bureau. Prior to that, she worked at St Jude’s Children’s Hospital, attended Indiana Bible College and did volunteer work. Melissa enjoys playing the piano, writing music and singing in her church. She also writes poetry and likes listening to audio books and movies. She can’t wait to introduce Maxwell to the members of her church congregation, who are eager to meet him and support the new team.

How would you describe your guide dog? “Maxwell loves his job and takes it seriously. I describe him as being very macho, because he has a strong pull, which I really love. I haven’t tapped into his full personality yet, but he’s very affectionate and loves to play. He’s chosen a favorite toy and I look forward to getting him one for home.  He’s just “real special’. He’s a blessing and a huge gift to me.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “An O&M instructor I had when I was about 18, recommended that I consider a guide dog from Guiding Eyes and helped me apply. I had a great experience here that first time and the trainer showed a lot of patience and affection with us. Guiding Eyes dogs are the best behaved dogs. I love this school.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “My first guide, Dino was very loyal and kept me safe.  My second dog, Peace – there was something very special about that dog. She helped me go through the hardest times emotionally during family illness. They’re all special in their own way.”

Were there any training highlights? “The training is very consistent and the trainers are patient. During the lectures they answer questions and they’re sensitive  to how the students are feeling. They tell you if you make a mistake without scolding and they lift your spirits when you need it. They treat us with respect.”

Congratulations Maxwell’s Puppy Raisers, The Cox Family

Grad Shelbi and Guide dog KristenGraduate team:Shelbi and Kristen
About the Team:  Kristen, a female black Lab, is Shelbi’s 1st Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown: Chino Hills, California

Shelbi has just completed her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and is hoping to return to school in the fall to gain her teaching credential. In the future, she hopes to teach K1 and 1st grade children in mainstream education. Shelbi has been ballet dancing for most of her life and has a 13½ year old Golden Retriever, Roxy.

How would you describe your guide dog?  “Kristen’s a bit of a princess; very loving and friendly and we bonded quickly. She loves her cuddle time and liked to rest on my lap from the first day. She’s very smart and picks up on things very fast, such as routes, even after only a couple of times.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog at Guiding Eyes?  “I’ve always loved dogs, so it was the right next step. I trained with a cane, but it slowed me down. I love New York and my family is from there, so Guiding Eyes was a good option. They were faster at processing my application than other schools I applied to. I know a lot of people who were first-time guide dog users and really happy with their experience here and the 3-week program.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “Taking her to everywhere I go – like Disneyland and meeting Pluto! I’m excited to walk with her around my city, take her to the beach and have her explore everything I do; to see her reaction. It’s been very different, and Kristen’s already brought so much happiness to my life. She likes to be close to me, and knowing I have that companionship, that she’s happy doing what she’s doing, makes me so happy. I’m not so stressed out when we’re out on routes, because she knows what she’s doing. It’s a lot easier.”

Were there any training highlights?  “The students all got on well. I feel at home here; never out of place and there’s always someone to talk to. It’s been a great experience overall. I won’t be going anywhere else.”

Congratulations Kristen’s Puppy Raisers, David and JoAnn Schindler

Grad William and Guide dog WishGraduate Team:  William and Wish
About the Team:  Wish, a female black Lab, is Bill’s 2nd guide dog
Hometown:  Park Ridge, Illinois

Bill and his family live in the Chicago area, where he makes his living as a Financial Analyst. He comes to Guiding Eyes for his second guide dog, Wish. Bill has been a runner for many years, relying on sighted guides or the treadmill to keep active, and is eager to work with Wish as a running guide. During times of relaxation, Bill also enjoys playing the mandolin and reading. He looks forward to returning home with Wish and experiencing a higher level of confidence and ease of travel in his busy life

Congratulations Wish’s Puppy Raisers, Mark and Ann Knapik

Meet Our Home Training Graduates

Grad Alexandra and Guide dog WaltonGraduate Team: Alexandra and Walton
About the Team:  Walton, a male yellow Lab, is Alexandra’s 4th Guide & 2nd Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown:   Austin, Texas

Alexandra is a Teacher of the Visually Impaired and works with Special Education students, as well. She has a home business, which is dedicated to converting print materials to Braille, Large Print and audio for the Blind. Alexandra is a runner and volunteers for Red, White and Blue, a Volunteer Services and Running Club for veterans. She also remains active by swimming, working out and hiking and can proudly say she once climbed Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro. During her down time, she enjoys reading and spending time with family and friends. She is very happy to have her new guide, Walton, by her side.

How would you describe your guide dog? “Walton is silky soft and has a big pink nose and he loves to lick you and make you happy. I agree with the nickname given by his raisers, ‘Walnut’ – because he can be so silly, yet he’s very serious when in harness. He’s quite protective and watchful of surfaces that might be unsafe for me, due to my mobility issues associated with MS. He’s such a fast learner too, picking up several commands in such a short time.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “My other Guiding Eyes guide, Sprite, was such an amazing dog and I like the style of training used at this school. The instructors are very understanding and my trainer Graham was really great.  Having a home training this time, tailored towards my home environment and my situation, was very helpful. Being a runner, I was really interested in the Running Guide Program as well.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “I feel so much more independent. I can go out and do more. Just going out to get lunch – I feel safer crossing the streets.  I can take a run by myself and with a guide dog, I feel more protected and not so vulnerable.”

Were there any training highlights? “It all was so good – all my experiences were wonderful! One time we were in a coffee shop and Walton gently visited a baby and made him smile, which I found very sweet. In stores, if a cart is coming towards us, he’ll gently apply pressure to my leg to back me into the aisle a bit. A traffic check for grocery carts! He’s wonderfully protective.”

Congratulations Walton’s Puppy Raiser, Diane Frank

Grad Randall and Guide dog Brad

Graduate Team:  Randall and Brad
About the Team:  Brad, a male yellow Lab, is Randy’s 5th Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown:   Austin, Texas

Randy is a software engineering manager at a major international technology company. He is a seasoned guide dog handler and remains active by playing with the Austin Beep-ball team. He and his wife Brenda, also a Guiding Eyes graduate, often travel with the team. He is also active in the Austin area with the amateur radio community and enjoys making contacts all over the world. Randy enjoys the psychology of training with a dog, as well as the efficiency and confidence associated with working with a guide dog. Brad is Randy’s fifth dog from Guiding Eyes.

How would you describe your guide dog? ”Brad is very good at knowing when we can go fast through an area, or when he needs to carefully thread his way through because the sidewalk is narrow, etc.  I’m really impressed with his commonsense guiding. He has a ton of personality and definitely has a bit of a goofy side. He’s really fun to work with!”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I’ve had dogs with Guiding Eyes since I was 17. The school really has a great feel for what I need in a guide and is always willing to listen.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “I am able to travel with a guide or a cane, but it’s just more fun and efficient to travel with a guide. Really working with a dog and getting your communication down is super cool.”

Were there any training highlights? “Toward the end of home training, our instructor left us on our own for a day to work together solo. We did our route to work and things went great. I think that was sort of our aha moment.”

Congratulations Brad’s Puppy Raisers, The LaRock Family, Kathi Marcoux and Alexander DeMarco