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James and Peony

Meet Graduate James

James sits next to black lab guide dog Peony for their formal guide dog portraitGraduate Team:  James and Peony
About the Team:  Peony, a female black Lab is James’ 1st guide dog
Location:  Rochester, New York
Training:  July 2023 On-Campus

James is a lifelong resident of Rochester, New York. He worked at a local DuPont plant before venturing out to start his own construction business. James’ retirement plan was to spend time in his workshop making furniture and toys, but a few short months after retiring, James had a heart attack which required surgery. An unfortunate complication resulted in nearly total blindness. With the help and support of his family and guide dog Peony, James is getting back to the things he enjoys and learning to do them in a new way. One of his recent accomplishments was building a little Adirondack chair in his shop. James and his wife enjoy time with their son, daughter and three grandsons. He and Peony keep honing their skills as a team, with the goal of attending his grandsons’ ball games together.

How would you describe your guide dog?  “Peony is amazing! She is a natural at being a guide dog.  She knows her job, does it well and with a great attitude.  When she is not working, she is very quiet and content – a happy member of the family!”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes?  “My blindness was sudden and unexpected.  As I was learning how to adapt to vision loss, my sister-in-law connected me with a member of her family who is a puppy raiser for Guiding Eyes.  Through that introduction I learned about the outstanding work Guiding Eyes does and how I could benefit from one of their exceptional guide dogs.  Before I even got Peony, I worked hard at learning cane skills and gaining the confidence I needed to qualify for a guide dog. Guiding Eyes gave me direction and incentive at a time I needed it most!”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “Since I got Peony, my confidence continues to grow.  She is not only my eyes, but a very special companion.  After my wife returned to work, my days were quiet, and I did not have a lot of opportunities or the ability to venture out.  Peony has opened a whole new world for me.  She gave me the pick-me-up I was looking for. Peony changed my wife’s life too! Peony has lightened my wife’s load in caring for me. They share a mutual affection for each other.  Peony is always so happy to see my wife when she returns home.”

Were there any training highlights? “I thoroughly enjoyed the training experience at the Guiding Eyes campus. Every staff member, regardless of their role, was professional and offered exceptional hospitality.  I was surprised at how easily and quickly Peony and I worked together. From the beginning, walking with her felt very natural.  I think Peony trained me!  Training was satisfying work, and I would describe it as a little ‘boot camp’.  I took full advantage of each new experience. Peony and I rode city buses and the commuter train.  We enjoyed walks in the nearby parks and even attended a movie. Since losing my vision, I had not considered going to a movie theater.  I learned about technologies that make movies more accessible to those with little to no vision.  Since coming home, I use the techniques I learned and apply them to a variety of situations.  For example,  I taught Peony, ‘find the crack’.  She pauses so I can navigate the bumps and cracks in the sidewalks near my home.  An unexpected highlight was having HBO on the Guiding Eyes campus filming an episode of “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel”.  They were featuring the Guiding Eyes Running Guides program, including a member of my training class and Guiding Eyes CEO Thomas Panek.  Peony and I make a cameo appearance in the episode; we are seen practicing walking downstairs!”

Meet Guide Dog Peony

DOB:  5/14/2021
Litter ID: 3P21
Color/Breed:  Black/Labrador
Gender: Female
Brood: Flora
Stud: Dasher
Littermates: Prince, Poppy, Posy
Region:  Richmond
Regional Puppy Instructor: Jodie Haveles, Madeline Bruggeman
Puppy Raiser:  Laura Ripol
Facebook: Richmond Puppy Raisers

From the Puppy Raiser…

Peony, The Little Engine That Could. From the first moment I held her, she was sweet, loyal, quick to learn and eager to please. Although as a baby puppy she was hesitant about new things, her two greatest attributes –  willingness to try again and determination to figure out everything – taught her not only to be confident in her own ability to navigate any situation but to LOVE the process. Peony was my constant companion, in small and large venues, local and up and down the east coast. She also had great leadership opportunities when she was the perfect role model helping me start GEB Lazz and Quinbie!  There’s no better sidekick. I’m thrilled for Peony and Jim to take on the world as partners!  ~Laura Ripol, Puppy Raiser

Photos of the Team…