January 2004 Graduating Class

 In Graduations

Fourteen students graduated from the Guiding Eyes training program on Saturday, January 24th. The Graduates and their Guiding Eyes dogs left Yorktown Heights, heading to homes as far away as California and New Mexico, to enjoy a wonderful new life together.

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

Ben Humphreys and Vance Ben Humphreys and Vance

Vance is Ben’s first guide dog and, in fact, this is the first time that Ben has had a pet all himself. Ben, a “considered thinker,” is a preparation expert for a computer agency in New York City. He was led to Guiding Eyes by what he describes as a desperate need for his physical presence to be acknowledged and respected on the busy streets of New York and in the byways and paths of Central Park. In the past, Ben felt rudely disregarded by the rollerbladers, bicyclists and folks with big umbrellas. With Vance at his side, Ben feels all that will change. Vance, he says, is rowdy and joyful at play, but as a leader and friend, is calm and dependable. They’ve already formed a firm partnership.

Beth Koenig and FrancineBeth Koenig and Francine

Beth comes from Westminster, California, just west of Los Angeles. Diagnosed as autistic, functionally blind and an avid and intelligent learner, Beth came to a realization when she was in 11th grade, that she just couldn’t read books, no matter how hard she tried and that there was so much more to life than what she was “getting.” Today Beth reads Braille fluently and also can sign. Her goals include going back to college and learning to be a teacher. Beth now lives with her family and definitely feels that Francine will help her to add routine to her daily life.

Bob Marcotte and McCoyBob Marcotte and (the real) McCoy

Bob is married with two daughters; before losing his sight, he worked as a carpenter. He describes himself as “nutty but happy” and his fellow Graduates all agreed. Bob feels that with McCoy at his side, he will regain his feelings of self confidence and independence. According to Bob, McCoy is a dependable guide and worker in whom he has great faith. He also says one of McCoy’s most memorable and endearing traits is “talking” to his new master at bedtime. (We can’t repeat the words here.) Bob said that right from the start, his interactions with the team at Guiding Eyes were informative and helpful. He admired their friendly and timely response to his inquiry. Once at the school, Bob enjoyed the group and found the entire learning process both challenging and stimulating.

Bob Hecker and CoachBob Hecker and Coach

Cowboy comes from New Mexico and Coach is his first guide dog. Bob, now single, has been blind for two years; his condition was caused by deterioration of the cornea. Formerly a mechanic, a dog trainer, and a real-live bronco riding cowboy, Bob describes himself as a “survivor” who has “been around the block” a number of times. He is a charming and outspoken character who, endowed with an infectious positive outlook, knows how to lift the spirits of anyone with whom he comes in contact. Cowboy particularly appreciates Coach’s happy and obedient temperament; he feels that their relationship is getting stronger with each day. Cowboy said all of his experiences while at Guiding Eyes were memorable, but he particularly appreciated the kind, courteous and patient attitude of his colleagues and Trainers.

Britt Jeffrey and KyraBritt Jeffrey and Kyra

Kyra is Britt’s second guide dog. Britt applied to Guiding Eyes because everyone she consulted on the subject said, “That’s the way to go!” A massage therapist from Charlotte, Britt is in her third year of wedded bliss. She is a college grad, self-described as independent, dominant in nature and a jovial, ebullient, confident and encouraging friend. Her classmates particularly appreciated a story she told at one of the group’s first sessions together, from which the term “that’s nice” emerged. The story (not to be repeated here, I fear!) proved to be a strong and colorful thread which supported the wonderful morale of January’s “wild bunch.”

Dawn Penders and KaplanDawn Penders and Kaplan

Dawn hails from New York State and is looking forward to working with Kap, her fifth guide dog. Dawn worked for many years at the New York State Education Department, supervising 54 Independent Living Centers throughout the State. Dawn is 63 (you’d never guess it), married and still works part time. One would describe her as engaging, friendly and confident; she feels that Kap will help her to re-establish her sense of freedom and movement. During her training time at Guiding Eyes, Dawn decided that she needed a private space and time when she and Kap could affirm their bonding. As a result, she established a “retreat” time for the two of them after lunch. During retreat time, she would lie on the floor with Kap and whisper love notes into his ear. Okay, say what you want…it worked! She and Kap are now a successful working pair on the streets – Dawn loves it.

Debra Meeks and TaterDebra Meeks and Tater

Debbie did her homework in searching out the “right place” for finding a faithful companion. She chose Guiding Eyes because, as she put it, “they didn’t use just any ol’ dogs” and because she liked the more intimate class sizes. Debbie has been blind since the age of 2 1/2 when she contracted meningitis. She lives in Grand Junction, Colorado, where she teaches several Independent Living programs. She knows that her Guiding Eyes dog, Tater will give her more freedom and an enhanced feeling of safety and confidence in her everyday life. She described her “bonding moment” with him when, after she had tripped once on a high mound of grass atop a curb, Tater stopped and warned her, the next time they approached that spot. Good Boy!

Fred Stone and NeptuneFred Stone and Neptune

Fred is the true adventurer of the January class. Fred came to Guiding Eyes from his home in Cape Coral, Florida through the enthusiastic recommendation of a former Graduate. He has a business background in water treatment and wells, comes from a family of seven brothers, and is married with three children and some grandchildren. Fred has big plans for Neptune – he hopes that his new companion will accompany him on a trek he is planning with friends over the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. Fred feels that he and Neptune are acquiring a deeper respect for each other daily. I don’t think he’s told Neptune about the long hike yet!

Gloria Pointer and PearlGloria Pointer and Pearl

Pearl is Gloria’s fifth guide dog, the first joining her in 1985 after Gloria’s eye surgery blinded her. Gloria sadly spoke about how one of her guide dogs, paired with her in 1992, ultimately lost his life as a result of a tragic accident in which the dog sheltered her from being struck by an oncoming vehicle. Gloria is an upbeat, pleasant person, easy to talk to and always smiling. She worked for the government for some time, and now is a child care provider. She proudly boasts of having seven children and 23 wonderful grandchildren! She says with pride that the January training class at Guiding Eyes was more thorough and intense than any of her others. She also said, with even greater pride that she is thrilled with her newest guide dog, Pearl – a “rare jewel.”

Jeffrey Connolly and LollyJeffrey Connolly and Lolly

Jeffrey came to Guiding Eyes from East Texas and is very proud to name it as his native land. Jeffrey’s father is a practicing Veterinarian, so he has been around animals all of his life. Jeff’s family owns three dogs, two cats and two cows. Jeff, who has been blind since birth says he knows he will feel a lot safer with Lolly. His favorite activity during his training in Yorktown Heights was going out on the traffic walks. He told me that with Lolly at his side, he will not only be safer and thereby happier, but he also believes he will be able to do many things he has never done before; he especially looks forward to accompanying his Dad when he goes duck hunting.

Leann Morrow and AmigoLeeann Morrow and Amigo

Leeann is from Maine and looks forward to getting back there to her fiancé to whom she will be married this coming May. Leeann is an English major at the University of Maine. Upon graduation, she plans to continue her studies, preparing towards her goal of teaching the visually impaired. Leeann and her fiancé hope to eventually settle in nearby Connecticut or Rhode Island. Amigo is Leeann’s first guide dog. She feels confident that he will serve her well. Although she herself is laid back and patient, she feels that Amigo’s determination will serve them well together. She treasures a memory of how he led her safely down a stairway during their training, using his nose to guide her hand to the railing.

Liz Bottner and OliviaLiz Bottner and Olivia

Liz, 19 years of age and blind since birth, is a second semester student at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York. She enrolled in Guiding Eyes’ accelerated training program so that she could return to Ithaca for the start of the winter semester. Liz is studying computer science, music and philosophy but describes herself affably as a “computer geek.” Her ambition is to travel and experientially feel the texture of the real world out there. She feels a terrific and comforting connection with her new companion, Olivia.

Randy Horwitz and VassarRandy Horwitz and Vassar

Randy, another Texan, is a “computer science-jock.” Randy commended Guiding Eyes for the great instruction he received. “The training was hard on me at the very times when I needed it most.” He said that his exposure to the hustle and bustle of nearby towns like Mt. Kisco was invaluable. In fact, he said it was during the Starbucks Restaurant instruction that it really started to click for him. Randy liked the group dynamics of the training classes which he said enabled each member of the group to feed off of one another. Like fellow Graduate Liz, Randy was participating in Guiding Eyes’ accelerated training program. He headed home after two weeks of instruction, sad at leaving the group, but confident in his new skills and in his new guide, Vassar.

Terry Veatch and Ellie MaeTerry Veatch and Ellie Mae

Terry proudly announces that he’s from Ninevah, Indiana. As a result of tumor surgery in July 2000, Terry lost his sight. He describes himself as being outgoing and likeable and he enjoys being with people. We agree! Terry told us he looked at lots of different guide dog schools and ultimately decided that Guiding Eyes was the right one for him. He liked the responsiveness of the Guiding Eyes team and the school’s proven integrity. Ellie Mae is Terry’s first guide dog. He bonded with Ellie Mae one day as they lay on the floor and she embraced him with her big paws. Terry feels that his greatest challenge is just getting around and learning how to trust and follow the leader, Ellie Mae – whom, he says is most friendly and certainly trustworthy.

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