Meet the members of our most recent training class who graduated successfully on January 22, 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.
Peter and Karlof
Peter Duffy, who hails from Neptune Beach, Florida, came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his first dog, Karloff. He chose Guiding Eyes as the result of a glowing recommendation from his mobility instructor. Until their divorce in the late 1980s, Peter was married to Patricia Keleher, a puppy raiser for Guiding Eyes for the Blind who is primarily known for recruiting a group of 13 active puppy raiser families in the Baltimore area. Patricia died two years ago as a result of breast cancer. A “sensory garden” is planned in her memory as part of the renovation and expansion of the Yorktown Heights campus which is currently underway. Peter, now 48, was born with Juvenile Macular Degeneration (Stargardts). In spite of the disability, he was able to drive a car until nine years ago. He has also parented Matt, his 22-year-old son from the age of four. Peter is outgoing, but sees himself as “laid back – one who loves life and lives in the moment.” He describes Karloff as nothing less than “a wonder dog” and says his personality is a good match for his own: mellow, intense and also “living in the moment.” He knew that he and Karloff had bonded when Karloff put his head contentedly on Peter’s lap after a good wrestling session together on the floor. He is looking forward to the greater mobility Karloff will give him when they return home together. He’s especially excited about the long walks they will take on the beach. What a pair they’ll be! Peter’s vocation for 25 years was in Terminal Operations for deep sea vessels. Since losing his sight, he has branched out into several other interesting activities. Peter loves music and pursues his passion by studying and playing bass guitar and singing (baritone) with an active gigging band, called “The Company.” Peter designed a Web site for the band, and has configured an online catalogue for a mattress company for which he does part time sales. He has also written words for some compositions, one of which was presented at January’s graduation ceremony. Busy guy! Peter could not praise the Guiding Eyes for the Blind staff enough – “They are simply extraordinary and first class in everything they do!” He said his favorite experience during his training was the freedom he felt the first day he and Karloff walked together in White Plains. He said it was like a “tremendous weight lifted.”
Karen and Jessa
Karen Eisenstadt participated in Guiding Eyes’ ACTION program (Accelerated Client Training Option) for experienced guide dog users. As a result, she was only with the January class for ten days. Karen has been blind since birth (diagnosis unknown). She resides in Forest Hills, New York but grew up in Montclair, New Jersey where she attended the public schools. Mainstreamed during her kindergarten through ninth-grade years, Karen took advantage of many programs that were available for blind students including training in Braille. Upon graduation from high school, Karen enrolled at Seton Hall, earning her Masters in Rehabilitation Counseling. Her determination to succeed in life, as well as her upbeat, optimistic approach (trying to seek and find the best in everyone), enabled her to get a responsible job at the New York State Department of Labor where she was well respected and admired during her long tenure. A devotee of “Harry Potter,” Karen enjoys reading science fiction and mysteries. Retired now, she works as a volunteer at Selis Manor in Manhattan which provides services for the Blind. She is a certified instructor of Braille and computer but teaches knitting and whatever else is needed as well. Karen received her first guide dog when she was 18 years old and returned to Yorktown Heights in January for her sixth Guiding Eyes for the Blind companion and guide, Jessa. She was originally drawn to Guiding Eyes for the Blind, because the program included city training that would help her navigate busy streets and the various modes of city transportation. Karen describes Jessa as cute and says she “lives on the edge of naughtiness, but always knows what she’s supposed to do.” Jessa is adept at showing Karen: “This is the way it’s done!” Karen described an amusing moment when Jessa made herself comfortable on Karen’s bed by turning down the sheet and blanket and settling in with her head on Karen’s pillow. That’s a definite “no-no” and was promptly corrected; however, Karen perceived it as a poignant and bonding gesture between the two of them. Karen likes the innovative changes which have taken place over the years at Guiding Eyes for the Blind changes that she says make life so much easier and the partnership between owner and dog so much more effective. Karen described the January class as “one of the best” and could not give enough praise for the instructors and staff.
Milissa and Jocke
Milissa Garside traveled to Guiding Eyes for the Blind from North Quincy, Massachusetts to claim her third dog, Jockey. She first came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind through the advice of a fellow student from the University of Massachusetts in Boston. Milissa became blind at the age of four as the result of Stevens Johnsons Syndrome – an allergic reaction to Penicillin. She was mainstreamed in the Boston public school system where she picked up all she needed to know (including Braille) through the school’s resource facilities. Self-described as “outgoing, outspoken, and humorous” (she admits she can act a bit like a clown when she wants to), she says she sports a serious side as well. With a few semesters to go before she graduates, Milissa is working toward a BS degree in Human Sciences and looking forward to using her experience and skills in working with the disabled. Milissa loves to sing Rhythm and Blues – she has a great voice. She admits to becoming bored easily if she doesn’t have something worthwhile or “fun” to do. Returning to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her third go-round, Milissa was delighted with some of the new material covered in the program, such as platform work and gentle leaders, and with the instructors’ focus on dealing with each student’s individual needs. She cheers Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s Director, instructors and staff who have brought these changes about. Milissa mentioned one very special moment during her training in White Plains. When a toddler shouted repeatedly at Jockey, “Look at the doggie! Look at the doggie!” and reached to embrace him, Jockey ignored the child and steadfastly concentrated on his assignment of guiding his mistress across the street. Jockey may have his silly, clown-like moments, but he has a serious work ethic, and enjoys every moment of it. Milissa says it is a delight to work with him and get to know him better day by day.
Vicki and Madeline
Vicki Jagelski who lives in nearby Cortland Manor, New York, discovered Guiding Eyes for the Blind quite accidentally when she saw the school’s vans at the Jefferson Valley Mall. Vicki is legally blind with Retinitus Pigmentosa which became evident when she was 29 years old. Because she is partially sighted and does have tunnel vision, Vicky wondered if she would be eligible for a dog. Her eye doctor encouraged her to apply. Vicki, a wife and the mother of two daughters (her husband passed away when only 34 years of age) remarried seven years ago. She celebrated her 52nd birthday the day before her graduation from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Vicky obtained her Nursing Degree at Pace University in Pleasantville, New York and worked as a registered nurse at the Cabrini Extended Care Facility in Dobbs Ferry. After taking time off to be home with her daughters, she returned to work as a children’s librarian at a local library. Vicki is self-described as “caring, fun-loving, family and friend-oriented.” She wants to become as independent as she can and knows that Madeline, besides bringing a lot of joy into the household, will enable her to achieve her goals of walking about the community, venturing out further, and shopping with greater confidence. Vicki and her husband enjoy visiting a different state in the country each year in their vacation periods. She looks forward to sharing those experiences with Madeline. She describes Madeline as being “feisty at times,” but a beautiful little, loving and dependable girl. Vicki knew at once when they had bonded: when Vicki’s visiting family members entered her dorm room at Guiding Eyes, Madeline looked them over quietly and steadily, but only moved when Vicki herself stood up. She’s always “at the ready.” Speaking ecstatically about Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Vicki said her experience was “fantastic. Everything here is very well run and organized. They have thought of everything!” Then she added,”and the food is great!” Her favorite memory and learning experience was working with Madeline in harness on the streets of White Plains – partnership in action.
Tim and Amber
Tim Kenealy, Irish as Patty’s Pig and born on March 17th to boot, flew in from Reno, Nevada to claim his second guide dog, but first from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. He chose Guiding Eyes for the Blind upon a “rave” commendation from a former Guiding Eyes for the Blind graduate. Tim has only partial sight as a result of being born with RLF 56 years ago. When asked to describe himself, he carefully sifted through the fiber of his response. “I am people oriented and introspective, a licensed ham radio operator, and love to follow the political and government scenarios.” He is in the process of writing a book on The Rehabilitation Process – and How to Fix It. Tim is also an accomplished salesman, having sold almost everything saleable, and even what’s not. He commented that “a true salesman can tell you can go to h…., and you will rush out and pack your suitcase!” Tim enjoys reading fiction (loves authors Tom Clancy and E.B. Griffin) and estimates that he has read no less than 5,000 books to date. He also relaxes by playing his steel guitar and harmonica. His new partner is a 60-pound black female Lab named Amber who Tim says is an angel: playful, but laid back, and never does anything wrong! Tim expects that Amber will enable him to travel about with more confidence on the heavily trafficked and somewhat unpredictable city streets of Reno. In speaking about his training at Guiding Eyes, Tim said he loved the way important concepts, methods and rules were explained in a way that they would be fully understood by everyone. He said that questions and problem areas were always addressed in a sensitive, positive and productive manner and that the class itself was like a family. Tim especially enjoyed playing with Amber and her bone at the end of the day,. The sound of her tail thumping loudly sent a clear message that she is indeed very happy with her new master.
David and Rafferty
Another ACTION student in this month’s class, David Kweder comes from Long Branch, New Jersey. He has returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his third dog, Rafferty. David first came to the school in 1985 at the advice of his mobility instructor. David, who is now 43, says he became totally blind when he was 21 as a result of Diabetes. After receiving his Masters at Ohio State, he entered the Army and became a computer expert developing new software systems. David describes himself as being outgoing and very motivated. Right now his motivation, to love and to cherish, is moving him toward a beach wedding on the 29th of July. His fiancé is a nurse. Our congratulations and best wishes! Together, they are working to refurbish a thirty-year-old house in Long Branch. David has found his new guide dog to be a very good worker. When not working, Rafferty is very playful and a lot of fun. At first, David was a bit of apprehensive about how his former guide dog (now 13) would welcome Rafferty at home. After listening to the experiences of others though, he is now convinced that the two will soon become great buddies. When asked about the dynamics of the January class, David described it as a “camp experience” – sometimes a little “skittish” – he loved it. Speaking of bonding moments, David related how at play time, after they had wrestled with each other on the lounge floor, Rafferty curled his body up next to his and snuggled with him. What more could you ask! Having last trained at Guiding Eyes for the Blind in 1993, David was very complimentary of some of the new commands that have been introduced in the training. He specifically noted that the former “stern reprimand” has been replaced by a “calm tone of correction” which he feels to be more effective with both the dogs and the students. David expressed his total appreciation and admiration for the trainers, instructors and staff.
Cindy and Caprice
At 21, Cindy Marrugo from Austin Texas is the youngest member of the January Class. She came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind to claim her first dog, Caprice, after hearing great things about the school from two of her friends. Cindy was born blind as a result of Retinal Detachment; later surgery brought some sight back. Cindy is an outgoing, friendly, people person. She aspires to become a kindergarten or first-grade teacher or perhaps to venture into the world of fashion and design. She is now completing her first semester at Austin Community College and is also employed at Lighthouse for the Blind in their warehouse department. Cindy enjoys reading books, especially mysteries and detective stories. She also enjoys hanging out with her friends and, of course, spending time on the phone. Cindy describes her beautiful black Lab as stubborn, but a good worker. She told me the time she spent at Guiding Eyes for the Blind was “happy and fun” and that she enjoyed experiencing the learning process with her classmates. When we met, she was especially looking forward to the class trip to New York City, during which the students would be exposed to city traffic, noises, different modes of transportation, restaurants etc. Austin is a busy place, and she knows the New York experience will add to her confidence in traveling about her own environs. As we sat talking together, I noticed that Caprice had snuggled up as close as she could to her new mistress. When I comented on it, Cindy told me that Caprice is generous with her kisses as well as her snuggles! Cindy’s final words were for the instructors and everyone else at Guiding Eyes for the Blind – “Great job, keep it up!”
Guadalupe and Tommy
Guadalupe Montiel presently lives in nearby New Rochelle, New York. The 22-year old señorita came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her first dog, Tommy, at the advice of some of her teachers at New Rochelle Public High School. Born (legally) blind with Retinitus Pigmentosa, Guadalupe emigrated to the United States from Mexico with her family when she was six years old. She said that from the very beginning, she found the English language hard to grasp. She was mainstreamed in the local public schools and participated in English as a Second Language classes; she was also able to learn Braille in the public school system. Guadalupe is seen as being very quiet, and loves to snooze whenever given the chance, but she describes herself as being “funny, liking to laugh, but having a serious side as well.” Guadalupe loves to type and would like to continue her studies at Mercy College where she is focusing on computer courses. At present, she is working at a nursing home. Señorita Montiel enjoys music ranging from hard rock to classical. She also loves to dance and has written many stories and poems. She describes Tommy as cute, happy, smart and assertive and said that when she makes a mistake or wrong move, Tommy let’s her know it! Her favorite activity at Guiding Eyes for the Blind was the traffic walks with Tommy in White Plains. Guadalupe said that the January class was a lot of fun. She not only learned quite a bit, but had a good time as well. When asked if she and Tommy have bonded, she responded with a broad and happy smile: “Every time I talk to him, he kisses me all over!”
Bruce and Grant
Bruce Peterson came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind all the way from Plattsmouth, Nebraska to claim his first dog, Grant. He learned of the school from a friend who has a Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog. After meeting the dog, and seeing him in action, Bruce was sold! Bruce’s blindness is the result of Retinitus Pigmentosa, which caused total blindness when he was in his mid twenties. Bruce has an interesting heritage: his great grandfather was a Chief of a Lakota Sioux Indian tribe located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Bruce himself is a people person, who likes to be friends with everyone, although at times, he admits to having a bit of a temper. Gifted with an “analytical mind,” Bruce attended The Metropolitan Community College of Omaha and earned his Associates Degree in Computer Technology. Now, at the age of 55, he is a computer programmer and has produced a program which reports all the weather facts: temperature, humidity, wind velocity, etc. in every major city of the world. Bruce is a licensed ham radio operator and enjoys his “down time” looking at movies – especially those of science fiction, drama and mystery. When asked whether he had a woman in his life, his face lit up. I think by that he meant, yes. Describing Grant’s personality, Bruce sees his new companion as very loving, devoted and obedient. He said he treasures the memory of getting out on the “walking routes” in White Plains for the first time, where he developed an overwhelming trust in his new guide. “If that was just a foretaste of what life will be when I get home, my life will be tremendously enhanced by a new reality for me – of freedom and independence!” Bruce enjoyed the companionship and support of his class and complimented the patience and expertise of the instructors and the whole program.
Ryan and Skip
Des Moines, Washington is the home of 26-year old Ryan Peterson who traveled to Yorktown Heights to claim his first dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Recommended by his mobility teacher at the Occupation Training Center in Seattle, Ryan checked out the advice and discovered that Guiding Eyes for the Blind received the best reviews all-around. Three years ago, Ryan was employed as a welder at a shipping company. While working high up on a roof, he slipped and plunged headlong to the ground 12 feet below. He lay in a coma in the hospital for two and a half months. When he awoke, he was blind. Subsequent to that, one-half of his face would require intensive surgical reconstruction. One would never know by looking at Ryan. He’s a handsome guy! Graced with a personality that espouses a die-hard, won’t give up, “only thing to stop me – is me” attitude, he is an optimist of the utmost degree. Right now, he is ready to get started working toward employment with Washington’s Department of Services for the Blind and is eager to get involved in Washington’s “Ski-for-All” Program which offers activities for the disabled such as camping, white water rafting, skiing, cliff climbing and much more. Among his more sedentary talents and aspirations are playing guitar, drums and piano. “I love music!” Ryan also loves his new dog, Skip. He describes Skip as mellow, a good worker and leader “I follow him well,” he says. He feels that with Skip in the lead, he will be able to walk faster and with much more confidence – greatly increasing his mobility. He also enjoys playtime with Skip – and his joyful retrieval of the ball on the long line. After play, Skip always comes back and gives Ryan a big sloppy kiss. Ryan described a very special moment during his traffic walk in White Plains when Skip unexpectedly stopped short, causing Ryan to step back. Almost immediately, a car whipped out from beside him. Good boy, Skip! His candid comments about Guiding Eyes for the Blind? “Here I am 3200 miles a way from home and I feel I am at home!”
Kevin and Oakley
Kevin Skelsey, a 30-year-old Canadian from Ontario, initially learned of Guiding Eyes for the Blind from the school’s Website: www.guidingeyes.org. Although he contacted one other school, Guiding Eyes for the Blind called back immediately and their response was courteous and convincing. That was back in 1999. Kevin returned this time to Yorktown Heights with his first dog, Picasso, who will be retired with his puppy raisers. Kevin’s new dog is Oakley, whom he describes as a “Porsche” – compact, friendly, energetic, and proficient at what he does. Kevin lost partial sight at the age of 16 as the result of a bike accident. When asked about the way he views himself, Kevin said he is calm, slow to anger, emotional and sensitive. He plans to go back to college to work further towards a degree in Arts and Science at Loyalist College in Ontario. Not yet totally blind, Kevin hopes to finish his schooling and find a job before that occurs. When asked about his ambitions in life, Kevin thought for a long moment and then said he would settle for two options which are realistic and simple: the first, to work in a brokerage, the second, in a high-class electronic store. Kevin spends his spare time watching action and adventure movies. He is sincere in his praise of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, saying that “people here are extremely dedicated and that their work is more than just a job to them.” He mentioned José Vargas in particular. José has worked for Guiding Eyes for 34 years, starting out as a cook and now overseeing food service, housekeeping and facility maintenance. He can be found on campus as many as 14 hours a day and is always right at hand to fulfill all of the students’ wishes. The day I came to interview Kevin, new boots were being introduced to provide paw protection for the dogs in extreme cold weather. Kevin called it “new styling” and it was amusing to see how the dogs reacted with their “new shoes.”