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January 2010 Graduating Class

Meet some members of our recent student class.

And many thanks to our instructors:

Dawn Conklin and Kopper

Dawn Conklin returned to Guiding Eyes to be matched with golden retriever Kopper.  Dawn shares her Retinitis Pigmentosa with her mother, who also chose to use Guiding Eyes dogs as her mobility aide.  The family enjoys the smaller class sizes and the innovative training techniques.

Dawn worked at Medicare for many years as a claim investigator; now she is looking for a new administrative role, hopefully within an animal welfare organization.  She holds a degree in history from Northern Illinois University.

 Working with guide dogs has helped Dawn fight her homebody nature; she regularly walks around the city and heads out of town to go hiking.  She has become involved with advocacy work for the American Council for the Blind, working on their public relations and fundraising campaigns.

This new team heads home to Chicago, and Dawn looks forward to showing Kopper around town.  She says she’ll feel safe and relaxed with her intelligent, decision making companion by her side.

Allan Finn and Kessler

Allan Finn’s active lifestyle came to an abrupt halt when he lost his eyesight in June of 2006 as the result of a serious motorcycle accident.  Once a successful dentist and active outdoorsman, Allan had to rely on others for the first time in his life.

Allan attests that it was a fluke that he became aware of the services provided by Guiding Eyes for the Blind. While at a routine doctors’ visit in 2009, hospital staff recommended he speak with a field representative who happened to be at the hospital that day.  “I’m not afraid to try anything once and was excited about getting a dog,” Allan remarked.

“I’d been walking around for three years using a cane; I had no training and wasn’t using it properly.”  Guiding Eyes advised Allan on how to obtain mobility training services and in January, Allan was paired with his first guide dog, Kessler.

Allan reflected that the training was nothing like he thought it would be. “I thought I would be training the dog. The dog already knew everything and I was the one that needed the training. The independence is incredible.”

A Florida resident, Allan enjoys spending time at the beach, swimming and fishing. A self attested adrenaline junkie, Allan recently began scuba diving again and has completed six dives since last spring. With his new friend, Kessler, Allan hopes to lead a more adventurous, independent life.

Rodrigo Galvao and Eclaire

Rodrigo Galvao traveled to Guiding Eyes all the way from Brazil.  Although Brazil has several organizations assisting blind and visually impaired citizens, there is no guide dog school; only 60 guide dogs live and work within the country’s borders.

Rodrigo was diagnosed with glaucoma at the age of 18, after failing the eye exam at his driver’s license test.  After 11 surgeries, he was left with almost no vision.  Undeterred, he went to law school and is now a practicing civil attorney.

Yellow Labrador Eclaire is Rodrigo’s new partner.  Rodrigo has always been a dog lover, and the pair bonded quickly.  He believes that having her back in Brazil will provide more independence and greater mobility.  Rodrigo also knows how approachable dogs can be; he thinks that Eclaire will help him to feel more included within society.

Rodrigo heads home to his fiance, friends, and family, and looks forward to working with Eclaire to promote the use of guide dogs in Brazil.

Jonathan (Eric) Holland and Trooper

Jonathan “Eric” Holland, a 22 year old native of Oklahoma, became visually impaired due to a brain tumor when he was 18 months old. Eric’s eyesight has gradually diminished over the years and he has been in and out of the hospital for much of his life.

Growing up in a family of five boys, Eric always had someone with him.  Eric’s father, a football coach, encouraged his son to never give up and Eric has fond memories of being the ball boy for his father’s team.

Friends and a counselor recommended that he contact Guiding Eyes for the Blind to find out how a guide dog might give him more independence. Eric lives in a busy area without many sidewalks and felt a guide dog would help him gain more freedom.

In January Eric was paired with black Labrador Trooper. He states that traveling with a dog provides the extra pair of eyes to make getting around more comfortable. “The training has been fantastic, much more in depth than I expected. With a cane you are on high alert, with a dog you can relax a little.”

Eric is an active member of his church where he volunteers regularly. He is also a member of Toastmasters, an international public speaking group.   Eric’s encounter with a young, terminally ill boy touched his life and bolstered his faith. He is currently in the process of writing a book about his life story. Eric’s goal is to speak to and inspire young people facing challenging obstacles.

Bruce Hildebrand and Ireland

Bruce Hildebrand has enjoyed a long, rewarding relationship with Guiding Eyes.  He recently was matched with his sixth guide dog, Ireland.

Bruce received his first Guiding Eyes dog at the age of 17.  With the assistance of his first guide dog, Bruce was able to live independently in New York City where he attended college and then graduate school, earning a Masters in Business Administration and Public Health.  He also was quite an adventurer and traveled, accompanied only by his dog, all across the United States.

Today, Bruce shares his home in Virginia with his wife, and works as an emergency management specialist in the Washington D.C. area.  He enjoys reading, working with tools and is an avid environmentalist.

When asked about his relationship with his many guide dogs, Bruce paused to reflect on the many gifts each has given him.  He stated, “In 1972 I called Guiding Eyes to get a dog.  Picked up the handle of the harness and have felt like I was walking on air ever since.  Each one has been unique, and Ireland is just a love.  He’s attentive, a smarty pants. We are ready for our second wind, ready for adventure. So much to do and so little time, whatever we accomplish, I know we’ll do it well.”

Faye McCamey and Inez

Faye McCamey’s retinitis pigmentosa was diagnosed in her 30s; five of her family members share the same vision impairment.  This month, Faye traveled to New York from Michigan to be matched with Guiding Eyes Inez.

Faye and her husband are very proud of their four children and seven grandchildren, and they spend much of their free time hanging out with the family.  Now that her own children are grown, Faye would like to go to college and pursue a career in court transcription.  She is determined that her blindness will not stop her from doing anything she puts her mind to.

Faye describes her experience at Guiding Eyes as “beautiful.  The trainers are excellent and the program progressed at a pace that allowed me to develop my confidence with Inez.”   Faye is already in love with her new guide dog, and she looks forward to returning home so Inez can meet the family.

Michael Moore and Orion

Michael Moore of Oakland, California knows first hand the positive rewards of a successful match with the right guide dog. He received his first Guiding Eyes dog, Kyack, in 2001 when he lost sight due to diabetic retinopathy.

Michael was living in New York City when his eyesight declined as a result of diabetic retinopathy.  In the midst of a successful career in theatrical costume design, he decided to make a change and began to study law at Roger Williams University.  Michael, who now lives in California and works for the Mayor’s Office, says he couldn’t have made it through law school without Guiding Eyes Kyack by his side.

Michael shared that blindness can be an isolating, and lonely condition.  He’s always felt that his dogs have enabled him to meet more people and retain a sense of normalcy within society.  He’s also enjoyed the empowerment and companionship that his guide dogs have provided him.

Michael’s new companion is yellow Labrador Orion.   He praises Guiding Eyes for the continuing support and family environment they offer. “I am impressed with how the training grows and develops. Their goal is to keep you a successful, working team; that is not always the case with other organizations.”

As for the puppy raisers – Michael will be thrilled to meet the family who raised Orion.  His heartfelt admiration of these volunteers is abundant; he feels they are the backbone of the Guiding Eyes program.

William Richards and Yolette

Willy Richards was matched with Yolette, a female yellow Labrador and his second guide dog from Guiding Eyes.  Willy lost his sight in 1991 due to a detached retina and hemorrhaging.  A year later, he came to Guiding Eyes for his first guide, and immediately enjoyed the faster travel, freedom, and confidence.

For Willy, having a guide dog pre-empted his trip back to college, where he received an associate’s degree in early childhood education.  Currently he teaches 2nd grade in Brooklyn, and particularly likes getting involved in helping his students with their writing.  The kids loved his last guide, and he knows they will love Yolette.  He believes his guide dogs are an inspiration to the children.

 Leah Seabury and Ralphie

Yellow Labrador Ralphie has already been dubbed ‘the Ralphinator’ by new handler Leah.  She describes her second Guiding Eyes dog as “simply awesome.  He is so smart.  He works hard and always does his best, but he also loves to play.”

Leah is from North Carolina.  She 21 years old and was born with Leber’s congenital amaurosis, a rare inherited eye disease.   She has an associate’s degree in the arts, and has gone back to college to study elementary education.  Her ultimate goal is to teach math to third or fourth graders.

Leah has always been an animal lover; her orientation and mobility teachers used to bribe her through cane lessons, reminding her that she had to master this first set of skills before learning to work with a guide dog.

All her hard work paid off, and Leah’s dogs have been an essential part of her life.  Her first guide not only navigated the busy college campus, he also helped her meet new friends and calmed her during public speaking presentations.