January 2018 Graduating Class

 In Graduations, News & Events

My wish for all of the graduates from the past, in the future, and those sitting here today is that with the new four legs that will now lead you, that the world becomes bigger, your feeling of independence soars, and that you find everything overflowing with beauty. You are all an inspiration! Congratulations and enjoy the paths you find yourselves discovering!  Nancy Kern

Guiding Eyes for the Blind gratefully remembers our friend and supporter, Alice H. Mathias. Alice had a lifelong passion for animals and greatly valued our dogs and mission. Her generous legacy has enriched lives by providing our graduates with the independence and companionship of a Guiding Eyes dog.

Congratulations Trey and Shatner and all the graduating teams of the Class of January 2018! We are proud to sponsor your graduation day and wish you all the best in your travels together.

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

Watch this month’s graduation live by clicking here.


Residential Graduates

Ashlie & Addie
John & Thor
Mushad “Kalif” & Fitz
Pamela & Allie (S)
Shelby & Olana
Susan & Dottie
Trey & Shatner (S)


Home Training

Bernard & Herman
Joy & Eden
Lynnette & Cici
Michael & Pete
Oliver & Irwin
Rania & Clyde
Richard & Jiffy
Sandra & Val


(P): A Pathfinder Society Member—someone who has remembered Guiding Eyes in their estate plans and has received this dog’s progress reports and photos from puppyhood.

(S): The donors listed below made a special gift to personally name the following dogs:
• Allie was Special Named in loving memory of Alice H. Mathias.
• Shatner was Special Named in honor of Priceline.com.

Congratulations to our graduating class!

Many thanks to our Training Staff

Class Supervisor: Shanon Walsh
Class Instructors: Lori Busse, Cara Ebeling
Apprentice Instructor: Katherine Russell
Instructor Assistant: Marybeth Heady
Running Guides Specialist: Nick Speranza



Home Training

Graham Buck, Assistant Director of Training
Chrissy Vetrano, Home Training Instructor
Megan Baker, Home Training Instructor
Susan Kroha, Special Needs Instructor
Jessy DiNapoli, Special Needs Instructor
Dave Hagemann, Field Representative
Maureen Mellett, Field Representative


Ashlie & Addie

Ashlie & Addie

A hard-working college undergraduate, Ashlie has a perspective on guide dog training that might surprise many who have been through it and say it’s more like boot camp. “It feels like it’s been a vacation,” she says of working with Addie, a female black Labrador and her first guide dog. “I’ve always lived a fast-paced lifestyle. I take so many classes, and I’m constantly keeping busy. But at Guiding Eyes I’m in a city and state I’ve never been to, and I get to take this lovely dog home with me.”

A native Californian, Ashlie attends the College of the Desert, where she is studying studio art. Legally blind since birth due to congenital optic nerve hypoplasia, she lives with her best friend Melissa, a guide dog handler. It was Melissa who inspired Ashlie to give up her white cane and work with a guide dog. And because she is traveling more by bus and attending night classes, Ashlie knew the timing was right.

Already she feels herself walking more confidently with a dog. “As long as Addie and I are connecting, we pull through,” she says. “Addie is my fashionista. We were walking in Macy’s, and she wagged her tail the entire time!” The oldest of five (“I’m the oldest and the shortest”), Ashlie hopes one day to open her own craft shop.

Congratulations to Addie’s puppy raisers, Sara Kate Hill and Carol Buchanan!

John & Thor

John & Thor

Obstacle is a word John understands well—so well, in fact, that it’s become a word he embraces. John lost some of his vision in 1982 while serving in the Army and is a disabled veteran. He has been legally blind since 1986 when his retinitis pigmentosa grew worse.

His post-military career took him to the U.S. postal service, where he worked in building and vehicle repair until retirement. Now this father of four—with three stepchildren and six granddaughters—spends his time overcoming obstacles of his own making. He actually built an obstacle course on his Kentucky property with his wife Robin, a physical therapist assistant and fellow endurance racer. In their free time, John and Robin travel the country participating in Spartan and Tough Mudder obstacle course races. Last October John completed his first Ultra Beast Spartan race: a 29.4 mile run with 65 obstacles throughout the course.

It’s not surprising, then, that John chose our Running Guides program and is thrilled to be partnered with Thor, a male black-and-tan German Shepherd, his first guide dog. Running with Thor will mean John no longer has to rely on human guides to alert him to objects in his path. “Thor is definitely an athlete,” says John. “I think he can run an eight-minute mile.” Although John is used to training, training with a canine partner has been a different experience altogether. “You have to come in with an open mind,” John explains. “I tend to think ahead of myself, and the trainers keep telling me to sit back and let them do the training.” As for Guiding Eyes, “The VA coordinator said I was going to love it here, and I do. They know when you’re having a down day, and they constantly make you feel like you’re family.”

Congratulations to Thor’s puppy raisers, David & Julie Albany!

Mushad “Kalif” & Fitz

Mushad “Kalif” & Fitz

“When I first went blind,” says Kalif, “I didn’t have a support network of people like me. I knew I didn’t want to be that person who is isolated and closed off from the world. I wanted a place where people could feel safe and talk to each other.” While he’s describing Hands-On Club, a volunteer group for people with disabilities he co-founded in 2016, Kalif might as well be describing his experience with Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

Kalif (whose given name is Mushad) has had glaucoma since childhood and was declared legally blind in 2007 after a car accident resulted in detached retinas. The father of eight-year-old Danni’elle, Kalif is a DJ who lives in his native Brooklyn with his daughter, girlfriend Candice, and her Shih Tzu.

Kalif worked at a grocery store until 2015, three years after leukemia took the life of his wife and the mother of Danni’elle. He plans to begin a new job at Goodwill Industries in Manhattan this year. For now, working as a DJ at private parties and raising his daughter commands much of his time. He remains dedicated to growing the Hands-On Club, which currently has 14 members and meets two to three times per month. “I want to give back and help others,” Kalif says. “Anybody can learn Braille, but if you don’t have anywhere to go or anyone to talk to, what are you going to do?” As for Fitz, a male black Labrador, Kalif is certain he can sense his emotions (“Fitz gets me,” he says simply). Fitz will be his second Guiding Eyes guide—and the first dog at the Club. “Like a mascot,” says Kalif.

Congratulations to Fitz’s puppy raisers, Susan & Roger L’Hommedieu!

Pamela & Allie

Pamela & Allie

For years, Pam dreamed of the day she would be paired with a guide dog, but she wasn’t sure that day would ever come. “My eye doctor told me I didn’t need a guide dog because I had too much vision,” she says. “But today I’m legally blind, not totally blind. After approaching a number of guide dog programs, the Connecticut resident is particularly grateful to be working with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, and for more reasons than one might expect. “Other schools just seem more structured and ‘business-y.’ Guiding Eyes feels more personal and homey.” Most important, Guiding Eyes has also brought Allie, a female yellow Labrador, into her life.

A pari mutuel teller at Mohegan Sun casino, Pam was born with albinism. She lived the first eight years of her life in Puerto Rico, then moved to the U.S. Until recently she was a student at Western Connecticut State University. Pam hopes to return to school to earn a degree in graphic design. When she’s not working, she loves art, drawing, and digital design.” She describes her new canine partner as “calm, very affectionate, and just the right amount of playful.” She adds, “Having Allie around is going to be like having an extra friend around, not just a tool that helps me do my day-to-day things. If you’re walking down the street with a white cane, people tend to avoid you. Everybody sees the cane and thinks you’re different. But with a dog, you’re more likely to have conversations. You’re more engaged with the world.”

Congratulations to Allie’s puppy raisers, Diane M. Gudaitis and Maureen Dinner!

Shelby & Olana

Shelby & Olana

Shelby has been legally blind due to Stargardt disease since 2003, and it’s quickly clear on meeting her that she has used her vision loss to motivate and help others. A student at the University of Wyoming, she is double majoring in international studies and Spanish and double minoring in anthropology and disability studies. Shelby is also a student representative on the school accessibility committee, and she is one of the founding members of Abilities, an on-campus group that provides support and advocacy to disabled students. It’s no surprise that she says she doesn’t have much time for hobbies (although she does admit to a fondness for Netflix).

The Washington State native lives with her boyfriend Garrett, with whom she studied abroad in the Netherlands last year. Olana, a female yellow Labrador and Shelby’s first guide dog, should prepare herself for travel, as Shelby loves to explore other cultures. “Going abroad was one of the reasons I decided a dog would be a good choice for me,” she says. “I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with my white cane. I felt like I was the center of attention and ignored, all at the same time.”

Regarding Olana, Shelby believes they are a natural pair: both curious, both ready to go out and explore the world, and both a little bit goofy. She’s looking forward to enjoying a new sense of security and the ability to relax when she navigates campus with Olana. While she considers herself an introvert, Shelby has traveled around the country, giving talks on disability rights advocacy, which is where she would like to focus her career after she graduates this year.

Congratulations to Olana’s puppy raisers, Sierra Bloomer and Katie LaBlue!

Susie & Dottie

Susie & Dottie

Although she has been legally blind due to type 1 diabetes since 1973, Susie has seen the world. Born in Paris to American parents, Susie lived in France until she was nine. After a brief stint in the U.S., she moved with her family—she is one of five children—to Sao Paulo, Brazil, where she lived for the next 25 years. Having retired from a career as an ESL teacher, Susie moved to California in 1991 to be near one of her brothers and now lives in the same senior living community as her mother.

With Dottie, a female black Labrador, Susie welcomes her second guide dog and first from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. She describes her new partner as “beautiful, very mellow, and gentle.” When her previous dog retired in 2011, she says, “I had to relearn how to use my white cane. That’s because I had learned to trust my guide dog. I really hated my cane so I was dying to be partnered with a dog again. Dottie will give me my independence to just get up and go whenever I want to. We’re a team, so I won’t have to wait for someone to come and pick me up.”

Susie has experienced significant health challenges. She had a kidney and pancreas transplant, a stroke, and skin cancer. But she’s taken these setbacks in stride and stays active by walking, participating in three different book groups, and practicing yoga twice a week. “I was the first blind person in the class,” she says. “The teacher didn’t really know what to expect of me, and I didn’t exactly know what to expect of her.” Now Dottie will accompany her partner to yoga, where she may even get her own yoga mat.

Congratulations to Dottie’s puppy raisers, The William B. Rector, III, Family!

Trey & Shatner

Trey & Shatner

Anyone familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality types will know exactly what Trey means when he says he is an “ESFJ.” For those who don’t, here’s a translation: extraversion, sensing, feeling, judging. In other words, he’s a highly social creature. It makes perfect sense, then, that Trey’s days are happily filled with friends, work, and volunteering. When he talks about Shatner, a male yellow Labrador and his first guide dog, Trey may as well be talking about himself: “Shatner loves people,” he says. “He’s caring—a great dog.”

Although Trey has been blind since the age of five due to neurofibromatosis Type 1, he has always used a white cane, whether he was in school (first at the Oklahoma School for the Blind, then at the University of Central Oklahoma), or hanging out with friends. Now, however, he has just left home to move to a large Oklahoma city. He knows that having a dog will help him in his travels as well as encourage others to approach him. “Shatner will open up my daily life more,” Trey explains. “And he and I can hang out together.”

An only child who comes from a tight-knit family, Trey works in the telemarketing department of Tulsa World newspaper. A year ago he used his undergraduate degree in applied technology to start his own music publishing company, 12th Gate Publishing. In his free time, Trey loves to hang out with friends in coffee shops, at the movies, waterskiing on a nearby lake—or rooting for his favorite sports teams. Although Trey is a lifelong Oklahoman, his favorite professional teams are in…Boston!

Congratulations to Shatner’s puppy raisers, Alyssa Cornelius and Shannon Reddy!

Home Training

Bernard & Herman

“In the last 5 years,” says Bernie, “I have been in two major accidents because of my blindness.” Four years ago, during his regular commute, Bernie was running for a train, using his white cane, when he hit a sign that had fallen over. Then last year, walking on the military base where he works, Bernie ran into a parked truck. This second accident—which required three months of recovery—is what prompted him to apply for a guide dog. Bernie, who works full-time while pursuing an MBA in information technology, puts it simply: “I was advised that a guide dog wouldn’t run me into a truck.”

A contract specialist for the Department of Defense, Bernie has been legally blind since birth due to congenital glaucoma. He lives in Virginia with Patty, his wife of 18 years, and their two sons. Herman, a male yellow Labrador and Bernie’s first guide dog, now rounds out the family. “Big, strong, and sturdy” is how Bernie describes his new partner. “I have never felt a dog that strong before,” he says. “And he is an ice-breaker. With a white cane, 90 percent of people don’t talk to you. They’re afraid to approach. But I’m a social butterfly. I want to engage. And Herman allows me to do that.”

Bernie, who participated in the Home Training program, is quick to point out that his trainer was the key to his success. He describes her as part psychologist, part social worker, and part dog trainer. After recent weight-loss surgery, Bernie (who is also hearing impaired) hopes to lose 100 pounds in the next year. “I’m going to do that walking with Herman. He’s not going to let me sit on the couch,” he says. “I’m not just a blind man. I’m a blind man with a lot of other problems. I’m very grateful that Guiding Eyes for the Blind has taken all of my issues into consideration and has blessed me with a dog that is going to help me.”

Congratulations to Herman’s puppy raiser, Elizabeth M. Dunn!


Joy & Eden

Joy is a business consultant who provides consulting, training, and resources, to businesses regarding working with and providing customer service to people who are blind or visually impaired. She also assists with a program that works with students on career exploration, skills of daily living, and social etiquette. Joy also wears the hat of a copywriter and web content writer.

In her personal life, Joy likes to hang out with family and friends, dine out with her husband from time to time, and participate in mind/body related programs such as yoga. She and her husband also enjoy vacationing around the United States. Their favorite vacation spots include: Vegas; Sedona AZ; Williamsburg, VA; and various parts of Florida. They are also looking to venture abroad, to such places as Europe and the Caribbean.

With her trusty new partner in crime Eden, a black Lab and her fourth guide dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind, she feels confident again in getting where she needs to go without depending on her family and friends. “Although I am able to travel independently with my mobility cane, I feel safe, secure, and more confident getting around with a guide dog. Eden will have many adventures with me beyond the everyday life of work and home.”

Congratulations to Eden’s puppy raisers, Cailin Harro & Eric Mitchell!

Lynnette & Cici

“Before I lost my sight, everything was falling into place, but God had other plans.” That’s how Lynnette describes the period in her early 20s when she was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. A Newfoundland native, she had just moved to the large Ontario city where she currently lives, was working in retail (which she loved), and felt her life taking off. And then? “I locked myself in my house for two years,” she says. “I fell into that big dark hole that many do. I realized I had to get out of it, and that no one was going to do it for me. I thought the best way I could do it was to connect with an animal.”

Lynnette graduated with her first Guiding Eyes for the Blind guide, Quincy, in 2004, and she’s never looked back. “I always said I wanted a dog,” she explains. “I just never said how I was going to get it.” Now she works for her city in the water services department, assisting customers with all manner of issues. She is also a member of the city’s Diversity Steering Committee, a group that encourages and supports inclusiveness within the community for everyone regardless of their religion, race, sexual orientation, or abilities.

Married to Delores and the mother of a stepdaughter, Lynnette is also a passionate advocate for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, serving on the Graduate Council. In this capacity, she conducts graduate exit interviews, constantly looking for ways the organization can improve. And providing connection: “Sometimes other graduates just need someone who understands,” she says. “So we come together and are there as a community for them.”

Lynnette, who participated in the Home Training program, knew Cici, a female yellow Labrador and her fourth Guiding Eyes guide, was right as soon as she heard her name. Beaches is Lynnette’s favorite movie, and one of the main characters, played by Bette Midler, is named C.C. Bloom. Like Bette Midler herself, the canine Cici is “definitely a one-of-a-kind. She can be very spunky. She’s consistent, trustworthy, and all around just a great little girl.” But Lynnette would expect no less from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. After all, she says “I owe them my life. I’ve been an advocate for so long, I just can’t wait to share that wealth with others. The more I can spread the word, the happier we will all be.”

Congratulations to Cici’s puppy raiser, Carlisle Wildeman!


Michael & Pete

“For the longest time I didn’t even know I was blind.” That’s how Michael, an accomplished emergency room doctor, Army vet, husband, and father of three describes what happened after his life took a sudden turn on a spring day in 2014. That was the day a motorcycle accident left him with such severe injuries that he spent the balance of the year in an acute trauma center and rehabilitation facility. It wasn’t until he was back home that he began focusing on the fact that he was legally blind.

But Mike, as he’s known to family and friends, is accustomed to a physician’s life of discipline and study, and he soon turned to the Cleveland VA, which has a rehabilitation center for the blind. He stayed there for three months as the idea of partnering with a guide dog took hold. Now he welcomes Pete, a yellow male Labrador, into the home he shares with wife Mary and two seven-year-old schnauzers.

Partnering with a dog is still very much a work in progress. “I’m new even to the white cane,” Mike says. “It’s hard to think it’s already been three years. Using a dog guide is basically a partnership. We’re a team, and I need to understand what information I get from Pete, and what information I have to give to Pete.” The two have been working together indoors—Mike’s town is near the Canadian border, with very cold winters—going to the mall, and to the hospital where Mike gives lectures to students and residents. “The hospital is half a mile away, and so within walking distance when the weather is nice,” Mike says. “Pete gives me the confidence that I can get around without always having to wait for someone to accompany me.”

And Mike, who participated in the Special Needs Home Training program, continues to adapt to his new life circumstances, just as he’s adapting to working with a canine partner. “The big issue for me is not just what Pete will be able to do, but whether I can hold up my end of the bargain, to have the right amount of discipline and to pay attention to the emotional mechanics,” he says. “Am I doing right by this other creature? Just like in a human relationship.”

Congratulations to Pete’s puppy raiser, Emily Odhiambo!


Oliver & Irwin

“It was hard for me to accept my limits.” In some respects, those nine words tell you nearly everything you need to know about Oliver’s life up until the time he was paired with Irwin, a male yellow Labrador and his first guide dog. The son of a one-star Army general who grew up around the world (“I lived in so many places, I can’t count them all”), Oliver attended Washington State University on a track scholarship and graduated with a BS in psychology. While in school he joined the Air Force ROTC and trained to be a pilot. It was during his final physical exam that he was diagnosed with pseudoxanthoma elasticum (PXE), a rare disease that affected his vision.

Although Oliver was very disappointed that he received an honorable discharge from the Air Force because of his PXE, he went on to use his degree to work with high risk youth and the developmentally challenged. Eventually he went to work for the IRS. In 2004 Oliver was declared legally blind.

“When I lost my sight, I couldn’t believe it happened to me,” the Washington-based husband and father of a teenage daughter says. “I went through a bad spell for three years. In vocational training they told me I needed to do things for myself. I thought, Why do it myself if I can have my wife or daughter help me? That’s what I did. A lot of it had to do with admitting that I couldn’t see. Finally my Dad said, ‘You’ve just got to suck it up.’”

Enter Guiding Eyes for the Blind. The head psychiatrist at Oliver’s local VA hospital had a Guiding Eyes guide, which inspired Oliver to apply, even though he feared he walked too quickly. However, he says, “Irwin walks fast, which is good. I always thought, What’s a dog going to do for me? But now that he’s here, it clicked. I always felt like I was going against the stream. With Irwin, it’s easygoing. Just to close my eyes and have complete faith in that dog—there’s nothing to worry about.” The team participated in the Home Training program. These days they walk together four to six miles per day, go to the mall, museums, and visit friends. “I’ll get on buses and I don’t even know where they’re going,” he adds with a laugh. “Irwin is basically my reason to get up and do more than I had been doing.”

Congratulations to Irwin’s puppy raiser, Sharyn Cain!


Rania & Clyde

Motherhood, writing, and learning: those three things are extremely important to Rania, a Maryland resident and first-time guide dog user. And Clyde, her new male yellow Labrador partner, will help her with each one. Rania, who participated in the Special Needs Home Training program, was born with hearing loss, but it wasn’t until the age of 19 that she was diagnosed with Usher syndrome. She was a college student and the single mother of a three-month-old son. By the time she was 24 she was forced to stop driving when she was declared legally blind.

Fast forward to today: now married to Alden, a computer scientist with the federal government, Rania is also the mother of two young daughters and, as she puts it, “I’m everything that a stay-at-home-mom is, except instead of the jingle of car keys I have the jingle of Clyde’s harness.”

Living in a planned community, Rania is able to walk to many of the places she needs to go, particularly to her daughters’ school, which is a quarter mile from their house. With the arrival of Clyde, this Girl Scout troop co-leader will be able to volunteer in the girls’ classrooms, which she hasn’t been able to do for years. She knew Clyde (who she describes as “way cuter than a white cane”) would transform her life the first time she and Alden took the kids to their local mall, and everyone in the family could move more independently. “We went to the bookstore,” Rania recalls. “Clyde and I took my youngest daughter to the kids’ section. My husband went to get science books, and my oldest daughter went to get her things. Clyde looked out for me, and we all just got our stuff. It’s the simple things that matter. But it’s stressful not being able to see where you’re going and have two kids to look after. As my vision decreased, my world had shrunk. Now that Clyde’s in it, my world is expanding again.”

In her limited spare time, Rania loves to write. She is working on a series of historical novels, which requires her to research local places of historical importance. With Clyde by her side, these day trips will be much easier. Meaning Clyde—in addition to being a trusted partner and lovable member of the family—has no doubt earned a spot in the acknowledgments of Rania’s first novel.

Congratulations to Clyde’s puppy raiser, Courtney Miller!


Richard & Jiffy

“When I talked about it, I would tear up.” That’s how emotional Dick felt about retiring his first guide dog, who had been his partner for a decade. But after just a short time with Jiffy, a female yellow Labrador and his second Guiding Eyes guide, Dick knows he is once again in excellent hands (or paws, as it were). “Jiffy is just a little scamp,” he explains. “She wormed her way into my heart right away.”

A retiree, Dick met Sharon, his wife of 23 years, when they both worked at the Milwaukee County Welfare Department. Dick now lives in Arizona, which affords him the right kind of weather to pursue one of his biggest passions: golf. As president of the United States Blind Golf Association, Dick credits the game with introducing him to Guiding Eyes for the Blind. He has been involved in our annual golf classic for the last 15 years.

Legally blind since birth due to retinopathy of prematurity, Dick has a master’s degree in social work and worked in human services for 40 years. In transitioning from one dog to another, Dick marveled at the value and effectiveness of the Home Training program. “It impressed me that Guiding Eyes would send a staff member to work with me for ten days. My previous guide and I had developed shortcuts. I had to go back to the basics with Jiffy, which was very helpful. You don’t worry about making mistakes—you worry about not correcting them.”

And Dick expresses particular thanks to one group of unsung heroes: the puppy raisers. “Without them none of this would be possible. There are no words that can express how I feel about the puppy raisers. At the end of the day I get on my knees, and I hug Jiffy and I thank Guiding Eyes for the Blind. And I thank God.”

Congratulations to Jiffy’s puppy raisers, Allen, Marylynn & Bonnie Harvey and Kayla Wuellenweber!


Sandra & Val

Congratulations to Val’s puppy raisers, The Peios Family and S. Renee Hance!