Congratulations to our January 2019 graduating class!
A big thank you to all involved in helping Rizzo reach her full potential as a guide dog, a job well done! Congratulations to Katie and Rizzo as you embark on your new journey together.
-Orange County Puppy Raising Region
Congratulations to the January class. Grab hold of that harness and go experience the beautiful world!
– Nancy Kern
We gratefully acknowledge the Fain Family’s support of our video streaming capabilities
- Allyson and Irving
- Anthony and Howie (S)
- Brian and Farley
- Clayton and Eddie (S)
- Joshua and Jed
- Katie and Rizzo
- Lori and Ivan
- Michael and Ian
- Patsy and Newman
- Rachael and Dudley
- Rachelle and Puma
Home Training Graduates:
- Heather and Dewey
- Karen and Dublin
- Ricardo and Hampton
Many thanks to our Training Staff:
- Class Supervisor: Shanon Walsh
- Class Instructors: Lori Busse, Cara Ebeling, Marybeth Heady
- Action Instructor: Stephanie Koret
- Running Guides Specialist: Nick Speranza
- Instructor Assistant: Madison Swab
- Home Training Instructors: Chrissy Vetrano, Graham Buck, Julie Angle
S: A special gift was made to personally name the following dogs:
- Howie was special named by the Sonn’s in
Memory of Howard Sonn.
- Eddie was Special Named in Memory of Eddie Ortiz.
S: A special gift was made to personally name the following dogs:
Meet the Residential Training Graduates
Graduate Team: Allyson and Irving
About the Team: Irving, a male black Labrador, is Allyson’s first guide dog
Hometown: Groton, Connecticut
Ally is an independent and determined high school sophomore, looking forward to college in the future. She participates in high school cheerleading and Irving will attend practice with her! She enjoys long walks on the track and going to the mall with friends.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Irving is super loving and likes to get really close and snuggle. He’s very smart and responds really quickly. He always turns around to look at me and make sure I’m doing ok. He will be my fourth lab, but the first three were pets. He’s playful like they are, but cuddlier and the most well-behaved dog I’ve ever had.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I started considering a guide dog, hoping that walking might be smoother and quicker. Last summer I visited Guiding Eyes with my Orientation and Mobility instructor and other blind and visually impaired students to experience what it’s like to work with a guide dog. I loved it. It felt really freeing! I hadn’t walked like that in years and knew right away it’s what I wanted.”
What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “I’m looking forward to the added independence! Everybody in my grade is turning 16 and about to get their drivers licenses, but obviously I cannot do that. He is going to be my added independence from turning 16. I’m also looking forward to introducing him to my friends and family and my school has been good about making sure everybody knows the rules.
Were there any training highlights? “Early in training I remember having the best walk with him. He was walking quickly, leading me back and forth without getting distracted at all. He slowed down, then he stopped, and I didn’t even notice there was a car nearby. He did a really good job.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “I would say look into it and make sure it is something you are really interested in, then go for it. For me, it was a really good choice and I was surprised at how fast the application process went.
Is there anything else about your experience you would like to share? “Everybody here is really nice, I haven’t met any staff members who didn’t come up to me and treat me like family.”
Congratulations to Irving’s Puppy Raisers, The Wilkinson Family!
Graduate Team: Anthony “Skippy” and Howie
About the Team: Howie, a male black Labrador, is Skippy’s first guide dog
Hometown: St. Augustine, Florida
Skippy is a college sophomore and is excited to introduce his new guide, Howie to his two dogs back home. Since 2010, he has been an avid Goalball player, (a team sport designed specifically for athletes with vision impairment), and he plans to travel to multiple adult league tournaments. Skippy is also looking forward to tackling new challenges with Howie, like amusement parks – maybe even Disney!
How would you describe your guide dog? “Howie loves to cuddle and is always eager to please.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “Guiding Eyes was just so responsive to me from the beginning that it made me excited to get started.”
What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “It’s so different from traveling with a cane. It feels natural and we’re really in-step with each other. He’s been helping me with more than just travel. Taking care of Howie encourages me to keep a consistent schedule, exercise and get stronger – all important for playing Goalball.”
Were there any training highlights? “I’ve never moved around a mall so fast. We practiced that in training and I’ve never been more excited. I didn’t fall or bump into anything – we moved around people so easily – it was awesome!”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “I would just try to give them an idea of what to expect, to make sure they are ready for the experience. I’m not sure that people understand what it is like to have a guide dog. They are with you almost all the time and they are like a part of you.”
Congratulations to Howie’s Puppy Raisers, The Reade Family!
Graduate Team: Brian and Farley
About the Team: Farley, a male black Labrador, is Brian’s third Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown: Toronto, Canada
Brian returned to Guiding Eyes to partner-up with his 3rd guide dog, Farley, a black Lab with a zest for life. He works at a bank and looks forward to introducing Farley to his 12-year-old son, who is extremely excited to welcome another dog into the family.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Farley is smaller than my previous two guides and he’s extremely enthusiastic about life!”
Why did you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I’ve had two dogs from Guiding Eyes for the Blind and because of those past experiences, I knew I wanted to return. The family atmosphere and the follow-up throughout the guide dog’s working life really stands out.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “While I can get around with a cane, when I use a guide dog it’s easier for me. Also, for an introvert like myself, a guide dog can be a social attractor.”
Any training highlights? “Farley has been excellent during training! He’s a great working dog.”
What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “Just remember: it’s a commitment and a lot of work. But for those who like dogs, it’s great!”
Congratulations to Farley’s Puppy Raisers, Kaitlyn and Craig Gallagher!
Graduate Team: Clayton and Eddie
About the Team: Eddie, a male black Labrador, is Clayton’s first guide dog
Hometown: Canandaigua, New York
Clayton is a Varsity Assistant Wrestling Coach in his local school district. He is determined to not let his visual impairment get in the way of his active lifestyle, which includes workouts at the gym, volunteering at fitness classes, walking, running or hiking near the beautiful waterfalls in his area.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Eddie is very confident, you can tell he’s aware when he’s doing a good job. He’s calm & attentive when working, but a goofball at playtime!”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “To be more independent and not have to rely so much on other people. Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help, so if I can do it on my own and believe in myself – that helps make me a stronger person. It’s the independence.”
What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “Feeling comfortable and confident in knowing I’ve got somebody seeing the things that I don’t see. It’s easy to shut down if you’re not sure of things, but a companion to lean on gives you a boost and gets you out of your comfort zone. I can already feel how it brings my energy up! Hey, it’s not only fun and safer – it’s exciting!”
Were there any training highlights? “I told him to go forward, but he stopped because a car was coming around the corner. There was such a feeling of relief! It wasn’t a close call, but only because he protected me. I would never have thought a dog could do something like that! He’s making his own decisions even though I told him to do something else. It blows my mind. That was a big highlight. It’s a big deal.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “Don’t come for a pet. Come for a partner to help you in life. It’s not always snuggling and playtime, because you need to be focused when working. It’s like a best friend, but more – you’re partners on the same team.”
Is there anything else about your experience you would like to share? “This has been an awesome experience and so much more than I expected. The instructors do a great job and everyday things flow so much smoother. Great staff, good food, plus I get to work out! I’ve never been in a setting quite like this where I can share meals and have conversations with people who have similar vision issues. We don’t have to think about those issues. It’s very comforting.”
Congratulations to Eddie’s Puppy Raisers, Diane and Terry Haglund!
Graduate Team: Joshua and Jed
About the Team: Jed, a male black Labrador, is Joshua’s first guide dog
Hometown: Alba, Texas
Joshua is a college student majoring in business management. He attended a rehabilitation center for the blind to learn the skills necessary to successfully attend college and looks forward to a safer experience on campus with Jed.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Amazing. That word sums it up. He’s very focused when he’s working and can be playful when the harness is off.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “More mobility to make it easier and safer to get places faster. Guiding Eyes was recommended as one of the top schools.”
What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “On campus, getting from building to building will be a whole lot easier. Walking down the sidewalk is faster with a guide dog. If you’re passing a shop with things out front, a guide dog knows where the obstacles are and takes you around them.”
Were there any training highlights? “When we were training in the mall I learned that using a guide dog helps you find the elevators and escalators much more quickly.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “It’s amazing. I’d encourage them to do it.”
Congratulations to Jed’s Puppy Raisers, Scott and Carol Kennedy!
Graduate Team: Katie and Rizzo
About the Team: Rizzo, a female black German Shepherd, is Katie’s second Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown: Grand Haven, MI
Katie is a Physical Therapist and Clinic Manager of an Outpatient Orthopedic Clinic in Michigan. She is a long-time member of the USA Adaptive Waterski team, where she competes in slalom, trick, and jump. The team travels both nationally and internationally and Katie trains not only in the summer, but in the off-season as well. Prior to water-skiing, Katie was a member of the USA Adaptive Alpine Skiing team. She has always loved sports and is looking forward to returning home with Rizzo and running together.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Rizzo loves to work and loves to be busy. She has a soft disposition: sweet, but serious, and has a tail way bigger than you’d expect!”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I’ve had guide dogs since high school. My Orientation and Mobility Instructor let me try working with his guide dog at the time, and I just thought it would work so much better for me than a cane. Guiding Eyes was recommended to me by a trainer and I’ve had a great experience with my first dog, Lennon and now also with Rizzo.”
What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “Rizzo really allows me to move more quickly and freely. I don’t have to locate and identify any objects in my way – Rizzo just avoids them right away. I’m really looking forward to that quicker pace when we get home”
Were there any training highlights? “One great moment was when Rizzo started singing along with an ambulance siren. It was hilarious! Every day gets a little bit better. We are really adjusting to each other and working better together every day. Seeing that improvement is really encouraging.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “Everybody has their own way of doing things, and you should think about what works best for you. If you have the opportunity to try working with a guide dog beforehand, definitely take it.”
Congratulations to Rizzo’s Puppy Raisers, David Guldan & Dawn Heller, Eileen Dorian & Family, Bethany and David Oliver!
Graduate Team: Lori and Ivan
About the Team: Ivan, a male black Labrador, is Lori’s second guide dog
Hometown: Salisbury, Maryland
Lori, a home health aide, returned to Guiding Eyes for her second guide dog. She found her match in Ivan, a spunky male black Lab with a larger-than-life personality. Lori looks forward to once again enjoying the independence and confidence of working with a guide dog.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Ivan’s very attentive to me! When he is off harness, he can be quite goofy – he will roll on his back and put his legs up, wanting me to scratch his belly. Especially during playtime, he lets loose!”
Why did you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “After losing my last guide dog, I had to go back to my cane and I missed the freedom.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “You feel more comfortable, and you have a partner that you trust – a set of eyes. The cane might tell you where the crack in the sidewalk is, but a guide dog will bring you directly to the mailbox. In a busy place, a guide dog will bring you around tables and people. You don’t even know they’re there.”
Any training highlights? “When I came to Guiding Eyes, I was so worried I would compare him to my last guide dog, but Ivan has such a sweet and laid-back personality – it made it easy to learn to work with him.”
What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “Do it! It will change your life forever!”
Congratulations to Ivan’s Puppy Raisers, Colleen Bennet and Family!
Graduate Team: Michael and Ian
About the Team: Ian, a male black Labrador, is Michael’s first Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown: Anaheim, California
Mike is retired from his work at a hospital and shares a home with wife Karen and her guide dog. They enjoy daily walks, dining at local restaurants and taking classes at the Braille Institute together. He enjoys the speed and ease of travel a guide dog provides and looks forward to “endless possibilities” with Ian.
How would you describe your guide dog? “He’s very easy going and easy to get along with. He’s focused, not easily distracted and has a good pace. I think we make a good team.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I like the experience of being with a guide dog because it feels safer and more relaxing. The companionship is nice, too.”
What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “I’m look forward to getting out more because going places will be much easier. I plan on taking classes, such as GPS navigation, at the Braille Institute nearby and my goal is to return to part time work in an office environment. There are endless possibilities with this little guy.”
Were there any training highlights? “I enjoyed it all. The instructors are very patient, and they take into consideration what you feel will be important to learn. I was happy to hear of our training day in NYC because we live in a metropolitan area with lots of traffic, people and wide streets.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “They have to be committed to the dedicated care a dog needs. Grooming, cleaning, vet care…they care for the dog and the dog will care for them.”
Congratulations to Ian’s Puppy Raisers, Stephanie J. Leonor and Megan St. Jean!
Graduate Team: Patsy and Newman
About the Team: Newman, a male yellow Labrador, is Patsy’s second guide dog
Hometown: Richardson, Texas
Patsy loves to spend time with people and is always up for the next fun activity. Originally from Arizona, she currently splits her time between Texas and Washington. Patsy is working on opening a non-profit organization that would advocate for the visually impaired community and help them find and utilize the resources available to them.
How would you describe your guide dog? “We really bonded right away. Newman is calm and laid back and I LOVE that!”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “When thinking about getting a guide dog my niece and I watched YouTube videos about Guiding Eyes and it seemed like such a nice school I decided to apply!”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “Oh my, it’s a big difference. I definitely would not be able to do a lot of what I do without a guide dog. Just that feeling of confidence and knowing that I am safe changes everything. I can’t wait to see how he will adapt to my environment and life back home.”
Were there any training highlights? “It’s hard to pick out one particular moment because it has all been so amazing, but the first time I worked with Newman there was an instant chemistry there. I had the same experience with my first guide dog, Ginseng, so I knew that Newman would be the right partner for me.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “Make sure you know what is involved and be ready to work. These dogs are with you 24/7 and they depend on you just as much as you depend on them. But the bonding that this leads to is unbelievable and having a guide dog is an amazing experience.”
Congratulations to Newman’s Puppy Raisers, Lauren Cook!
Graduate Team: Rachael and Dudley
About the Team: Dudley, a male yellow Labrador, is Rachael’s first guide dog.
Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio
Rachael loves cooking and baking, as well as spending time with her friends and her wonderful family. She has nieces and nephews that she travels to see in Michigan and loves to spend time with. She is really looking forward to enjoying the nature in her area when she returns home with Dudley and has some amazing parks in mind she knows he would love to explore.
How would you describe your guide dog? “He is so sweet and so smart. He is serious when he’s working, but he is always checking in with me and likes to be in touch with me at all times. I like to call him Cuddly Dudley.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “My Orientation and Mobility instructor recommended a guide dog to help me gain back my independence. Guiding Eyes for the Blind was my first choice!”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “I just feel more confident. When I started traveling with a cane, I couldn’t believe how independent I felt, but this is like a whole other level.”
Were there any training highlights? “The best part is seeing Dudley’s excitement after he does something right. Being able to praise him and celebrate those accomplishments is awesome. And it’s almost like he is praising me right back – we’re succeeding together!”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “This is a learning process. Don’t get down on yourself – it’s okay when things don’t go perfectly right from the start. Be grateful for every second you have with the dog and trainers. They go above and beyond to help you and you can tell they love doing it!”
Congratulations to Dudley’s Puppy Raiser, Brenda Vick!
Graduate Team: Rachelle & Puma
About the Team: Puma, a male black Labrador, is Rachelle’s fourth guide dog
Hometown: Amsterdam, New York
Rachelle is a passionate advocate for Guiding Eyes, where she received her first guide dog Mandy in 1990. She went on to organize a fundraiser for the organization. An avid musician, Rachelle works full-time as a director of contemporary music at a church and as a private music instructor, and performs music at local assisted living facilities and hospitals. She has played the piano with Puma settled at her feet and looks forward to trying out the guitar with him.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Puma is a beautiful black Labrador retriever. He is very loving and affectionate – an excellent worker!”
Why did you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “Every time I’ve come to Guiding Eyes, I’ve loved it. There’re people here who are dear to my heart. The instructors have been phenomenal, so patient and encouraging.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “I recently lost my last guide dog after 11 years – life without a guide dog is not only lonely, but there’s a drastic difference in independence. The cane can’t do what a dog does, but also, the dog is a companion and an extension of you.”
Any training highlights? “When I met Puma, I had tears in my eyes. When I first walked with him, I knew it was a perfect fit. When you get a new guide dog, it isn’t taking away the love of your previous dogs, it’s just adding love to your heart and knowing there is more room in your heart to love.”
What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “There is nothing like it! Once you have a guide dog, you won’t want to be without one.”
Congratulations to Puma’s Puppy Raisers, Karen Legge!
Meet the Home Training Graduates
Graduate Team: Heather and Dewey
About the Team: Dewey, a male yellow Labrador, is Heather’s first guide dog
Hometown: New York, New York
Heather is a Teacher and School Administrator at a New York City Preparatory School. The hustle and bustle of living and working in the city are second nature to her and work perfectly with her active and energetic life.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Dewey’s a very good-natured dog. He’s super charming and many have said his noble face adds to that charm. He’s a serious worker when the harness goes on – focused and loyal – always checking in with me. But when the harness comes off – he’s a playful 2 yr. old!”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “It’s incredibly practical. I live in fast paced NYC with deliverymen on bicycles, electric taxis and obstacles on every sidewalk. My cane was an obstacle finder, whereas a guide dog is an obstacle avoider. My time is now spent getting where I’m going, rather than exploring what to avoid.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “He has made a huge difference. The most comforting thing is that I am no longer in this alone. We are a team. With Dewey I have a companion to support my adventurous NYC lifestyle and I like that term team.”
Were there any training highlights? “As educators we often spend a lot of time telling people what to do, but my trainer always explained the ‘why’. There were lovely explanations of dog psychology and the importance of consistency and that just unlocked it for me. He exercised an emotional awareness of what it’s like to be visually impaired, that I so appreciated. He would tell me all the obstacles Dewey was avoiding and that would boost my confidence. He created the atmosphere that made success possible.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “My first thought is to get one from Guiding Eyes! Definitely consider a guide dog and explore your options.”
Is there anything else you would like to add? “This organization brings together a lot of good people. I met so many staff and puppy raisers at graduation and recognized that there are a ton of people who have gone into making Dewey who he is. I am overwhelmed with gratitude that all these people did their part and now I am the recipient of this incredible little creature.”
Congratulations to Dewey’s Puppy Raiser, James W. Betro!
Graduate Team: Karen and Dublin
About the Team: Dublin, a male yellow Labrador, is Karen ’s third guide dog
Hometown: Saint Petersburg, Florida
Karen is retired, having most recently worked for a non-profit veterinary foundation that raises awareness of the pet-human bond and provides pet education. She is busier than ever and looking forward to all the freedom and companionship Dublin will provide on their walks together.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Dublin is more mature at this age than I expected. He is very focused when he’s working, but still has plenty of puppy in him.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I like the fact that I can be trained with a dog that has been trained according to my specific needs. Also, the follow-up from Guiding Eyes is fantastic!”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “I feel much safer with a guide dog than when I was using a cane. I have more confidence when learning new places and I like being able to get where I am going in a more timely manner.”
Were there any training highlights? “We were training at the mall and I was learning how to find the customer service counter. My training was during the Christmas holidays when the mall was crowded and people were hurrying about, but Dublin did a great job. My trainer and I shared a laugh over the additional challenges of training a team during the holiday season!”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “I would encourage a person to do so with the understanding of the great responsibility we have for the dog, but also the benefits of having them.”
Congratulations to Dublin’s Puppy Raisers, The Hansen Family!
Graduate Team: Ricardo and Hampton
About the Team: Hampton, a male German Shepherd, is Ricardo’s first guide dog
Hometown: Northern California
Ricardo is self-employed and looks forward to Hampton joining him on very active days, whether with his grandchildren, running his business or daily errands. He loves to travel and anticipates the companionship of a guide, whether headed to destinations by bus, subway, ferries or air.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Incredible! The service he provides and how attentive he is – it’s incredible. He’s an outstanding dog that works hard and is very dedicated, always ready when I need him. He was born to be with me.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “A friend is a Guiding Eyes graduate. He had such positive results with his dog, I made the call and the Home Training program was perfect for me. This organization – doing what they do for people – it is a true blessing. To give me such a wonderful animal that will work so hard for me – it’s a miracle.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “Better quality of life, some inner peace, more mobility, confidence and security. To go out in society and feel good about being out there with my dog.”
Were there any training highlights? “I was a bit nervous, but the first day we became a solid team! Plus, the trainers were so professional and patient. They taught me the skills I needed to work together with a guide dog.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “It’s an individual choice. I can tell them all the benefits I have had, but they have to be ready to do it.”
Congratulations to Hampton’s Puppy Raisers Maureen Hollis and Stacy & Doug Chung!