Meet the members of our most recent training class who graduated successfully on June 25, 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.
Ruth Blair and Idora
Ruth Blair, this month’s only ACTION (Accelerated Client Training Option) student, comes from Media, Pennsylvania (a small town near Philadelphia). Ruth has been blind since birth as a result of optic atrophy. Although Ruth has had seven guide dogs in the past from other agencies, she has returned to claim Idora, her third dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. The original recommendation for Guiding Eyes for the Blind came to her from a former Guiding Eyes for the Blind graduate and Council member. Ruth has experienced some physical problems during the years, the most recent being a painful and debilitating fall on an icy patch in 2001. Ruth has been married 23 years and has one son. Her husband is also blind. Ruth describes herself as being “serious, a perfectionist, intuitive and non-confrontational.” Initially gaining her knowledge of Braille in elementary school, Ruth received a B.A. degree in Spanish, with minors in Psychology and Education from Gettsyburg College. Her goal was to teach Spanish (she tried it, but didn’t like it), so she went to work for the DELCO Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired. There she taught rehabilitation skills and GED preparation for 25 years to newly blind adults. Ruth enjoys playing the piano and accordion, knitting, reading, baking and cooking, and claims to have yummy fudge and brownie recipes. She participates in a shawl-knitting ministry for cancer patients, which is an “outreach” program of the church she attends. Ruth describes Idora as a bright, bubbly, attentive, upbeat dog that loves to please. She literally quivers with joy when she sees that she is about to be harnessed for work. Ruth knows that Idora will enable her to move at a comfortable pace and with more confidence when she ventures into the busy streets of Philadelphia. Ruth feels that Idora shows her true “Idoration” when she offers her paw and climbs up into her lap for pets and hugs. With nothing but highest praise for Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s instructors and staff, Ruth is indeed a happy woman as she heads home for one more week of comprehensive instruction in her home environs.
Vanessa Braun and Randall
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is the home of Vanessa Braun, who has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind to claim her second dog, Randall. Vanessa made the important decision to come to the school through the sound advice of a Guiding Eyes for the Blind Field Representative. Vanessa suffered optic nerve damage at birth but does have limited vision. This friendly, personable, people-oriented 23 year-old received a B.A. in Psychology and Communication Arts from Allegheny College and has just received her Masters Degree in Higher Education from the University of Pittsburgh. While in college, she immersed herself in extra-curricular leadership activities that included Student Government and Community Service. She spoke fondly and with appreciation for her professors and administrators who had been note- worthy role models and, by their example, seriously affected her life. Today she is searching for a position in which she can facilitate leadership programs for college or university under-grad students. Citing outdoor activities such as swimming and hiking as enjoyable pastimes, she is also teaching herself to play the guitar. Vanessa has played the piano for five years by picking out melodies and filling in the requisite chords. Vanessa has been without a dog since November, so she is especially happy to have Randall, who she knows will help her to move faster and will certainly be most helpful in her job search. Randall, she says, is a mellow, spunky, but calm leader and a good worker. She felt that they had bonded when they finished their first “play time session” – Randall really got excited, as though he was realizing – WOW, she can play too! What is Vanessa’s impression of Guiding Eyes for the Blind? “You read and hear about the family atmosphere here, and think – hey, that’s great PR – but now I realize how true it really is!” She also expressed delight with the new building program that has rendered tremendous improvement thus far in the environment – especially the dining room!
Lynn Chu and Liza
Lynn Chu, has come all the way from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada to claim her first dog, Liza, from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. She came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind through the advice of her mobility instructor who advised her that the School was ready, willing and able to suit her special needs. Lynn, diagnosed with diabetes since the age of six, experienced a notable deterioration of her optic nerve when she was nine years old. She is now totally blind and suffers a hearing loss as well. Lynn describes herself as being mellow, yet stubborn and one who keeps busy all the time. She has always wanted to be a theatre or television actress. Lynn has taken courses in Psychology and Office Administration and plans to continue with that line of schooling. In the meantime, she is working for Nortel, testing new systems for the visually impaired. She has also worked for the Department of Justice in that role. Hobby-wise, Lynn likes to do cardio- vascular workouts and walking out-of-doors. When asked to describe her new walking companion, she said, “Liza is very mellow, patient, and well trained to work with a person just like me. Sometimes I have a balance problem because of my lack of both hearing and sight. Liza seems to sense that and keeps me on track. I think that Guiding Eyes for the Blind is great! They have chosen the right dog with just the right training to address my needs.” She feels that Liza and she have bonded: early in the morning, when it’s time to rise and shine, she feels soft breathing and a nose at her face, a silent and effective wake-up alarm. “I feel more confident walking with Liza at my side and can travel more independently. ”
Howard Curtis and Queen
Howard Curtis calls Cranston, Rhode Island home and returns to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for Queen, his third Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog. Howard was termed legally blind in 1994, at age 34, as a result of diabetic retinopathy. Howard describes his personality as being comical, easy-going but admits to being somewhat grouchy at times (he’s quite sure that his wife Susan would agree with that). Howard admits to having a “checkered” past. As a youngster, he was hard to handle, ran away from home at the age of sixteen, drank more than his share of booze and did not finish school. He eventually got down to business and received his GED. Howard worked at a warehouse as a forklift operator until he was no longer able to do so. His life took a dramatic turnabout when he stopped drinking. Now a recovering alcoholic, Howard attends at least four A.A. meetings a week. He is self-employed, managing a small coffee shop at the Kent County Court House. Howard wears a broad smile when he seriously notes that “Life is good!” When asked about Queen’s personality, he says she’s like a little princess (well she is a “Queen,” after all). She is alert, obedient and somewhat regal; especially when lying down – she crosses her paws in front of her as though posing for a picture. Howard feels that Queen will give him a more- than-ample serving of confidence, greater mobility and independence and help him to be more relaxed as he moves about. He is also amused at Queen’s sitting upright with her front paws in his lap as they travel to assignments – like they’re real buddies. Well, they are! With nothing but kudos for Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s trainers, he voiced highest praise for their excellent professional yet personal and understanding approach and response to the specific needs of each individual student. When asked about his favorite experience at Guiding Eyes for the Blind he responded: “The day I met Queen!”
Geoff Dunn and Truffle
Geoff Dunn has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind from Albany, Oregon to claim his first dog, Truffle. Geoff learned of Guiding Eyes for the Blind from his Orientation and Mobility Instructor. Geoff is 33, and became totally blind as a result of a tragic occurrence in 2000, which changed his life completely. At that time, totally depressed and a substance abuser, Geoff had a complete reversal in his life. Today he is happy, motivated, and light-spirited due, he says, to a newly found personal relationship with Jesus Christ and a total trust in God. Divorced and dad of two girls, eight and ten years of age (with whom he spends every weekend), Geoff has spoken to youth in the area about the effects of drugs and other harmful substances. He also volunteers for his church, Albany First Assembly, and the New Hope Pregnancy Center, an outreach that counsels and serves those who are trying to deal effectively with unexpected pregnancies. Geoff has many friends with whom he hangs out and enjoys hunting and fishing. He reported that one day they caught 70 sturgeon. Truffle is true to her name: she is sweet, happy and playful and responds with vigor, her tail wagging a mile a minute, to the “fetch” routine at playtime. Geoff is presently working on making necessary changes in his house, and looks forward to more freedom and mobility outside of his home with Truffle in the lead. He especially enjoys the training in White Plains and the traffic walks. “This is a wonderful school, dedicated to making the program work for each student and their specific needs. The matching of student to dog plays to the strengths of each partner. The best part is that the program is facilitated by people who care!”
Becky Knaub and Regal
Rebecca (Becky) Knaub came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind from Duncannon, Pennsylvania for her first dog, Regal. She has dreamed about having a guide dog since the age of five. After a thorough research process of various schools, she chose Guiding Eyes for the Blind. It fit the bill. Becky’s vision is impaired as a result of septo-optic dysplasia. Becky easily describes herself as calm, controlled, meticulous and organized yet, at the same time, creative. She is in her sophomore year at Edinboro University majoring in Special and Elementary Education. She hopes this will lead her into teaching the visually impaired. Becky knows Braille (Grade 3) which she mastered when she attended The Overbrook School for the Blind as a teenager. Her artistic talents know no bounds. She loves to draw, reads music in Braille, plays the piano, and has fully enjoyed her participation in a bell choir. Becky lives at home when not at college, and there, Regal will have two canine housemates, a Pekinese and a mixed breed. She knows Regal will fit right into her home life, for he is calm, mellow and a good worker. Becky also knows that Regal will make traveling around so much easier for her and will give her full confidence wherever she goes. Speaking of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, she stated, “It’s a great school; I would come back in a heartbeat. The instructors are wonderful. I’m a perfectionist and want to do everything just right. I’m amazed at and appreciate their patience with me!” Becky found that a change in her harness handle (suggested by her instructor) made a great improvement in her ability to work with Regal. When asked about bonding with her dog, she responded: “I don’t like to leave him behind. He’s part of me now. I sort of feel naked without the leash or harness in my hands.”
David Law and Vince
Aurora, Colorado is home plate for David Law, who has come to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his first dog, Vince. Dave did a bit of research and recounted that the Guiding Eyes for the Blind program sounded great and just right for him. David became legally blind at the age of seventeen as a result of retinopathy of prematurity, rare at his age. David has one brother. His dad, a Military man, played a major part in inspiring David’s ambition to enlist in the Navy. That was not to be. At 23, David describes himself as quiet, a people person with a mind of his own, quite opinionated and very much “his own man.” David feels that he is still in somewhat of a transitional period of his life. Presently a sophomore at the University of Northern Colorado, majoring in Political Science, his goal is to work with public administration /local government as an Advocate for people with disabilities. David likes to spend his spare moments walking out-of-doors and listening to audio books. Vince seems to be a close match to David’s personality. The dog is energetic, listens well, and is a good worker and like his master, has a mind of his own. David knows that Vince will give him greater mobility and will be a terrific help at school – a big change for the better. He feels that he and Vince understand each other well. Vince’s quick, obedient responses, even when playing “fetch,” are exhilarating and promising. Extolling the close-up and personal atmosphere and excellent training techniques at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, David would award the school a grade of A+. To any person, who like himself has an “independent” personality, he would heartily recommend acquiring a Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog, as a most positive addition to their life.
Jeff Matthews and Germaine
Jeff Matthews, from Houston, Texas, “land of hurricanes and tornadoes,” returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his second guide dog, Germaine, a beautiful female black Labrador Retriever. Jeff, now 37, has had a tough road physically. As a diabetic, he suffered some sight loss in 1995 from kidney failure, and subsequently became totally blind following a double transplant of his kidneys and pancreas. Jeff did not want to finish school because he was “afraid of failure,” quit at the age of 15 and went to work in the field of construction, installing fuel pumps for gas stations and related projects. However, despite all, Jeff vehemently asserts that he is a “conqueror” – a man who today won’t give up and has become a positive, productive and happy member of society. Life has been a great teacher. “If I had to do it all over again, it would be a lot different. Life is precious. I think I know better now. I’ve also calmed down a lot.” To anyone who is contemplating quitting school, Jeff offers this strong advice: “Go to school, never give up – let people help you, and let go of any resentments you may be harboring!” Jeff worked for the local Lighthouse for the Blind and went to school there for three years. He loves to fish and has had success in reeling in trout, flounder, red fish and other species indigenous to the Gulf. He also boasts of having an impressive collection of antique fishing lures. Jeff describes Germaine as a good girl: mellow and very loveable – “she’s always kissing me.” Jeff broke his leg and has been without a dog for a year. He knows that with Germaine now at his side, he will regain his freedom and mobility. He plans to find a volunteer job when he returns home. Jeff does not have one complaint about Guiding Eyes for the Blind: “It is great!”
Crystal Morales and Umbro
June’s class welcomed identical twins, Crystal and Danielle Morales, who live in Seminole, Oklahoma and are both taking home their first guide dogs from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Not only identical in their appearance, their thoughts, tastes, aspirations and activities are almost indiscernible. The twins were born with cortical visual impairment, a neurological condition which required constant medication. When they reached the age of 13, perhaps as a result of the medication, they both experienced a pronounced dimming of both sight and sound. Crystal and Danielle came to Guiding Eyes as the result of the advice of a mobility instructor, and universally echoed by other trusted sources. The twins will attend East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma. They will room together and will major in Music. Now for some minute differences . . . Crystal Morales does sport a shorter hairdo than her sister, and also has added some coloring to her hair. Umbro, Crystal’s new companion and guide is a handsome blonde male Labrador Retriever and is a “cheerful, obedient and happy-at-play kind of dog.” Crystal says that Umbro will definitely enable her to go off on her own more, and at the same time, feel safe. She says Umbro loves the “fetch” routine at play and displays notable displeasure when she leaves him alone in her room. Crystal describes herself as being calm, an avid learner and one who loves and composes music. She plays the violin, cello, bass, dulcimer and piano. She likes jazz from the 80’s and plays her instruments in a distinctive “lead /abstract” vs. “chord” style. If that isn’t enough, Crystal works with glass (true to her name), does some bead work and loves to paint. In speaking of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, she admires the professionalism and effective organization of instruction. “The instructors like what they do, and are really good at it!” Crystal emphasized that all the walks she has taken amidst auto and pedestrian traffic have been so much less stressful than when she was without a dog.
Danielle Morales and Dell
Danielle Morales’ new companion guide is Dell, a beautiful female black Labrador Retriever that Danielle describes as being sweet, eager to work, happy, and calm. Dell is especially responsive to Danielle in the morning but shows her readiness to work and eagerness to obey throughout the day. Danielle knows that Dell will give her more independence and a true sense of safety. Self described as a creative person who at times can be stubborn, but loves to work and to compose her own music, Danielle says she has played the piano since she was seven and also plays the cello. One afternoon at the Guiding Eyes for the Blind campus, the twins were seated together on the piano bench creating a unique kind of music on the ivory keys – each in complete concert and “intuitive” harmony with the other: Danielle skillfully striking chords to harmonize with and accompany her sister’s lead style. The listening office staff was really impressed! Danielle is hopeful that getting a college degree will equip her to become a music teacher. She also has an artistic bent in weaving, the process of which she has taught herself. She makes bowls out of woven yarn as well as attractive and colorful bracelets, a number of which adorn her wrist. What does Danielle think of Guiding Eyes for the Blind? “I love it. It’s a neat place. It’s strict and much like school, but in other ways, very much like camp. The instructors care! I am so confident in Dell. When I was doing my traffic route in White Plains, the instructor told me about things that had been happening during the walk that Dell had led me around and through. I hadn’t been aware of any of it!”
Dan Nelson-Kangas and Ian
Daniel (Dan) T. Nelson-Kangas came all the way to Yorktown Heights, New York from Colorado Springs, Colorado to meet Ian, his first dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. He had observed the success of former grads, and listened attentively to the advice of his mobility instructor. Dan is legally blind because of residual damage and surgeries made necessary by retinal detachments. He describes himself as being mellow, laid back, sometimes a little mischievous and happiest when he is beset with a challenge. Dan hopes some day to be the first blind astronaut, a teacher, or a lawyer, and as such, to serve as an advocate for children with disabilities. Now, at the age of 20, he is a junior at Colorado College, currently studying History and Political Science. Dan loves the out of doors and enjoys camping, hiking, playing games and just hanging out with his friends. He does his share of reading and is a non-discriminate music lover. He likes modern rock as well as classical and everything in between. Dan likes Ian’s personality. He thinks it is much like his own: mellow, easy going, obedient and trustworthy. He knows that when he returns to college in the Fall, Ian will give him much more freedom and make his campus and city travel much easier. He knows that he and Ian have bonded to the extent that when Dan has left him alone in his room and then returns, he is joyfully welcomed by a bubbly, ecstatic yellow bundle of a dog who is truly happy to see his master return. There can be nothing better than walking with Ian and feeling that “connection.” Commenting on the social dynamics of the June class, Dan says that he loves it and finds it interesting and helpful to listen to the life stories of others in the class. Somewhat “blown away” by the thorough training and excellence of the school’s personnel, Dan is so happy that he chose Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
Lori Reber and Vaughn
From Marietta, Georgia, Lori Reber has returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for her second dog, Vaughn, a male yellow Labrador Retriever. Lori’s first dog is 12 1/2 years old and is enjoying a well-deserved retirement at home. Lori, because of her constant travel in Marietta, needed a dog trained for service in a rapid transit system; Guiding Eyes for the Blind met all her specifications. Lori has been blind since birth as a result of retinopathy of prematurity. Happy when she sees positive changes take place, and a confident, concerned people person, Lori and her husband, who have a seven-year-old daughter, Cheryl, will celebrate their thirteenth year of marriage this August. Lori is a graduate of the University of Georgia and practiced music therapy for visually impaired children for seven years at a state institution. After receiving her Master’s from Georgia State University in 1996, she taught for two years in public high school and recently has been employed to teach computer skills to adults with visual impairment at a rehabilitation facility. With sparse room for a hobby, Lori admits to enjoying playing the piano, reading a good book now and then and getting out of doors to walk and swim. In describing Vaughn, she says he is very responsive, loving and obedient. He loves to climb on her lap and cover her face with wet kisses. She knew they had bonded when he got “wiggly” when she sang to him. “The expert training at Guiding Eyes for the Blind has been positive, productive and enjoyable.” Lori especially liked the experience of the “big eight-block walk” in which she and Vaughn wove their way through the people and vehicular traffic of White Plains. Vaughn showed what he is really made of!
Leonard Williams and Corcoran
Leonard Williams, the well-seasoned senior statesman of the class at the age of 78, came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind from the South Side of Chicago to claim his fifth Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog, Corcoran. He stated that Guiding Eyes for the Blind was the only school that would be able to supply him with a guide dog that would have the capability to handle the subways and elevated railways of the big city. In his former days, when he was sighted, hale and hardy, he competed and won first place in an important and publicized swimming competition conducted byThe Chicago Tribune two years in a row. In those days, everything was very pleasant and things were going well for him. In 1965, Leonard was engaged in tunnel construction work. There was an explosion on the job that caused him serious injuries and later robbed him of his sight. No longer able to work the construction job, he had to plan carefully for his next step. He became an employee for the next 30 years of the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind doing package assembly; he recently retired from that and will now search for some meaningful volunteer work. In spite of all, Leonard exercises a “live and let live” attitude: “Life is good, beautiful. Be sure you make friends / no enemies, keep a good job and don’t complain. Leonard describes Corcoran as being “a little bit moody, but obedient and faithful. He will do whatever I tell him to do. I like that.” He says that he knows that Corcoran and he are steadily working towards an effective and lasting relationship. Leonard especially favors some of the new commands that have come into practice recently, which he perceives as easier and more practical than the old. Reminiscing just a bit about a former Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog, Danny, he related how the dog, amidst insurmountably high city snow drifts and totally impossible passage to the other side of the street, led him around one block, down an alley and finally to the otherwise unreachable destination. “It was like I was the sheep and he was the shepherd! Yes, these dogs from Guiding Eyes for the Blind are absolutely wonderful!”