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June 2019 Graduating Class

Congratulations to our June 2019 Graduating Class!

You are well on your way to greater freedom, independence and happiness with your new canine partner. Congrats on completing the Guiding Eyes program.

— Rita Rushing

Congratulations to the June 2019 graduating class and guide dog team Kate and Francine, from Bob Rollmann and Cindy Sullivan, fosters for proud dad GEB Ingot.

Congratulations also to guide dog team Becky & Ballad and puppy raiser Alissa Phillips.

— Bob Rollmann & Cindy Sullivan

Priceline is thrilled to celebrate this graduating class. Guiding Eyes for the Blind does invaluable work and we are proud to be among the many who support and admire them. Congratulations!

— Priceline

Residential Graduates:

Ashley and Yaz
Becky and Ballad
Hannah B. and Zora
Hannah W. and Olay
Kate and Francine
Mary and Malia
Peter and Elroy
Rory and Jeeter
Sharon and Reagan
Vivi and Imus

Home Training Graduates:

Brian and Wes
David and Fred
Henry and Carla
Jaime and Drifter
Renea and Irby
Wendy and OkraMany thanks to our Training Staff:

Class Supervisor: Miranda Beckmann
Class Instructors: Jessy DiNapoli, Nikki Wentz, Laurel Sheets
Running Guide Specialist: Nick Speranza
Instructor Assistant: Meghan Davis
Home Training Instructors: Chrissy Vetrano, James Gardner, Graham Buck, Julie Angle

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

Meet the Residential Training Graduates

Grad Ashley and guide dog YazGraduate Team:   Ashley and Yaz
About the Team: Yaz, a black female lab, is Ashley’s 1st guide dog
Houston, Texas

Ashley was very independent growing up in Houston, Texas and has always been a go-getter. While attending the Texas School for the Blind, she ran track, was on the Cheer team, and was a member of Student Council and Leo’s Club. Now attending college in Denton, Texas, Ashley is working hard on her studies, but loves to spend time with friends and family. She can’t wait to bring Yaz into her life back home and is looking forward to all of the adventures that they’ll have. 

How would you describe your guide dog? “She is so lovable and sweet, and she has a great energetic soul. She can be very calm when she needs to be, but she’s very on top of her job when she’s working.” 

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “A friend of mine graduated from Guiding Eyes last year and recommended the program. After some research, I decided that Guiding Eyes had the right balance of fun and hard work. I have always loved dogs and wanted a guide dog since I lost my vision, but I needed a few years to adjust. Now that I’m older and used to attending college, it feels like the right time.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “The independence is huge. Being able to walk fast enough to feel the wind on my face is amazing. It’s such a great feeling to be able to just get up and go; it feels like freedom. Every day builds upon the other and it gets better and better.”

Were there any training highlights? “When Yaz and I walked through an area with a lot of construction I felt a bit unsure about it, but I was able to close my eyes, fully trust her and let her guide me. She handled it like a champ – it was really cool. Also, just seeing all the work the trainers did with these dogs; to see the culmination of all of that work and be the recipient of that, is pretty awesome.”

Congratulations to Yaz’s Puppy Raiser, Kyle Whalen!

Grad Becky and guide dog Ballad

Graduate Team:   Becky and Ballad
About the Team:  Ballad, a female yellow lab, is Becky’s 4th guide dog
Hometown:  Charlotte, North Carolina

Becky works as the Manager of Consumer Outreach & Graduate Support at Guiding Eyes for the Blind. As a lover of Folk music, she is pleased to have a guide named Ballad. Becky plays several stringed instruments including the guitar, dulcimer, and autoharp, and enjoys singing, knitting, baking and traveling with her husband Ron.

How would you describe your guide dog? “Ballad is responsive and her pace is very compatible.  She is sweet, affectionate, bubbly and loves to play. I’m really looking forward to having her back home and introducing her into our lives. She and my husband’s guide dog, Clarissa, will love running together.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I was first interested in Guiding Eyes after reading an article written by a graduate. When applying for my first dog, I received a warm response and knew this was my choice. Four years later I started working here and after seeing firsthand how well the dogs were trained, I never wanted to go anywhere else.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “When I was younger I was not given the opportunity for a guide dog. Guiding Eyes opened up the field by recognizing that those who have partial vision can benefit from having a guide dog for safer travel. With my first dog, I reached a point of being at peace with identifying as a blind person and it gave me a spiritual strength.  That helped me to get out there and acknowledge that I wanted to work with others who were visually impaired; that I have strengths and I’m ready to share them as a blind person.”

Were there any training highlights?  “There are always adjustments; learning about each dog and that sense of walking with a young dog and feeling their energy.  Stairs are a concern for many and Ballad’s work to steps is phenomenal – she stopped right at the handrail. Every new thing we try, she nails it – like targeting curbs perfectly. Amazing.  Also, the Training Staff – they stay so positive and work so hard. To be here as a student only magnifies my respect for them.”

Congratulations to Ballad’s Puppy Raisers, Alissa M. Phillips and Family!

Grad Hannah and guide dog ZoraGraduate Team: Hannah and Zora
About the Team:  Zora, a female black lab, is Hannah’s 1st guide dog
Broomfield, Colorado

Hannah comes to Guiding Eyes from Colorado, where she’s lived all her life. She credits her parents for encouraging her to be confident and independent throughout her childhood. Hannah enjoys being active – a dancer for 14 years, a swimmer, and now an avid runner. She loves being outdoors, whether rock climbing or hiking and is sure Zora will fit right in back home!

How would you describe your guide dog? “She is so alert and obedient when the harness is on, and when not working, she is really playful. Zora loves to be moving and that is perfect for me.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “Having a guide dog just makes me feel so much safer and more comfortable when out walking. This will be great for me because I will be heading to college in the fall. Guiding Eyes was the perfect place for me, because I am an avid runner and the Running Guides Program is really exciting.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “I thought the transition from the cane to a guide dog would be tough, but it feels so much more natural than I expected. I can’t wait to take her around campus and my hometown – we’re going to get matching bandanas and everything. I don’t have any time to slow down, so I’m looking forward to having her as a part of my life.”

Were there any training highlights? “I really appreciate my classmates as people. I like how the program can feel laid-back. We’re working so hard, but we’re still having so much fun. After our day of training is over, we have been hanging out together singing, playing games, and enjoying each other’s company. We are all from different walks of life, but it’s cool to see how we can relate to each other in so many different ways.”

Congratulations to Zora’s Puppy Raisers, The Hazlin Family!

Grad Hannah and guide dog Olay

Graduate Team:   Hannah and Olay
About the Team:  Olay, a female yellow lab, is Hannah’s 1st guide dog
Hometown: Halstead, Kansas

Hannah is an ambitious college student, carrying a triple major in Mathematics, Secondary Education, and Special Education with a minor in Philosophy & Religion! She enjoys swimming and playing card games, especially Solitaire. Hannah is looking forward to having Olay on campus and introducing her to college life.

How would you describe your guide dog? “Olay’s focused and obedient while working in harness. She is very laid-back, but when she first gets up in the morning she’s ready for playtime. After she plays, she’s content to fall asleep on my foot. During our time together we’ve really bonded.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “The first time I had the opportunity to walk with a guide dog, I had so much more confidence. I didn’t have to worry about running into stuff and I could just walk! I’ve never been somebody to walk with my head held high, but now with Olay, it even changed my posture. I feel more confident.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog?  “My family says they can’t wait to meet her! Olay will be going to school with me and I’m excited to see how she will handle being in class.”

Were there any training highlights? “My favorite part of this experience has just been getting to know Olay’s personality! Olay has made it easy. When we go out on routes, she does a good job and is very quick. She’s a speedy learner like her partner.”

Congratulations to Olay’s Puppy Raisers, Ellen and Bob Higgins Family!

Grad Kate and guide dog Francine

Graduate Team:     Kate & Francine
About the Team:  Francine,  a female yellow lab, is Kate’s 1st guide dog
Hanover, New Hampshire

Kate is a sports enthusiast and into Track and Basketball, especially.  Her love of sports and being active is a family affair, as her Dad is a coach for the Special Olympics.  She enjoys snowshoeing in the New Hampshire winters and being artistic, drawing whatever catches her interest. Kate currently works at a Wholesale Club as a Sampler, handing out food samples to hungry customers.

How would you describe your guide dog?  “She is energetic and hard-working  and when Francine is in the harness, she’s really focused. When she’s out of harness she can be silly and sweet. She loves being kissed on top of her forehead and she loves her cookies!”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes?  “Ever since I was diagnosed with my visual impairment, I knew I wanted a guide dog. With Francine, it’s so much faster and smoother than using a cane! I’m not bumping into things, so it’s less stressful.  A guide dog can lead you through the crowd and that makes me feel safer.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “I’m looking forward to having my friends and family meet Francine. They are all anxiously waiting! I’m also looking forward to having her at work with me.”

Were there any training highlights? “Yes, walking with Francine for the first time – it felt amazing! She was the first dog I walked with before we were matched. At the time I didn’t know which dog she was, but I was hoping that one would be my match! Also, the staff members are great! I like that they always say their name when walking past. It’s like everyone here understands what you go through every day. Where I live, I don’t meet that many people who are blind or visually impaired, so it’s nice to have that experience for a while.”

Congratulations to Francine’s Puppy Raisers, The Goetzke Family and Sheril Renee Hance!

Grad Mary and guide dog Malia

Graduate Team:   Mary and Malia
About the Team:  Malia, a female black lab, is Mary’s 4th guide dog
Hometown:  Philadelphia Area, Pennsylvania

Mary is employed as a case worker for the visually impaired. She enjoys writing poetry and was once published in Whirlwind Magazine. Mary also sings and plays guitar, occasionally participating in local Open Mic nights. She is involved in various groups promoting public awareness of environmental concerns and is pleased to return home with Malia, her 3rd Guiding Eyes dog.

How would you describe your guide dog? “Malia likes her work. When I pick up the harness, the tail starts wagging and she gets excited. She’s particularly great at street crossings. She’s a happy puppy that loves to play with people and has a fondness for squeaky toys and her Nylabone. She’s obedient and good about coming back to you when you call her.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I received my first dog after I was out of college. I felt the need to be independent so I found work that gave me the financial ability to leave home. My family was concerned for my safety, but having a guide dog alleviated some of that worry.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “I’m able to walk faster. A cane finds obstacles in a tactile way, whereas a dog leads you around them. A guide dog is especially helpful with overhangs and clearances. I’m a cautious traveler, more so as I get older, and with a dog I’m much more comfortable at busy street crossings and confident in unfamiliar areas.  Also, a guide dog can be an ice-breaker when meeting people who tend to be more comfortable speaking to you with a dog.”

Were there any training highlights? “Malia is very good at working on an escalator and detecting curbs. I enjoy how happy she is when working; head up and prancing along.”

Congratulations to Malia’s Puppy Raiser, Haven Thomas!

Grad Peter and guide dog Elroy

Graduate Team:   Peter and Elroy
About the Team:  Elroy, a male yellow lab, is Peter’s 1st guide dog
Hometown:  Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Peter is a Theology teacher at a private Catholic high school and looking forward to introducing Elroy to the school community.  He is a sports enthusiast and avid runner, who with his wife and two children lives an active lifestyle with a love for the outdoors, taking walks and eating out. His family eagerly awaits the arrival of Elroy in his new home in Oklahoma.

How would you describe your guide dog? “He’s super sweet and likes giving kisses. Elroy is laid back most of the time, but when it’s time to go he’s a mover and a shaker! He’s a very confident dog that knows what he wants and what he needs to do. They really did a good job of matching us up – he’s everything I could have hoped for.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “Having watched my grandfather use his guide dog, I was familiar with the benefits one could provide. There were concerns for my safety and a lot of soul-searching leading up to the decision that this was the right time for me to get a guide dog.  Hearing of the Running Guides Program was my sign that this is where I needed to apply. There was a lot of joy and relief when we learned I’d been accepted.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “My family is so excited to meet Elroy and I’m looking forward to integrating him into our everyday life. I’m an independent person, but Elroy’s support gives me more confidence, knowing there are fewer limitations to what I am able to do.”

Were there any training highlights? “Several! First, Elroy moves really quickly, but he knows my pace and I enjoy keeping up with him! Also, one day waiting at the curb, a pigeon was intent on getting his treat, but he didn’t flinch. He stayed on task and did his job and at that moment I knew he’s a pretty amazing guy. The staff and this whole experience have been phenomenal in so many ways. There is such a sense of community within this lively group; the humor, balancing ideas, learning from returning grads and sharing experiences.”

Congratulations to Elroy’s Puppy Raisers, The Carey Family!

Grad Rory and guide dog JeeterGraduate Team: Rory and Jeeter
About the Team: Jeeter, a male black lab, is Rory’s 1st guide dog
Santa Ana, California

Rory is an active student who enjoys being involved in his college community. He belongs to the Running Club and appreciates that attending school in Boulder, Colorado provides plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities. He enjoys skiing and is excited that Jeeter will join him on hikes and in other activities, as they continue to learn together as a team. Rory is eager for Jeeter to meet all of his friends and family, as well as Patience, his pet German Shepherd.

How would you describe your guide dog? “He listens well and when he gets his mind on a task, he is such a hard worker. He’s very lovable and quirky and he always meets me halfway when I reach out to him. We’re definitely a good match.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I’ve thought about having a guide dog before, but now really felt like the right time. I wanted to get some college under my belt first – take time to get comfortable with the cane and learn the campus. I decided to apply because I love dogs and knew I‘d be more comfortable using a guide dog instead of the cane.  I can enjoy my surroundings more and smell the roses a bit.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “I’m really enjoying the process of us getting to know each other and trying out different things to see what works best. We are improving so much as a team and I feel more positive and happier knowing I have Jeeter. The responsibility of caring for him has been a really good thing for me, too.”

Were there any training highlights? “We’ve had some great moments of success, like stopping right at a curb, working on escalators, and zooming past a distraction. All those have been great. The trainers here have been really great too, and open to any ideas that I’ve had, which is pretty cool.”

Congratulations to Jeeter’s Puppy Raisers, Raquel Egea, and Holly McGuire & Linda Hodge!

Grad Sharon and guide dog Reagan

Graduate Team:    Sharon and Reagan
About the Team:  Reagan, a female German Shepherd, is Sharon’s 4th guide dog
Hometown:  Pendleton, Oregon

Sharon has an affinity for German Shepherds and this is her 2nd from Guiding Eyes, having just retired previous guide, Jude. She enjoys the outdoors, especially hiking and gardening. She supports the visually impaired community as a teacher and O&M Instructor often utilizing her dogs as ambassadors for guide work.

How would you describe your guide dog? “Reagan enjoys a good game of fetch and gets extremely excited to play with her toys from the toy basket. She’s extremely intelligent and confident in her guide work and enjoys working.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I’ve always known I wanted a guide dog. I have a unique background, having participated in puppy raising from the time I was 9 years old and working at a guide dog school for several summers. My goal was to become a teacher and show my students what a guide dog could do for them.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “It has given me the freedom to move through my environment, attend conferences, pursue my profession and just enjoy life.”

Were there any training highlights? “Working with her on the streets and getting to know her work in different environments has been great. I’d like to thank all the Guiding Eyes community for their work, especially the puppy raisers who take time out of their lives to raise these wonderful puppies. As always, there is great food on campus and awesome staff members to talk to, along with a very knowledgeable training and support staff.”

Congratulations to Reagan’s Puppy Raisers, Collin Wright and Family!

Grad Vivi and guide dog ImusGraduate Team:    Vivi and Imus
About the Team:  Imus, a male yellow lab, is Vivi’s 3rd Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown:  Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Vivi has spent many years in academia pursuing her doctorate in English Literature and is currently employed by the CNIB Foundation. She is an enthusiast of the Arts and loves creative writing, singing, and theater. Vivi is eagerly awaiting the production of her first play at the Winnipeg Fringe Theater Festival in the summer of 2019.

How would you describe your guide dog? “Imus is sweet, sensitive and affectionate. He’s so smart and very focused when he’s working. He’s a big solid boy with a good strength about him, and that makes me feel steady and stable when I walk with him.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “Having always loved animals, I studied the human/canine relationship and admire the companionship and collaboration of a guide dog team. I wanted that in my life and knew I’d feel more confident and safer with a guide dog. The trainers here are dedicated to producing successful teams, which I experienced with my first two Guiding Eyes dogs. Returning for my third felt like coming home to a safe, warm place and family. The first time I was in class I made a long lasting friendship I still enjoy today.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “There is a greater sense of confidence and independence that only strengthens that bond between human and dog. I think guide dogs symbolize that all beings are connected and we need to love and support each other.  I want to be an ambassador for that.”

Were there any training highlights? “I feel so much more stable when walking with Imus. He’s going to make sure that I’m safe.  He has a low center of gravity, so he’s very supportive! I have to put my trust in him and he has to put his trust in me. It’s an indescribable relationship to work with a guide dog. It really can’t be put into words.”

Congratulations to Imus’ Puppy Raisers, The Jackson Family!

Meet the Home Training Graduates

Grad Brian and Guide Dog WesGraduate Team:   Brian and Wes
About the Team:  Wes, a male yellow lab, is Brian’s 2nd Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown:   Astoria, New York

Brian has worked as a writer and also in the fields of technology training for the blind and web accessibility, but is best known for his successful career as a stand-up comedian. He has performed at some of the biggest comedy clubs in the country including Caroline’s on Broadway, The Hollywood Improv and many others. Brian is also the Founder of Laugh For Sight, a non-profit that brings together the biggest names in comedy to help raise funds and public awareness for retinal degenerative eye diseases. He has been a good will ambassador for Guiding Eyes doing public speaking engagements with his first dog, Nash.

How would you describe your guide dog? “Wes is a fast walker and does well with the hustle and bustle of the city. On our first trip into Manhattan, he was so alert and focused; I felt secure with him on the streets and in the subway. He’s energetic and playful. I have a lot of laughs with him and often tell him he has no tail awareness – always clearing things off low tables!”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “In 2009 I came to GEB for Nash and it was the best decision – my life changed in so many positive ways. I never considered going anywhere else for my next dog. Coming back for Wes, I was hopeful for a similar bonding experience in a loving, as well as working, capacity. Wes and I bonded very quickly.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “It helps me get around much quicker and with confidence. I became a friendlier, more social person because when out in public, a dog can be an icebreaker. During the 10 years I had Nash, he became extremely popular and well known in the places I go.”

Were there any training highlights? “One of the great things about Guiding Eyes is, you build long term relationships with the training staff.  I already knew my trainer, Chrissy, so it was great to come back and train with someone I felt comfortable with.  It was an amazing experience.”

Congratulations to Wes’ Puppy Raiser, Megumi Murao!

Graduate Team
:      David and Fred
About the Team:  Fred, a male yellow lab, is Dave’s 2nd guide dog
Hometown:  Tallahassee, Florida

Dave was a Petty Officer Second Class in the U.S. Navy and continues to contribute as a grant reviewer for a Department of Defense medical research program focused on visual trauma.  He enjoys participating in Triathlons, (Running, Cycling, Swimming) and the Martial Arts. Dave loves movies, working outdoors and hanging out with his 13 year old son.

How would you describe your guide dog? “Fred’s very loving and happy and he’s a hard worker.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I met a graduate of the Running Guides Program and his dog and I was very moved by seeing their partnership.  To do the running training with Fred later this year will give me the greatest sense of independence; just to be able to take him to a course and do a run.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “I’ve always been very independent and having Fred supports that. I live in an area that’s within a mile of restaurants and stores and he’ll make it possible to walk there more safely.  It’s been many years since I had a guide dog.  I won’t need to rely on transportation services as much.”

Were there any training highlights? “I can’t say enough about my trainer, Chrissy, who was very professional and excellent to work with.  Fred and I are learning together and becoming a team.”

Congratulations to Fred’s Puppy Raisers, Nickie Oler and Justin Higginbotham!

Grad Henry and Guide Dog Carla

Graduate Team:  Henry and Carla
About the Team:  Carla, a female yellow lab, is Hank’s 1st guide dog
Hometown:  Vicksburg, Michigan

Hank works as the Director of Youth Ministries at his local church and he and his wife are the parents of two young children. He is an enthusiast of endurance athletics, participating in various events, and also enjoys weightlifting and powerlifting. A big guy with a big heart, he welcomes the lovable Carla into his family.

How would you describe your guide dog? “She’s very diligent when working and open to trying new things. She likes to play outdoors with the ball and absolutely loves being in nature, which is most evident during our walks in the forest. She is great with the kids and loves people in general.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “Discovering the Running Guides Program was the major impetus for applying to Guiding Eyes. It came down to having that freedom – the ability to move around without depending on others. I’m really looking forward to the run training and establishing our set routes, rather than relying on the treadmill.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “Carla is getting me out into the world more and reinforces my confidence with a feeling of safety. Just knowing she is there keeping me safe – trusting she has my best interests at heart, as I have her best interests at heart. The ability to explore – to get out and do things again!”

Were there any training highlights? “A car turned right in front of us as we were preparing to cross, but Carla did her traffic check and prevented me from moving forward. Her attentiveness was impressive.”

Congratulations to Carla’s Puppy Raisers, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Sheldon and Gaylynne & Randy Smith!

Graduate Team:   Jaime and Drifter
About the Team: Drifter, a male yellow lab, is Jaime’s 3rd Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown:   Virginia Beach, Virginia

Jaime is a returning graduate, having had two Guiding Eyes dogs, Cary and Yasha. She enjoys singing soprano as part of the Music Ministry at her church and her work with the Lions Club. Jaime likes to take pleasure walks in her neighborhood with the assistance of a guide dog and looks forward to safer and quicker travel with Drifter by her side.

How would you describe your guide dog? “Drifter is sweet and loving that loves to get hugs and kisses. People say he looks very focused  ”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “ I first heard about Guiding Eyes when I was in High School. My gym teacher had been a puppy raiser and recommended I look into applying for a guide dog and after I graduated I got my first dog, Cary.  Now I even encourage others to get a guide dog from Guiding Eyes, especially those that are blind with multiple disabilities. I let them know about the Specialized Training Program.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “My pace is a lot faster when I’m walking with a guide dog and it has helped me to have more confidence. It’s the safer travel.”

Were there any training highlights? “My whole training experience with Drifter was good.”

Congratulations to Drifter’s Puppy Raisers, Elizabeth Williams and Family!

Grad Renea and Guide Dog Irby

Graduate Team:   Renea and Irby
About the Team: Irby, a male yellow lab, is Renae’s 2nd Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown:   Denver, Colorado

Renea returns to Guiding Eyes for her second dog, Irby. She appreciates the increase in independence and confidence she experienced with her previous dog, Kent, now entering retirement. Renea enjoys reading, knitting and walks with her guide dog and loves listening to music.  She is looking forward to the future with Irby in her life as a companion and partner.

How would you describe your guide dog? “Irby is doing well and getting used to his new environment. We go out for walks on our routes every day and continue to reinforce the skills we practiced during training.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I’ve found that for me, a guide dog is better, as I am so much safer going down stairs and stepping down from curbs. It’s really great to have a guide dog helping me with things like that.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “I’m much happier when I have a guide dog. My first dog, Kent, helped me so much and when he retired it was a difficult transition. Now I’m so glad to have Irby; I enjoy his companionship and being able to get out in the world and travel safely.

Were there any training highlights? “I’m surprised at all the things he helps me with! For instance, when we go out on our big walks, there is an uneven break in the sidewalk that could be a safety issue for me. He always stops to let me know it’s there and I’m glad he does!”

Congratulations to Irby’s Puppy Raiser, Jordan Plotkin!

Grad Wendy and Guide Dog Okra

Graduate Team:      Wendy and Okra
About the Team:  Okra, a female black lab, is Wendy’s 5th Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown:  Seattle, Washington

Wendy has been a Clinical Psychologist for 30 years, with much of her work focusing on veterans and the struggles of PTSD. A member of the Guiding Eyes Board of Directors since 2009, she enjoys “the ability to give back to the school that has given me so much.”  Wendy and her husband are cross-country skiers and very active in the Ski for Light organization. She also enjoys tandem bicycle riding, dragon boat paddling, traveling, and taking long walks with their guide dogs.

How would you describe your guide dog? “Okra is a very affectionate, thoughtful, and sweet dog with an amazing memory and she patterns beautifully.  I truly appreciate this quality as it helps me locate destinations and objects much more fluidly. She is very conscientious and wants to make sure I’m safe.  She is learning that Seattle is very hilly and becoming more comfortable every day with the sudden changes in terrain. She is very responsive to voice commands and I love this because I have shoulder injuries and really appreciate a voice-responsive dog.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I initially had guides from another school prior to 1988, but now wouldn’t go any other place.  Okra is my 5th amazing GEB dog after Dutchess, Sherlock, Star, and Wafer. They have each been incredible and unique in their own ways, enriching my life and mobility beyond imagination.  The independence I achieved inspired me to write my travel book “Sites Unseen: Traveling the World without Sight (2010) and experience multiple trips to Hawaii, Italy, Greece, Israel, Mexico, Canada, and all over the U.S.  Okra and I are booked on her first cruise in October and hope to spend some relaxing time in Hawaii.  I truly believe that GEB dogs are the soundest, healthiest, smartest, happiest, and best dogs I have observed over the years, thanks to the amazing breeding, raising, and training received and reinforced at every level of the dogs’ lives.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life?  “I do not believe I would be where I am today if not for these incredible dogs.  I would not have had the confidence to attend and navigate the University of Washington’s huge campus, work in large and diverse hospital settings, move after 30 years in one location, travel the world with my blind husband or alone, or remain as physically active as I crave, without the companionship, expert guidance, and trust of these special dogs. I can’t imagine my life without a guide dog, ever, as they bring so much joy, dignity, and freedom to my life every single day. My world and life have been so enriched and broadened and I am eternally grateful.”

Were there any training highlights?  “Every day of training was new, exciting, and a highlight! This was my first time doing all Home Training, but twice I was part of the Action Program.  I was so very happy and fortunate to work with the awesome Graham Buck again, this time in my home environment, which has many unique mobility challenges. Graham is one of the most creative, thoughtful, and compassionate trainers I know and his patience and encouragement were so helpful in getting us off on the right foot (or should I say Paw)? Seattle has more dogs than children, a Bike Share program, and streets that curve and follow the hills with stairways and pedestrian bridges. I was very appreciative of his observations, suggestions, and ability to help landmark and scout out best routes in some otherwise difficult areas. It definitely helped my confidence level and allowed me to better understand the cues Okra was communicating to me.”

Congratulations to Okra’s Puppy Raisers, Hugh Sigmon & Paula Wiles Sigmon!