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Justin and Tootsie

Meet Graduate Justin

Justin sits outside on a sunny day with black guide dog Tootsie for their team portraitGraduate Team:   Justin and Tootsie
About the Team:  Tootsie is a female, black Labrador and Justin’s first guide dog.
Location:   Spicer, Minnesota
Training:   May 2024 On-Campus  

Justin earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Moorhead State University. He is employed at Disability Hub MN, a Center for Independent Living division. This non-profit, state-funded program offers information and resources to Minnesota’s disabled population. Justin finds great fulfillment in helping others through his work. He has been legally blind since a very young age and enjoys living in his own home, only a short distance from his parents and sister. Previously, Justin has had dogs as pets, however, after years of using a cane, he decided that having a guide dog would benefit his travel, safety, and companionship. He welcomes Tootsie and the presence of a four-legged companion on his leisurely walks.  Living in the land of 10,000 lakes, he and Tootsie will enjoy visiting the public beach, on a lake only 5 minutes from his home.

How would you describe your guide dog? “Tootsie is a great dog, loves to be outside, and is attentive and curious. She’s a special name dog. When she’s not in harness her ears are up, and her incredible nose is to the ground. In harness, she is at full attention, undistracted, and motivated to complete tasks. She is also well-mannered and smart. Recently in a grocery store, a mother and child passed by. The little girl asked if she could pet the dog and the mom quietly explained that the dog was working.  As I left the store, I saw them again and asked the girl if she would like to pet Tootsie. I explained that Tootsie understands she is working when her harness is on. I took off her harness and Tootsie laid down, allowing the little girl to pet her. I appreciated the way the mother handled the situation and wanted to reward this good teaching moment. Everyone left happy.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I decided that I wanted a service dog and began applying to several schools, including Guiding Eyes.  My former martial arts instructor commented that she had been donating to Guiding Eyes for about 30 years. And after making my initial contact with Guiding Eyes, a staff member called me within hours.  Their help was, and still is, great.”

How has a guide dog impacted your life?  “I feel the companionship and a sense of independence. I feel a lot better about going out, making trips, and using some crosswalks that are difficult. Socially, having a guide dog breaks down the barriers of meeting people. It promotes openness of communication in a social setting by stating ‘I have blindness’, without actually stating it. We have only been home from the school for a month, but she has been to a couple of in-person meetings with me and did well.”

Were there any training highlights? “A highlight was being able to be on campus with other students and the trainers. You see how the trainers handle the dogs, and they instruct you throughout the day; at mealtimes, going for a night walk, and walking in Yorktown. The training, dining, and vet staff, as well as the staff during my initial contact, were all fantastic. And the food was great. We left campus, took a train to Newburgh, and went to Cold Spring. We practiced negotiating at a mall and went to restaurants. It was a good experience and I’m very thankful; very grateful.”

Meet Guide Dog Tootsie

DOB:  4/2/2022
Litter ID: S-4T22
Color/Breed:  Black/Labrador
Gender: Female
Brood: Felicia
Stud: Dover
Littermates: Tux, Ten, Trilla, Tarzan, Tahiti, Trinket, Tank, Tangee, Treasure
Region:  Northern NJ
Regional Puppy Instructor: Elizabeth Vacchiano
Puppy Raiser:  The Nozell Family
Facebook: Northern New Jersey Puppy Raisers

Special Recognition: Tootsie was special named by Barbara and Robert Smith in memory of Barbara’s first childhood pet, Tootsie. Barbara has since passed, but her family has continued to enjoy following Guiding Eyes Tootsie’s progress and knows that Barbara and Tootsie are smiling down on this new, beautiful partnership.

Photos of the Team…