June On-Campus Training
Graduate Team: Kai and Pride
About the Team: Pride, a female black & tan German Shepherd, is Kai’s 1st guide dog
Hometown: Statesboro, Georgia
Guide Dog Mobility Instructor: Alyssa David
Kai is 19 years old and has just completed his first year at the University of Georgia, studying music theory and jazz drumset. He was Valedictorian of his high school class, and his future academic plans include graduate school and becoming a music professor. Kai’s many pursuits as a representative of the blind community go beyond academics. He skateboards and surfs, and is the world’s first legally blind, sponsored skimboarder. Kai and his mom run social media accounts to help bring understanding to issues of the visually impaired from the perspective of the blind person, as well as from the parent of a visually impaired child. He and his family also have an apparel company called “EyeSwearApparel” which promotes Braille literacy and blind advocacy. In the documentary film, “See Sedona Blind”, Kai was part of a group of individuals with visual impairments that hiked the Sedona, Arizona area as their experiences were documented. When Kai was young with decreased vision, he was coping with night blindness and anxiety but found comfort at night with soft bedding items. He became an advocate for others who were visually impaired and with his family’s support, founded “Kai’s Comforts”. His philanthropic venture collects new soft bedding items and donates them to schools for blind and visually impaired students. To date, over four hundred items have been donated to these schools. Kai is appreciative of the influential and supportive roles his parents and brother, Cash, have played in his success.
How would you describe your guide dog? “In harness, Pride is always ready to go, gets excited at new places and follows directions well. Out of harness, she is super sweet, energetic, and has a few little quirks that make her so fun and enjoyable to be around. I was a little surprised at how we’ve grown so close in a pretty short amount of time. When she wakes up in the morning, she looks at me, willing me to awaken. When I do, she starts her day jumping and is so playful. She’s a great dog and guide.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I took the recommendations of my mobility instructors in high school. They gave me the names of the top few schools that they had heard good things about. Guiding Eyes really stood out with their reputation, the type of dogs they train, and the kinds of environments that they train in, like New York. That’s the kind of environment I plan on living in.”
How has a guide dog impacted your life? “It is really nice having a good buddy around. She makes daily life and travel much easier. Navigating around is easy, quicker, and I am more confident. I recently went on a trip to New Orleans with Pride, and it was interesting to see how quickly she got used to working around huge crowds and tons of different distractions. I was amazed and aware of how Pride was evaluating and guiding us through the crowded Atlanta airport. Looking forward, I’m excited about how things are going.”
Were there any training highlights? “We went into downtown Manhattan and took the subway and also walked around White Plains and Yorktown. We went out to do a nighttime route and since I have a little vision, I said to my trainer, ‘it’s pretty light out here’ and she said, ‘so close your eyes’. I did the whole route with my eyes closed and I smiled the whole time, because after just this one week working with Pride, I was able to do this whole route with almost no assistance. It was more than I had done in the years before having Pride. We have a good future together.”
Pride came to us in the thick of Covid. She was 6 weeks old and she brought us so much joy. She was quick to pick up anything that I showed her at a very young age such as going up and down stairs, walking over grates and being around traffic. Even at a young age, Pride would move out at a quick pace. She could trot ahead of me but was aware that I was there. While Covid was everywhere we still went places almost daily but we avoided people and dogs. One of my favorite outings with Pride was taking her to the Hawken school where I did a presentation on Guiding Eyes. We walked into a room full of masked students and I went to the front of the room, Pride just lied down and went to sleep. Later we did a group photo and she was so cute because she sat up so tall and alert like she loved being around all of the students. Pride is just a wonderful bright, sweet and affectionate dog. When walking Pride, sometimes she would do a little jump/bounce, I called it her giddyup. She just seemed to be saying that life is great which always made me smile. Pride is the most loving dog that will put her head on your lap or by your feet. We are so proud of her and wish her and Kai many years of adventures on campus and anywhere else Kai would like to go.
Leslie Stephens, Puppy Raiser
Enjoy these photos of the team and Pride as a pup on program…