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Kira and Kona

Meet Graduate Kira

Kira leans towards black Lab guide Kona as they sit side by side for team portraitGraduate Team: Kira and Kona
About the Team: Kona, a female black lab, is Kira’s 2nd guide dog
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Training: November 2023 On-Campus

Kira received her bachelor’s degree in integrated studies with a focus in journalism from Middle Tennessee State University and moved to Chicago in search of a more accessible and navigable environment. After her move she began an internship at the Chicago Lighthouse, working in the call center for their Low Vision Clinic. Through Lighthouse, she’s been working for UI Health Customer Care Center since early 2021, scheduling ophthalmology appointments for the University of Illinois Chicago Hospital. When not working, Kira loves tapping into her creative side, whether it be reading sci-fi and fantasy or writing stories, which she feels helps her process things. She enjoys singing and has sung in several choirs. She’s currently a member of Sing for Serenity, a virtual choir composed of visually impaired singers. As a guide dog user, she likes walking for pleasure and being outside enjoying life. Kira and Kona live with her mother and her cat Summer.

How would you describe your guide dog? “She is pretty chill off-harness. She loves carrying toys around versus me throwing them for her to bring back to me. I’m thinking about getting her puzzle toys to keep her mind stimulated because she seems more on the brainier side. She’s totally happy chewing on a Nylabone and carrying it around with her, then flopping down somewhere. That’s the biggest, most amazing thing about all of this -getting to know Kona. Before we matched officially, I met her and loved her right away. We did a working walk on the first day to see if we would be a good match, and we did really well. Kat, my instructor said we looked so good together. I was like, wow, I don’t even need to try another dog.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I like the training philosophy and the support I got when my last guide and I didn’t work out. They were so good about everything, and they understood the feelings I was having. The months without a guide before getting matched with Kona, I learned I cannot be happy without a guide dog. I’m not the same and I’m not as engaged with the world because I’m so busy using my cane. I wasn’t going out; just so isolating. I didn’t realize how good it could be to have a guide dog until I got Kona and went through training and graduation. I feel so secure and we’re a team.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life?  “When I was using my cane, a lot of people thought I was lost and would try to help because they didn’t get it. With Kona, everyone’s focused on how pretty she is, but she works right through it and doesn’t get distracted. She’s so on task when she’s working, and if I can feel her getting distracted, all I have to do is have her sit and treat her or give direction and we keep moving. She helped me navigate Ikea with my dad and I could communicate to Kona where to go, which is so helpful when it’s busy and there’s people with carts and a lot of movement and stimulation. She was so on a mission, in work mode, and I was able to confidently work her. I’m hoping to walk around the neighborhood and get to know the neighbors because I’m a social person at heart, but it can be difficult for me with a cane. With Kona, I’m just another person walking around on the street and the cloud around me is lifted.”

Were there any training highlights?  “I did Home Training with my previous guide, but it was cool to be able to train on campus with Kona and work with Kat, Michelle, and Ellen. It was nice being in a supportive environment, since I was worried about how it would be on campus. Having a supportive and observant trainer without judgment makes all the difference. I said it while I was there and I’ll say it again, Guiding Eyes On-Campus training for the win! Everybody is so nice, and it was great having other students to connect with. My classmates and I still keep in touch and have a WhatsApp call every weekend.”

Meet Guide Dog Kona

DOB:  7/27/2021
Litter ID: 3KK21
Color/Breed:  Black/Labrador
Gender: Female
Brood: Crumpet
Stud: Dasher
Littermates: Kai, Kava, Kennedy, Kelley, Kate, Krissy, Keats, Kobe
Region:  Westchester County
Regional Puppy Instructor: Elizabeth Vacchiano
Puppy Raiser:  Alissa M. Phillips & Family
Facebook: Westchester Puppy Raisers

From the Puppy Raiser…

I have always said Kona was my comeback kid, and she truly was. In our year-and-a-half together we had so many adventures including trips into New York City, walk-through light shows, a vacation to Vermont, going to the aquarium and more. Kona worked so hard to grow from a sweet, but sensitive little puppy into the confident and relaxed dog she is today and to say I am so proud of her would be such an understatement. I enjoyed raising her immensely and she has left her mark here in New York! We love you, Kona girl! Wishing Kira and Kona all the best in their endeavors together!  ~Alissa Phillips, Puppy Raiser

Photos of the Team…