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Leslie and Omega

Meet Graduate Leslie

Leslie sits with yellow Lab guide dog Omega in formal portraitGraduate Team:  Leslie and Omega
About the Team:  Omega, a female yellow Lab, is Leslie’s 5th guide dog
Location:  Schaumburg, Illinois
Training: December 2022 On-Campus

Leslie is a cello player in the Elmhurst Symphony, where she has been a volunteer member since 2017. Her retired guide dog Gerry used to accompany her to rehearsals, and she’s hopeful that Omega might join her as well. Leslie has a private studio where she teaches cello and braille music, although most of her braille music students are currently learning online. She is as a board member for the National Federation of the Blind Performing Arts Division and a member of the Illinois chapter. Clearly a musical family, her husband and son also play the cello. Leslie works as an accessibility tester, accessing websites for usability with screen readers, such as JAWS (Job Access for Windows with Speech) and NVDA (Non-Visual Desktop Access). In her free time, she enjoys walking, hiking, camping, knitting, ceramics, reading, and writing, as well as socializing, movies, tandem bike riding with her husband, and going to concerts and the theater.

How would you describe your guide dog? “She’s outgoing, animated, tail always wagging, and loves people and life. My son says she’s social like me because I can talk for hours. If I’m sitting on the couch, she has to have her head in my lap or by my feet. She also has more energy and is more fast paced than my retired guide. Omega’s always ready to play fetch, and she and Gerry both love what I call ‘praising parties.’ She will wag all the way to our destination, like ‘yay, I did it!’ I watch her with devices because at Guiding Eyes, she figured out how to turn off my air purifier with her nose. I played the cello at graduation with accompaniment from my phone and she started the music playing with her paw! When I stood up to take my bow, she also stood up to take her bow.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “Omega is my third dog from Guiding Eyes, and I’ve always been impressed. I have friends who got their dogs from Guiding Eyes and was impressed by the training and how well they listen. All three of my Guiding Eyes dogs… you could trust them anywhere. I had a few instances with Gerry where I needed a guide dog mobility instructor to come out and take a look at what was going on, and they did just that and the issues were resolved. When I had back surgery, Guiding Eyes was able to take her and during my time of recovery, I was able to check in and see how she was doing. When I was fully recovered, they brought her back. I love the fenced-in play area they have at the campus where you can have your dog off-leash and let them run around. It gives you practice with your dog listening off-leash. There’s been a lot of changes and innovations, and that play area is my favorite.

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “My guide dogs have walked by my side through various phases of my life, like when I attended Northern Illinois University and Eastman, and for many concerts and recitals. They were also there when I sang in my church choir, worked at my second job in Chicago, and now during parenting, and playing in the Elmhurst Symphony. There is something liberating about picking up the harness, giving the forward command, and stepping out with confidence. While every dog has been different, Omega seems to be extremely in tune with my voice and body language. When the harness is on, she’s all business. However, once the harness is off, she could play ball for hours.”

Were there any training highlights? “Omega and I bonded pretty quickly. She settled and responded nicely to my cello. We started feeling in sync when my trainer gave us an offset ergonomic harness handle, and it’s positioned to feel natural to hold. Once I started working with that, I could feel what my dog was doing and which way she was trying to move me. I remember during the last route we did I felt like I was able to tell when we were coming into the curbs, as if it was the start of us reading each other. Omega’s street crossings are phenomenal. You tell her ‘forward,’ and she takes off with no question in her mind and it’s amazing. Somewhere like Yorktown or White Plains, there are obstacles and the feeling of having the harness in my hand and flying down the sidewalk again – that’s really cool.”

Meet Guide Dog Omega

DOB:  3/1/2020
Litter ID: 4O20
Color/Breed:  Yellow/Labrador
Gender: Female
Brood: Evie
Stud: Oreo
Littermates: Orion, Oahu, Oscar, Ola, Opie
Region:  Eastern MA
Regional Puppy Instructor: Lisa Bumbalo
Puppy Raiser:  Rachael Bell
Facebook: Eastern Mass Puppy Raisers

From the Puppy Raiser…

Omega came to me at 6 weeks old at the very start of the pandemic. I immediately knew she was special and that our time together would never be long enough. Meg and I had so many adventures together, but her favorite things were always her frisbee, her ball, and her many dog friends. Meg accompanied me to work for almost two years, and her sweet, patient personality made her the perfect puppy class assistant. Omega loved nothing more than sliding face first down a snowy hill in the winter or laying in a big mud puddle in the middle of summer. Everyone who met Omega loved her. I couldn’t be more proud of everything she has accomplished and all the people she has touched. ~ Rachael Bell, Puppy Raiser

Photos of the Team…