Loving Every Minute

 In News & Events

By Raven Tolliver, Guiding Eyes graduateGrad Raven Tolliver with Golden Retriever Kip

When I was two years old I was diagnosed with retinal blastoma – a cancer that attacks the retinas. I went through radiation and chemotherapy, but ultimately, both of my eyes were removed and replaced with prosthetics. Since age three, I have been a cane traveler. I had to depend on it for just about everything mobility-related: finding landmarks, doorways and sidewalks, determining the texture of the terrain or flooring, and finding my way around obstacles.

Sometimes people would approach me and grab me or my cane to stop me from hitting a door or furniture. When I used a cane I veered a lot when crossing a street and would have to find my way back to the sidewalk. For a long time I thought about getting a guide dog as a solution, but I just wasn’t ready to make the change.

In February of this year I made the snap decision to apply to Guiding Eyes for the Blind. I was excited and terrified at the same time. I had never owned or taken care of a dog in my life! Now I would be trading in my cane for a dog in which I would have to put complete trust.

When I arrived at Guiding Eyes I felt at home because of the good food, my own room, the student lounge, and the helpful staff. All of the staff were professional, yet casual and relaxed. For the first week everything felt surreal, especially after I received my two-year-old male golden retriever named Kipling. I was doing this, I really was! I was getting a guide dog — walking with him, praising him, playing with him, cuddling him, feeding him, picking up his poop, and loving every minute of it!

As our training together progressed and Kip and I bonded, I became more comfortable traveling with him. I learned how to direct him, follow him and move with him. I would compare it to a sort of dance: the more I became familiar with the steps, the more natural it felt to me.

My instructor was instrumental in making my travels with Kipling as natural and comfortable as possible. She addressed every question and concern that I had. She coached me through my nervousness, mistakes and little quirks. She had the right amount of calm patience, dedication and sense of humor to teach me to become an efficient and educated guide dog traveler.

When I arrived home in Michigan, it was new territory for Kipling — new people, new places and new routes to learn, but my “Kip” did not mind one bit. I love Kip’s confidence. No matter where we go, he believes he always knows which way to turn. The feeling I get when I walk with Kip is kind of like floating. Getting around campus and Grand Rapids itself seems so effortless at times. I am so grateful to the generous people whose support of Guiding Eyes has enabled me to receive this most wonderful gift.

19-year-old Raven is currently studying philosophy with a pre-law emphasis, and she plans to become a lawyer in family court. She loves computers, and while training at Guiding Eyes spent much of her spare time in the Assistive Technology Center.

Grads Raven and Kipling walk down the street in White Plains, NY

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