March 2019 Graduating Class
Congratulations to our March 2019 Graduating Class!
We thank this month’s sponsors for their generosity…
Congratulations to all the graduates! We wish you all the best in your new life with your four-legged partners.
-Guiding Eyes at Cornell University
- Bonnie and Shirley
- Brian and Yukon
- Carol and Betty
- Elsa and Pax
- Hailey and Mari
- Lisa and Travis
- Lori and Nikita
- Lydia and Geoffrey
- Rochelle and Yeats
- Theresa and Olson
- Thomas and Westley
- Walter and Midas
Home Training Graduates:
- Donna and Curtis
- Mellissa and Dooley
- Sandra and Velita
Many thanks to our Training Staff:
- Class Supervisor: Miranda Beckmann
- Class Instructors: Michelle Tang and Katherine Russell
- Action Instructor: Stephanie Koret
- Running Guide Specialist: Nick Speranza
- Instructor Assistant: Amy Sander
- Home Training Instructors: Chrissy Vetrano, Nikki Wentz and Kathy Rooney
Watch Graduation Live Stream
Watch Narrated Graduation Slideshow
We gratefully acknowledge the Fain Family’s support of our video streaming capabilities.
Meet the Residential Training Graduates
Bonnie enjoys spending her time doing church activities or getting involved in the community, now that she’s retired. She loves to be out and about, often taking trips to the Polynesian Cultural Center, and says she’s always down for a luau! Bonnie is so looking forward to getting out on some nice long walks with Shirley.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Shirley is my eyes out there. She has such a personality, with a bit of sass! She’s a great match for me. Shirley is also a very confident dog, and that’s one of my favorite things about her.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I worked with an Orientation and Mobility Specialist during my time working for the Oregon Commission for the Blind. Traveling with a cane was never for me, so my instructor suggested looking into a guide dog from Guiding Eyes, and I never looked back!”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “All of my guide dogs have protected me on so many different occasions. They have kept me safe. The companionship is amazing, and I have so much more independence than before.”
Were there any training highlights? “Stephanie is an amazing instructor, allowing me the freedom to really get out there and go, especially as a returning student. I love her style of teaching.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “Your whole life will change with a guide dog. The freedom to travel night and day, the independence to come and go without having to depend on other people – it is life-changing.”
Congratulations to Shirley’s Puppy Raiser, Peggy Morey!
Brian considers himself lucky to be surrounded by a very supportive family, including his beautiful nieces and nephews. Brian was a high voltage lineman prior to losing his sight, but still enjoys fishing, bowling, playing golf and poker tournaments. He remains positive and determined stating, “I’ve been dealt a situation, but I’m going to own it.” He looks forward to taking Yukon to his favorite places.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Amazing, fast and handsome. Yukon likes to work. He’s a very loving dog and a great, new friend.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “When I first lost my sight and we were researching guide dog schools, Guiding Eyes seemed like the best choice, so I came here. Now I’m on my 3rd guide dog and I’m never going anywhere else. No way. These dogs are unbelievable.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “Having low vision, I need to repeatedly look up and down when I walk down the street, but this gives me freedom to walk without the worry. Having that freedom is motivating.”
Were there any training highlights? “Yes, when I found out Yukon had been considered for the running guides relay team. He loves to walk fast. I’ll never arrive late! When we are out on the route and he realizes we are returning to the building, I think he walks a little bit slower. He just loves being out walking!”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “I would say to definitely try it. A guide dog will give you back some freedom. Having a dog provides some structure to your day and motivates you to get up early and out the door.”
Congratulations to Yukon’s Puppy Raiser, Carolyn Lorber!
Carol works at a church in a Virginia suburb of Washington, DC, so she often participates in community activities. She has spent time volunteering with the Foundation Fighting Blindness in charity events. She loves to spend time with her husband, two children and their pet dogs. As a family, they often spend days at the beach or take family vacations. Carol is looking forward to introducing Betty to her family, friends, co-workers and the rest of her community.
How would you describe your guide dog? “I often call her my “Sweet Betty” because she is so gentle, smart and loving. She is so mellow and that is definitely the right match for me. When Betty is working, she is absolutely consistent, and I can already put my trust in her. After only a couple days on route with her I felt as though we had been working together for months instead of days.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “Guiding Eyes checked off all the boxes for me. I wanted a school on the East Coast and a dog that would be comfortable working in a city, as well as a suburban environment. I knew that Guiding Eyes could provide me with everything I needed.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “The ease of mobility, speed and confidence. I’m really looking forward to bringing Betty to work with me. We have a few trips coming up as well and I am really excited to bring Betty along with us.”
Were there any training highlights? “Our day trip to NYC was fabulous. She guided me through traffic, around pedestrians and construction like a pro. I’ve been able to trust her out on route and we are really in sync together out there. The trainers are awesome as well; they are so experienced and work so well with both the students as well as the dogs.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “Having a guide dog is a huge responsibility, but it is a wonderful gift. One of the most important things is to always be consistent with your dog. The training doesn’t end when you leave Guiding Eyes. You and your dog keep teaching each other for as long as you work together. Remember to “love on them” and they will return their love unconditionally!”
Congratulations to Betty’s Puppy Raiser, Isabella Alexandra Esposito!
Elsa is a Speculative Fiction and Disability-Focused Nonfiction Writer and Teacher who frequently travels for work related conventions. One of her favorite hobbies is English Horseback Riding. She is looking forward to the feeling of safety and confidence a guide dog will provide, whether in her professional or personal endeavors.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Pax is a lovable and affectionate boy. He’s eager to please and waggles every time his harness is taken from the wall, but he also watches out for me at every step. I feel so well taken care of by him!”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I’m a social person and I also travel for work, but I found the mental calculation required of me when I go into New York City exhausting. I have to think about how I’m going to navigate around people and which route I should take. But having the extra help of a guide dog, I will get back some of the energy I need to do all the stuff I want to do. I need that feeling of security.”
What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “Going places and doing things! He’s going to make a huge difference in my ability to do my job. I’m excited he will be able to go with me to work related conferences and award ceremonies and I know he will become ‘Science Fiction’s Favorite Dog’!”
Were there any training highlights? “I have never walked with such good posture! A guide dog puts me in a place where I can do that, where I don’t have to look at the ground. I’ve always had to look at my feet.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “Be prepared to make it work. I had a short amount of time to get ready to come to Guiding Eyes for training, but I quickly moved my schedule to make it work!”
Congratulations to Pax’s Puppy Raisers, Jim and Luan Harmeson!
Hail is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Business Analytics, after completing high school in just two years. She loves to learn and hopes to eventually work in Patent Law in the Science and Technology field. This goal drives her to work really hard and push herself every day. In addition to school, Hail has been playing the violin for 12 years, playing professionally at events such as weddings, ceremonies and fundraisers. She cannot wait to head home with Marli and continue to learn more about her.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Marli is calm and gentle, but energetic and fast when she is playing. When she is working, she is so focused and driven – there is no fooling around when that harness is on.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I was receiving a scholarship from the Florida Council for the Blind at a convention and I met Becky Davidson from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. That really inspired me, and I actually applied for a guide dog that night!”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “I feel so free – it’s very liberating. I used to count my steps and would constantly be watching the ground. Working with Marli is so much faster, safer, and more efficient. But I think the best thing is the companionship between us. It really is amazing, and now there will always be someone there with me.”
Were there any training highlights? “We were out on a route on a windy day and Marli’s ears started flapping in the breeze. It was like she was posing for a magazine!”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “You have to be a team with your guide dog. Being a confident, independent traveler is so important. You need to be ready to put in the work, but the benefits are so worth it.”
Congratulations to Marli’s Puppy Raisers, Lee Anne Leverone and Christina Strubbe!
Lisa loves spending time with family, gathering all the grandkids for family get-togethers and barbecues. She also enjoys many outdoor activities like hiking and fishing. Lisa loves music and is looking forward to possibly learning to play the keyboard. She has also been exploring her new hobby of soapmaking! Lisa can’t wait to get home and introduce everybody to her new partner, Travis!
How would you describe your guide dog? “Travis is very sweet, lovable, playful, and can be very laid back. But he is also very alert and attentive, especially when he is working.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I am determined to be as independent as I can be. I want to make resources more available for the blind and visually impaired in my area, so I plan to use my independence to learn more about what’s out there and make it accessible.”
What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “I have already started to notice how much I miss him when he isn’t with me. The attachment that we have is already so strong. And I just feel safer having Travis by my side.”
Were there any training highlights? “I just love the way that he checks in with me when we’re out working and he completes a task – as if he is excitedly asking, ‘Well, Mom, was that right? Did we do good?’”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “I would definitely suggest coming to Guiding Eyes. This was actually the only school that I applied to. I am so comfortable here, it really has been a great experience.”
Congratulations to Travis’ Puppy Raiser, Katie LaBlue!
Lori is a former occupational therapist who loves the outdoors, especially gardening during the glorious, yet short, Canadian summers. She’s looking forward to life with Nikita and introducing her to rescue cat, Sunny, back home.
How would you describe your guide dog? “She’s spicy and energetic, but she’s a ‘love dog’. She’s very smart and sweet, plus she’s a rhythmic snorer, which can be very relaxing to listen to!”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I have balance and mobility issues and this school is great at adapting the training program to a student’s needs. I’m so impressed with all the staff here, from the trainers to the kitchen staff. They’re so in touch with the students and will go out of their way to accommodate us.”
What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “Once it warms up, I will be taking Nikita for walks around the lake and along the creek in the park. I’m looking forward to not having to stare down at the sidewalk right in front of me. Nikita’s going to let me walk with my head held high.”
Were there any training highlights? “I love the positive reinforcement used here. My trainer lets me know immediately if I’m doing something incorrectly, but without criticism. At the end of each walk, there is always praise and encouragement. They also instruct us to praise the dog when they do something right. They want us both to come out of this class with confidence.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “Do it. Get help from your O&M instructor about whether a guide dog is right for you and your level of visual impairment. Be sure you’re ready to accept the responsibilities of caring for the dog, before making the decision.”
Congratulations to Nikita’s Puppy Raisers, Mike and Linda Wiliams!
Lydia enjoys spending time with her two grandchildren and is looking forward to traveling with them more safely, with Geoffrey by her side. She works in a clerical position and likes to take long walks on city blocks during her lunch break. Lydia also enjoys outings to movies and bowling and eating out with friends.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Geoffrey is a loving dog. He’s calm and plays nicely when we’re inside together. When he’s working and tunes into me, you can tell that once he knows the route, he anticipates it. He’s just a great dog.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I was becoming fearful of traffic and wasn’t going out much. A friend of mine is a Guiding Eyes graduate and he highly recommended this school and its dogs. When I arrived here I loved the familiarity. Everyone is so pleasant and warm. I love this program.”
What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “I look forward to being independent and not having to wait for someone to assist me, even with things as simple as going to the store across the street. I can get up and go whenever I want. Now that I have Geoffrey I feel confident and the fear is gone. I know it will be so exhilarating. I’m free with him.”
Were there any training highlights? “Our training on escalators was important to me, because I will encounter them at train stations and the mall. Also, when we were training in a store, he was so good in the produce section. He didn’t jump or get distracted. It’s so amazing knowing that now I can grocery shop and get everything I need done.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “It is a lot of work. You have to be determined and you have to want it for yourself. A guide gives you independence to go out and face the world. Parks, buses, trains…you’re free to lead a normal life. It’s like now you have wings and you can fly.”
Congratulations to Geoffrey ’s Puppy Raisers, Gabriella Bonofiglio and Rachel McQuay!
Rochelle is an undergraduate who will be receiving her bachelor’s degree this year in English – Creative Writing, with minors in Theater and Psychology. She plays cello, loves to read and write realistic fiction and volunteers at a farm as an assistant horse trainer. Rochelle looks forward to continuing her education with Yeats by her side when she studies for her master’s degree.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Yeats is pumped about life and is happy to be here, there, and everywhere! He can be silly, but in a smart way, which is exactly what I hoped for. He’s a hardworking cuddle-bug with a sense of humor.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “My previous Guiding Eyes dog changed my life! I like the instructors and the structure of the classes at Guiding Eyes, and most importantly, I love the dogs!”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “It just opened my world. I’m definitely more social now. A guide dog encourages me to interact with people. Everyone wants to know about the dog and tell me about their dog. Sometimes I go places I think my dog would enjoy. Like apple picking! Or I might ride an elephant because I wonder ‘what would my dog think seeing me on an elephant?’ It challenges me to do things I probably wouldn’t have done.”
Were there any training highlights? “Yeats is really, really great at targeting which is important because I’m a student on a college campus. We will need to target buildings and classrooms. After every route we do together, Yeats seems to say, ‘we did such a great job!’ when he gets in my lap to lick my face.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “Do your research on different schools, but know getting a guide dog will be one of the best decisions you will ever make.”
Congratulations to Yeats’ Puppy Raisers, Dr. Alysha Gonsalves and Mr. Gregory Martain!
Terri loves to spend her time listening to music, singing karaoke, knitting, or going on cruises with her husband. She has participated in singing groups and knitting for charity and is a former member of a tandem bike club. Terri’s interested in pursuing cross-country skiing and is looking forward to getting out and enjoying some long walks at home with Olson.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Olson is a sweet and lovable dog, with such soft fur. He loves to play, especially with his favorite bone and tennis balls. He’s a great worker and he loves it, too! When we put the harness on, he puts his head in there faster than you can imagine.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I’ve always done better with guide dogs rather than a cane and have had guide dogs from Guiding Eyes since leaving high school. Guiding Eyes is a family, and even after you go home with your guide dog, they’re always there to help you with whatever you need.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “The biggest difference is the independence. I also feel more outgoing – having a guide dog really allows you to meet a lot of people.”
Were there any training highlights? “Guiding Eyes is constantly making positive changes and it gets better every time I come here. The Instructors are amazing, and they really tailor the training to you and your specific needs.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “Be prepared for the responsibility of a dog. There will be hair and drool, but their partnership is amazing and definitely worth it. I would always recommend Guiding Eyes. They have an expert staff and the way they continue to follow up with you after graduation is excellent.”
Congratulations to Olson’s Puppy Raisers, Mike and Sharon Walker Family!
Thomas is a seasoned guide dog user, leading a busy life as husband, father of four and President and CEO of Guiding Eyes of the Blind. He is an avid runner, having made history by being the first blind runner to complete the 2019 NYC Half Marathon, guided solely by a relay team of 3 dogs. His relay team included his new guide Westley, his previous guide Gus, (who retired after the race) and Westley’s sister Waffle.
How would you describe your guide dog? “He is solid as a rock, lovable like an oversized teddy bear, and yet he moves like a ninja around obstacles with great ease. Very patient, he waits like a gentleman to eat his kibble, and rolls over playfully when he is off duty. Westley’s giant size is only matched by his enormous heart, and he loves, let me say this again, loves, LOVES to run. He is a handsome fellow with a big head and a humble demeanor.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I have had dogs from two other schools. Guiding Eyes is by far the best, and yes, I am very, very biased. But, the puppy raising program is second to none, and Guiding Eyes is the only school that allows running with a guide dog, something I have always wanted to do to stay healthy and active.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “I have been able to have the confidence to travel by myself anywhere, and with a guide dog, I can accomplish anything my sighted peers can do – and sometimes more. The ability to be free from limitations, alongside a loveable creature that wants nothing more than love in return is truly magical. And, I have a very good excuse to be able to take my dog anywhere – yes, what a great thing to be able to do. Not only have I been able to have a family, I know I can get anywhere with ease – get to work and back, and even, dare I say, run a half-marathon without human assistance. Wow! What more could anyone want? The feeling is one of freedom and good fortune.”
Were there any training highlights? “Yes, in class with Miranda in Manhattan on the subway, and on Lexington Avenue safely weaving through a busy construction site. Westley also had the confidence to manage a complex race environment with 25,000 other runners. We trained weekly with the Running Guides training team alongside Ben Cawley, Jolene Hollister and Nick Speranza in Central Park, preparing for the half-marathon. Katherine did a wonderful job preparing him for what was a history making adventure. When I took Westley out to meet my beautiful wife Melissa, she could not contain herself about how wonderful he was. Of course, she has good taste.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “What are you waiting for?”
Congratulations to Westley’s Puppy Raisers, Shannon Doubet and Family!
Walt is a former California almond farmer and describes himself as a “loyal student and Guiding Eyes user”, having returned for his fourth guide dog. He lives with his wife Donna, also a guide dog user, and enjoys reading, woodworking and barbecuing.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Midas has a very strong work ethic. He is very driven and caring, and when he’s off harness he loves to snuggle. His paws are huge, and he likes to put them on my lap to signal he wants to be affectionate!”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “All my guides have been from here and I have had great success with them. Guiding Eyes has very hardworking dogs. I like the training and how it has continued to change since my last dog, eight years ago. A little change can bring out the best in these dogs.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “A guide gives me more confidence in my abilities. When you have a loss of hearing on one side, it’s hard to judge the traffic and pinpoint where the traffic sounds are coming from. A guide dog gives me a better sense of confidence and security because I can rely on and trust his judgement.”
Were there any training highlights? “Whatever Midas has done has been a highlight. He has really impressed me with his drive to work. He wants to get to that next curb safely and see what’s down the next block. Whether he encounters people, other dogs or snowy sidewalks, he’s not easily distracted.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “There is an immense sense of freedom. Imagine picking up that handle for the first time. You can trust their judgement to get you around safely. If you are considering it, be committed to the responsibility of taking good care of that dog. These guides give us so much, they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Congratulations to Midas’ Puppy Raisers, Nancy and John Maschmeier!
Meet the Home Training Graduates
Donna was a teacher, having returned to college to earn her teaching degree, after losing her sight. In 2018 she and her husband opened a coffee shop, Common Grounds. Now, with Curtis by her side, she anticipates looking into classes and enjoying the independence and safety a guide dog provides.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Curtis is very smart and a fast learner. In harness he is a great worker, but out of harness he is quite a character. He has a lot of energy and loves to run and play, especially with his new friends Jasper and Calli [family dog and cat].”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “Many years ago when I lost my eyesight, I went back to school, but it was scary trying to get around the campus. It was then that I got my first guide Athens from Guiding Eyes – a really great guide dog. I’ve been without a dog for several years and as things change, it was time to come back.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “When we moved here I started taking more walks, but there are hills and irregular sidewalks to navigate. I feel safer with a guide dog, so I’m looking forward to having fun exploring side streets with Curtis.”
Were there any training highlights? “I love the way he stops at the curbs and brings me to the crossing light buttons. When approach stairs, he stops on the first step before going up, so I know why we’re stopping. On our first day out, he knew to stop at the very place in the uneven pavement I’ve stumbled over and injured myself.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “You’ll feel safer, more in control and independent. Also, you may find people interact with you differently when you have a guide dog; more at ease and natural. Get a guide dog – they’ve got your back and there are less day to day worries.”
Congratulations Curtis’ Puppy Raisers, The Genet Family
Graduate Team: Mellissa and Dooley
About the Team: Doolley, a male black Labrador, is Melissa’s 1st guide dog
Hometown: Bristol, Connecticut
Mellissa spent many years as a media sub-contractor, working in various television genres, and also worked as an event DJ. She is the active mom of an 11 yr old daughter, recently helping her Girl Scout troop earn their Service Dog badges. She loves music, is an avid Red Sox fan, history buff and collector of JFK memorabilia.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Dooley’s smart, incredibly loyal and quite a character. He’s integrated well into our household. He loves to sit on the stoop and be brushed, is determined to be friends with the family cat, and every day anticipates my daughter’s return home from school. He has such a fun personality, but when the harness goes on he is totally serious.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “My O&M instructor said having a guide dog would be a freedom I would welcome. He recommended Guiding Eyes and once I looked into it, my gut told me this is where I wanted to be. It was the best thing I ever did.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “I did more in the first few weeks than I’d done in the previous 2 years. Just being able to walk at a normal speed again made me feel happier, healthier and more confident. I have a freedom I haven’t felt since I lost my sight. I’m back to what I was.”
Were there any training highlights? “The first time I told him to find the door. He was so eager and immediately found it – I was stunned! At the medical center I go to regularly, he was able to find every door and elevator I needed. Amazing.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “If you plan on being as active as you can be, get the guide dog. I’m able to walk with my friends on the paths around our local river, chatting safely without the worry of where I’m going, as he leads the pack.”
Congratulations Dooley’s Puppy Raisers, The Newman Family and Jeanne Dregalla
Graduate Team: Sandra and Velita
About the Team: Velita, a female black Labrador, is Sandra’s 7th Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown: Fall River, Massachusetts
Sandy is employed as a Dept Assistant/Telephone Operator at a hospital. She’s an experienced guide dog user that likes the beach, walking, eating out and going to the movies. Velita will be sharing a home with her and her pet parakeet, Sunny, and Sandy looks forward to the sense of freedom and safety she will bring to her everyday life.
How would you describe your guide dog? “She’s a good dog and very laid back. She behaves very well in the house.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I’ve had guide dogs for a long time and like working with Guiding Eyes and their dogs. I rely on a good partnership with a guide dog.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “Having a guide dog gives you independence. I wasn’t a very good cane traveler, but found I could get around better with a guide dog. I can get out and do things and have a job because of that independence.”
Were there any training highlights? “Velita is very quick to learn. She responded well and quickly, and I was impressed by that.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “Realize there is a great responsibility involved in having a guide dog. They require care every day.”
Congratulations Velita’s Puppy Raisers, Kim and Ken Delfing and Maureen Hollis