March 2020 Graduating Class
Congratulations to the Graduating Class of March 2020!
We thank this month’s sponsors for their generosity…
“Congratulations to all the graduates! We wish you all the best for your new life with your four-legged partners.”
– Guiding Eyes Club of Cornell
“Henry was named in honor of graduate Tara Willette and Guide Dog Rollo by Martin, Harding & Mazzotti, LLP.”
Alfredo and Henry
Arnold and Keno
Boris and Conner
David and Niblet
Elizabeth and Brenna
Murray and Kimba
Robert and Waverly
Sanford and Angus
Home Training Graduates
Michael and Geo
Rebekah and Judson
Shawn and Nick
Many Thanks to Our Training Staff
Allison Greenberg and Katherine Russell
Running Guides Specialists:
Nick Speranza & Mike Racioppo
Home Training Instructors:
Nikki Wentz, Jolene Hollister
and Melissa Smith
At Guiding Eyes for the Blind, our number one priority is the health and safety of our staff, volunteers, graduates and dogs. Due to concerns regarding the Covid-19 virus, our March graduation ceremony was held privately, prior to the early departure of the graduates of our March class.
Video Thank You from the Graduates
Watch Narrated Graduation Slideshow
We gratefully acknowledge the Fain Family’s support of our video streaming capabilities.
Friends and Family: Watch this video to learn more about Working with a Guide Dog Team.
Meet Our Residential Training Graduates
Graduate Team: Alfredo and Henry
About the Team: Henry, a male yellow Lab, is Al’s 1st guide dog
Hometown: Miami, Florida
Al was raised in Queens, NY, but now resides in Miami. He was previously self-employed in the construction field, then transitioned to doing retail customer service for a home improvement store. He attends Miami Lighthouse where they are assisting in a job search in the hotel industry. He enjoys playing soccer every week with other low vision players, with a soccer ball that emits an audible sound. Al is a fan of chess and likes to read, whether in English or Spanish. His family is very excited to be meeting Henry.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Beyond my expectations; lovely and gentle. A very happy dog and he’s so friendly. He accompanies me everywhere. I laugh at the little things that I’m getting used to. It’s all a new experience.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I used to think using my cane was enough for me to be independent, but my mobility instructor asked if I’d consider a guide dog. She said the best school was in New York. After my home interview and acceptance, I was very excited to come here. It’s incredible what this organization does for people.”
What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “Number one, I look forward to being more independent, now that I’ve got my friend, Henry’s help. My family will not need to be as concerned for my safety when I go out. This will give me an opportunity to work and be active. I think I can be a good example for people with low vision, like myself.”
Were there any training highlights? “I am impressed with what these dogs can do. When I go to my gym, I’ll feel more confident and safe walking with him.”
Congratulations Henry’s Puppy Raisers, Pat Webber and The Stephens Family
Arnie has been a graduate of Guiding Eyes since 1995 and returns for his 5th guide dog from us. He has always been interested in the history of his dogs, keeping records of their genealogy, as well as the puppy raisers and trainers involved in their journey to becoming a guide. Arnie is a former job coach who plays guitar, and he also likes to spend time hanging out with his wife and kids and keeping in touch with family. He enjoys long distance walks at a fast pace and says Keno has shown to be a great match for that activity.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Keno is a good dog and we’re getting in the groove. He loves to play. He likes to put his paw on my knee, and we play hand, over paw, over hand, or he lays his head in my lap. I’ve found these dogs to be very smart and intuitive.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “Guiding Eyes is an elite school in my view – the best in the US. My older brother had a guide from Guiding Eyes and he and my O&M instructor both recommended the school. It’s like being part of a big family. If you call with a question or problem, they are right there to help. You know if they couldn’t solve it through the phone, they’d be on your doorstep. I’ve told my grandsons, who also have RP – see what I’ve been able to do. In the future, when they are in need of a guide dog, they’ll know to come here.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “It’s made me very independent. I head to the store with my backpack and a shopping list and the staff is very helpful when I arrive. The bank, drug store, police and firefighters, too. They all know me, and the community support has been great. They don’t see me much when I’m without dog, so I’ll be so happy to return home with Keno.”
Were there any training highlights? “I’m really happy with the training staff and the way they handle things. The food and kitchen staff. Every time I’ve been here, the experience has been awesome. Also, I’m so grateful to the puppy raisers. They are the best. I’ve even introduced people to becoming a puppy raiser.”
Congratulations to Keno’s Puppy Raisers, Carmel Fitzgibbon and Family
Boris comes to Guiding Eyes for his first guide dog. He formerly made his living driving trucks and working with heavy equipment. He is currently studying for his Associates degree as an Addictions Specialist at his local community college. Boris looks forward to his future back home and on campus with Conner.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Conner is very laid back; calm and intelligent and very cute. He listens well and is good with instruction. Like me, he likes to nap, too!”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog at Guiding Eyes? “Lighthouse in Miami recommended Guiding Eyes to me. They explained all the benefits of a guide dog, so I decided to apply. Conner will be a companion, as well as a guide for me.”
What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “Just being able to cross the street and get out and about more safely. I’ll be able to navigate my new campus more easily and I’ll enjoy his companionship. I’m looking forward to having Conner when I go back to work in about a year’s time and when I start going to the gym. Everyone at home – my family and at my church – is excited to meet him!”
Were there any training highlights? “Simply being able to walk out in public and feel really safe crossing the street. It impressed me how he stops at the curbs and during the obedience training. He listens so well, even when following non-verbal instructions!”
Congratulations Conner’s Puppy Raisers, Paul and Susan Rice
David began working in the restaurant industry as a 16 year old salad maker, and over the years worked his way up to Chef. He loves sports, especially baseball, and the Red Sox are his favorite team. David is also a fan of the NY Giants football team. After choosing to come here for his first guide dog, David was delighted to learn of retired quarterback, Eli Manning’s relationship with Guiding Eyes. He enjoys traveling and looks forward to taking long walks with Niblet after breakfast. David happily anticipates returning home with Niblet, where she will get to know and love his family, especially 8 month old grandson, Sebastian.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Niblet is very smart and she loves to work. She is very playful and affectionate, too. I never thought I’d feel such affection for the dog so fast. I am overwhelmed in that respect – I’m so in love with her.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “It was not an easy decision to apply for a guide dog. My rehabilitation specialist, Heidi, encouraged me to apply after I had an unsafe experience that showed me that I needed help getting around. I needed to expand my horizons! My family, including my wife, sons and their wives, all gave me encouragement. They knew a guide dog would provide companionship and help my mobility. I know I’ve made the right decision!”
What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “I’m looking forward to showing Niblet my neighborhood! We’ll be walking proud. When I walk with Niblet, I always have the biggest smile on my face. I feel an excitement that’s unexplainable. I’ll do a lot of walking with her and we’ll go to my favorite trail. Going by myself to the post office and stores near me will be much easier. This will definitely increase my mobility and independence. Losing my independence was the biggest issue, but she will open up new paths for me!”
Were there any training highlights? “This was my first time being around other people who are blind. My classmates have been very helpful to me through the process. The whole staff has been incredible – the Training, Nursing and Kitchen staff. It’s mind boggling how patient and understanding the trainers are. This is my first time having a dog of any kind and I’m amazed at how attached and affectionate we are with each other. Guiding Eyes did a great job of matching Niblet and I. I had no idea how great this experience would be. Thanks, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, for allowing me to gain my independence back!”
Congratulations Niblet’s Puppy Raisers, The Mohr Family
Lizzy is originally from Philadelphia, but currently lives in Baltimore, where she works for the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs, a non-profit organization. She studied International Relations at Bryn Mawr College, one of the “Seven Sister” colleges, and is now pursuing a career as an Ambassador. Lizzy loves to travel; she studied abroad in Madrid during her college years and taught English in both China and Thailand. Lizzy is an avid runner and cannot wait to get home and hit the pavement with Brenna by her side.
How would you describe your guide dog? “I would have to start off by saying that Brenna is the perfect match for me, especially at this stage of my life, living in the city. She is so serious when she is in harness, but she can also be really silly; she wakes up ready to play and is known to carry a bone with her when going out to relieve. The dichotomy she has going on is so perfect for our life in Baltimore.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I walk pretty quickly and was constantly making noise when walking with the cane. Working with a dog lets me walk faster and not have to worry about that. I came to Guiding Eyes specifically because I really appreciate how much training these dogs get and how mature they are when paired with their handers.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “Life is so different with a guide dog. The public tends to assume that I need help with a cane, but not when I’m with the dog. Being looked at as a more independent person really comes in handy.”
Were there any training highlights? “Really getting to know Brenna and feeling confident that we can handle the busy Baltimore area that I work in. There are always large groups of people and with a guide dog it’s less frustrating. I can zoom right through. I’m so excited to get to work with her, and I especially can’t wait to get to run with her; that’s what I’m looking forward to most.”
Congratulations Brenna’s Puppy Raisers, Kim Harrison and The Beach Family
Graduate Team: Murray and Kimba
About the Team: Kimba, a female yellow Lab, is Murray’s 2nd Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown: Manyberries, Alberta, Canada
Murray, from a small town in Alberta, Canada, has always loved the outdoors. Riding horses has been one of his great loves and he still loves spending time with them whenever he can. Murray’s father worked at two trades; as an electrician and as a cowboy. Murray followed the latter path, working in many roles at the rodeo throughout his younger years. Murray cannot wait to head home and walk down the street with his beautiful partner, Kimba, by his side. He’s also excited to introduce Kimba to his retired guide, Larissa, patiently waiting at home for their return.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Well I’d say she’s smarter than me and keeps me on my toes. She’s a sweetheart and I’m so grateful for her. From crossing roads to navigating sidewalks and stores. I’m grateful for it all.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “So many people in my life thought a guide dog would be a great idea for me. I met Megan, a graduate from Guiding Eyes, who at that time had her now-retired guide, Gage. She helped me reach out to Guiding Eyes and get everything I needed to apply.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “Having a guide dog gave me freedom; all kinds of freedom. I’ve been able to keep my independence, which is really important to me. I might be a bit stubborn in that way, but I’m a firm believer that you don’t have to just accept things as they are. My retired guide Larissa, and now Kimba, have both helped me keep that going.”
Were there any training highlights? “Every day, out on route, has been a highlight. We make some mistakes, of course, but at some point, things just start to click. I start to look forward to doing those things because I know we’ll get it. Guiding Eyes has been just awesome. I appreciate the follow up work so much. The care and compassion that this organization shows to its graduates is like no other.”
Congratulations Kimba’s Puppy Raisers, Michelle Sickles and Turner Pecen
Robert comes to Guiding Eyes for his first guide dog. He supports the visually impaired community as the owner of a braille writer repair business, providing services to individuals, schools and organizations. Robert enjoys keeping active by exercising at the gym and taking long walks. He is considering his next possible business venture; taking classes in a Vending program for the blind and visually impaired. Whatever he pursues, he knows he’ll have Waverly sharing the journey with him.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Waverly is such a loving and affectionate girl. She’s always at my side. She’s so well behaved and loves to give kisses. She’s just incredible.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I have thought about applying for a guide dog for the last 4 years, as my vision deteriorated.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “She really helps me with confidence while in public. I’m so happy and amazed every time we walk.”
Were there any training highlights? “There were so many highlights while training with her, but I think my favorite was when we had the group dog playtime. That was so much fun.”
Congratulations Waverly’s Puppy Raisers, Suzan and Lorenzo Bocciarelli
Sam is a seasoned guide dog user, having received his first guide 40 years ago. He is a member of the National Federation of the Blind and currently works part-time at Industries for the Blind, having retired from many years in Sales. Sam loves to read and all types of music, and he often attends Lions Club events that support the visually impaired. Sam feels it’s important that guide dogs, like Angus, know they are loved and appreciated for the work they do and all they provide.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Wonderful. He’s a very good dog – cooperative, obedient and intelligent. Angus is an extremely mature, young dog… and less rambunctious than any lab I’ve ever had!”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I’ve known other graduates of Guiding Eyes that recommend the school. I liked the smaller class size and the training methods, because I believe positive reinforcement motivates the dog. This is my first time at this school, and I have a very positive impression.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “Having a guide dog makes it easier and more convenient to go places. They give you more independence, but also these dogs are so friendly and loving, they give you companionship at home. They are two dogs in one.”
Were there any training highlights? “I really liked the emphasis on play and interacting with the dog. I think it’s good that they know commands, and obedience is important, but you should make friends, too.”
Congratulations to Angus’ Puppy Raiser, Ms. Abigail Auger
Meet Our Home Training Graduates
Michael is an endurance athlete, having completed over 200 races and 17 Ironman competitions. His active lifestyle includes being the owner of a bike shop in Colorado, as well as endless activities, such as running, hiking, cycling and swimming. Ten years ago, while at the top of his game, Michael struggled with the diagnosis of a degenerative eye condition. He understood he was not the first to encounter the emotions of this experience, and with that in mind wrote, “Eye Envy: Perspectives into Vision Loss”. It is a compilation of stories from people with visual impairment, that Michael met around the world, sharing their personal journeys. His mission in writing this inspiring guide was to help people, and their families, who are coping with vision loss. The proceeds were used to support vision research. Michael credits Geo for helping him “get back into the groove” and is excited for their journey ahead.
How would you describe your guide dog? “In one word: spirited. She has more energy than any living being I’ve ever met. I bonded with Geo in about 8 seconds – something I was not expecting. What she has taught me, is how much I’ve been compensating. Learning to trust this 4-legged wonder has just been an amazing experience, and we’re only at the beginning.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “It was no easy decision and I came up with every reason not to. But watching other runners with similar conditions, and the relationship they have with their dogs, helped me gain the confidence to take it to the next level. I knew participants in the Running Guides program, and the idea of having a running companion leading the way on the beautiful trails around my house, or even walking around town, helped me to breathe a little deeper. It was all leading to accepting that this was a good idea.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “In learning to navigate with Geo – it’s about moving towards more independence, something I had lost so much of, so quickly. Every minute I spend with her, I realize how much I’ve been holding back. If I just trust her and go, I’m moving so much faster than I ever would on my own. It’s not about getting someplace sooner; it’s about fluidity. Geo just does Geo and it’s pretty spectacular.”
Were there any training highlights? “Those moments come by the thousands, but one thing that made an impression was her desire to be with me. Even if I’m on the spin bike indoors, she will just lie down next to me and wait. By far though, that fluidity of running has to be the biggest one. Drainage troughs had been added to the trail I often run on, and I had become fearful of running there because they would cause me to trip. Geo and I just run right through them. We’re careful, but not hesitant. I just trust and it’s so smooth.”
Congratulations Geo’s Puppy Raisers, Larry and Nancy Long
Rebekah received her degree in mathematics, and at a time when few women were in the field, she worked on huge mainframe vacuum tube computers. This Systems Analyst, retired from the State of North Carolina IT Services, makes the observation that the iPhone she carries in her pocket has far more power than those gigantic machines. Rebekah enjoys visiting her grown children and grandchildren and has an interest in researching and preserving family history. She likes listening to audio books, crocheting, and attending church and bible study. Rebekah lives in a close knit neighborhood, where she stays involved with social activities like the garden club and maintaining a directory.
How would you describe your guide dog? “He’s fantastic. Judson and I are really getting on great. I have to admit, I didn’t think any dog could be as good as my first guide, Rally; I loved that little girl. He’s highly trained and has wonderful house manners. He picks up on things so quickly – you show him once and the second time he’s like, ok, I already know that. He’s very affectionate, too.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “My niece encouraged me to consider a guide dog. We knew I needed mobility training and when I started there, the O&M instructor recommended Guiding Eyes. I had some residual vision, but my depth perception was not good. Guiding Eyes understood my need and was willing to work with me.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “Now, as my vision declines, I can trust my guide dog when I’m getting around and using the stairs. I’m an animal lover and have had dogs all my life, but it’s just great having a dog that can be my eyes. Sometimes, when you go out by yourself you don’t always feel safe, but a guide sees what’s around. They are a warm and fuzzy companion, too.”
Were there any training highlights? “My trainer, Nikki was super all the way around. The training was tailored to my needs, where I go and what I do. I liked Judson as soon as I met him. I am amazed at the number of people who comment on how connected to me he is already.”
Congratulations Judson’s Puppy Raiser, Taylor Soderholm
Shawn describes herself as a professional athlete and adventure seeker. She retired from being a professional cyclist, but will tell you her hobby is “to constantly do and move”. She really loves to walk, but whether hiking, walking, or running, she is on the go. Therefore, she is very pleased that Guiding Eyes matched her with Nick, who’s endurance and enthusiasm for adventure matches hers. She’s very grateful to the organization for all that goes into the raising, training and matching of these wonderful dogs, especially Nick.
How would you describe your guide dog? “He’s a beautiful sweet boy. He always wants to go and he’s so aware of everything. We walk everywhere, but at the end of the day I still need to find ways to tire him out. His endurance is spectacular and sometimes he surprises me with his silly behavior.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “After I lost my sight, I was told I’d do well with a guide dog. I wasn’t so convinced, but thought I’d give it a try. I had no idea how it would change my life. I have options now. Choices. I returned here for multiple reasons. The Running Guide program, of course, but beyond that, I’ve loved every Guiding Eyes trainer I’ve encountered, and I appreciate the relationship of support we have afterward.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “When you have a guide dog it gives you a much larger sense of independence. It’s freedom and mobility. There’s a certain level of isolation, but the bonding and companionship that comes with having that ‘partner in crime’ with you all the time, is huge. You learn each other’s behaviors and it counters that isolation. It’s something special.”
Were there any training highlights? “Nick is super aware of everything around us. Early on in our training, he brought us to a dead stop when I wasn’t aware of a car backing out nearby. He’s my safety. It’s very impressive.”
Congratulations Nick’s Puppy Raisers, Robin and Mark Swope (Hero Dogs, Inc)