Meet some of the members of our recent training class who graduated in October 2008.
And many thanks to our instructors:
Many thanks to volunteer Marge Widman for contributing the interviews.
Mark Berry and Pam
Determined animal lover and entrepreneur takes on a first dog as new partner
Mark Berry of Nevada came to Guiding Eyes for his first guide dog, Pam, and describes his experience as “incredibly wonderful!” Mark was very young when retinoblastoma left him without sight in his left eye, and then developed radiation myopathy in his right eye just three years ago. He attended Fresno State University, majoring in Animal Husbandry, leaving with 12 credits remaining for graduation. He spent the next three decades working with horses, focusing on how they communicate with each other in “horse body language,” and deciphering and using their language in riding instruction. That, however, came to a disappointing end when Mark experienced total sight loss. Married 27 years, Mark has five children, all of whom are now closely involved in his new startup coffee enterprise, “Blind Dog Coffee Roaster,” that has proven to be a very successful retail and wholesale business.
Mark and Pam became fast friends, and Mark finds Pam to be an obedient and trustworthy leader. She will enable Mark to once again go for long walks in both town and country. The Berry family are avid campers and lovers of the out-of-doors, and they go frequently on trips into the Sierras-Grand Canyon by horseback and mule.
Cory Chisholm and Dagwood
Canadian returns for second dog and to her “home away from home”
Cory Chisholm is a Canadian who returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for Dagwood, her second guide dog. Cory, now 28, has been blind since birth. She is an outdoors woman, an particularly enjoys walking, swimming and horseback riding. During her interview, Cory chose not to talk much about herself, but rather about her reason for coming to Guiding Eyes and the “super-great” selection of her guide dog, Dagwood. Her calm, obedient and beautiful black Lab will be a wonderful companion and best friend, and will guide her safely through her transit needs in the city in which she lives. Cory states with conviction and joy, “This is the very best school!”
Cody Christiansen and Vern
Eternally youthful returnee finds inspiration in Guiding Eyes dogs’ love
Although Cody Christiansen is 50, he tells folks he is 42. “You’re as young as you feel,” is his life philosophy. He came to Guiding Eyes from the Washington state for Vern, his second guide dog from the school. He lost partial sight very early in his life for unknown reasons, and was referred to Guiding Eyes by his city’s Services for the Blind. Cody attended Washington’s School for the Blind in Vancouver through the fourth grade and later as a young adult was employed by Little Caesars. Cody, who lives by himself, likes to walk, listen to the radio, watch TV and emphasized that he loves music, especially country western. His ambition is to become a disc jockey at a local radio station. Cody reports that Vern often nudges him into action and is an alert, affectionate worker. Following his own advice to many of his colleagues to “always do your best,” Cody treasures the indescribable feeling of independence he already senses with Vern at his side. “It’s amazing what these dogs do. They repeatedly remind you of their love with their demeanor and actions.”
Randal Lee Hartline and Ohio
Deaf/Blind student celebrates 25 years of marriage and partnership with first Guiding Eyes dog
Randal Lee Hartline (who calls himself Lee), is a native of North Carolina who was born deaf as a result of type 2 Usher Syndrome and required hearing aid correction. In his early teens he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, which slowly began to rob him of his eyesight. Lee attended two years of Community College studying electronics. There he met Peggy, the girl he would marry and with whom he is today celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. Lee’s sight worsened over the years, and ultimately he found it necessary to go on disability. He learned about Guiding Eyes while attending a Deaf/Blind Camp. Lee likes to fish, camp and engage in outdoor sports such as “Norwegian horseshoes.” He currently serves as Vice President of the North Carolina Deaf/Blind Associates. He knows that Ohio, as his constant companion, best friend and guide, will be his “direction finder” as he continues to lead his busy life. Lee’s praise of Guiding Eyes for the Blind was enthusiastically phrased as “a great experience, where there is an abundance of overwhelming compassion and expert training for every individual student.”
Chasity Jackson and Hadley
Returnee travels near and far to see Kid Rock in concert
Chasity Jackson came from Missouri to Guiding Eyes for her second guide dog, Hadley. Born with a form of septo-optic displasia that affects her sight, pituitary gland and thyroid, Chasity told us that she intensively searched for “the very best guide dog school,” and that her first experience here confirmed her choice. Chasity earned her B.A. in Mass Communication (Theory and Rhetoric), maintaining a 3.2 average throughout college. Today she lives with her boyfriend Chris and is looking for a government position. Chasity’s passion is keeping current on the rap-rock-country artist, Kid Rock. She has actually met him, traveling by plane, train, bus and taxi to his concerts. (Hadley has her work cut out for her.) Chasity is an assertive and fast walker, not easily deterred by obstacles or distance. She loves to travel and to do new things. “Coming back to Guiding Eyes is like coming home. I especially love the atmosphere, training and the camaraderie with the other students.”
Robert Jardine and Elrod
Citizens advocate is partnered with a “Mercedes-Benz” at Guiding Eyes
Floridian Robert Jardine, 68, is a happy retiree who came to Guiding Eyes for his third guide dog, but first from this school. He learned about Guiding Eyes from Becky Barnes, Manager of Consumer Outreach and Graduate Support, at a convention for guide dog users in Louisville. He has an Associates Degree in Science, Business Marketing and Management from Polk Community College, and went on to a management career at K-Mart. Today he is an active politician and a strong advocate for the citizens of his community. Robert enjoys his leisure time by water-skiing, fishing, bowling, using his computer and attending senior dancing classes. He is ecstatic with his new canine partner, Elrod, whom he describes as happy and obedient, an excellent match. “My experience with Elrod is like being behind the wheel of a Mercedes instead of a Ford. I know he will continue to keep me safe and allow me to maintain my performance level.” Robert did not mince words in describing how he feels about Guiding Eyes. “It excels in all aspects of raising, training, and placing each guide dog, every bit of it conceived and conducted by many who truly know what they are doing. Their collective efforts of mind, body and soul are freely given to every single student.”
Allen Lao and Leo
Hard-working commuter brings second guide dog home to Massachusetts
Allen Lao began to experience gradual sight loss when he was thirty. (The cause remains unknown.) Allen, who is today 49, came to Guiding Eyes from Massachusetts for his second guide dog, Leo. He and his wife Kathy have been married 26 years and have together raised three children, all of whom received college scholarships.
Allen recalls that, sightless, he sat home for two years without help. Totally frustrated, he contacted the Carroll Center for the Blind in Boston, which ultimately referred him to Guiding Eyes. Allen currently works daily from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. as a coffee shop vendor at the Federal Court House, an eight mile commute from home. In whatever spare time Allen has, he enjoys TV and walking. He describes Leo as having a great personality and being a focused worker who is playful when out of harness. Leo will join Allen’s retired dog Questor at home in Massachusetts. Allen describes Guiding Eyes’ training atmosphere as one big family, where there is warmth and acceptance among the class members and trainers.
Rick Peters, Jr. and Radar
Trekker forges new trails with first dog
Born 36 years ago with limited sight, Wisconsin-born Rick Peters. Jr. came to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for Radar, his first guide dog. When he began losing more sight six years ago, his family encouraged Rick to take mobility training and later to apply to Guiding Eyes. Formerly a carpenter, Rick is currently a full-time student at North Central Tech where he is taking courses in Marketing. In his down time, he plays guitar, loves to fish and enjoys listening to rock ’n roll and country music.
Rick is an avid hiker and trail blazer, and has successfully undertaken hiking a portion of the challenging Pacific Coast Trail, which stretches from northern Oregon to California. He appreciates that Radar is conservative, lovable and obedient. He knows that Radar will give him guidance and safety in travel as well as a deeper sense of independence through his remaining years in college. Rick describes Guiding Eyes staff as “consistent in their understanding and patience. They have far surpassed my expectations.”
Dan Tevelde and Emerson
Computer programmer and organist tries Guiding Eyes for the first time
Dan Tevelde, 47, lives in Illinois. He was born blind as a result of retinopathy of prematurity, and has had guide dogs from two other schools. Dan was interested in smaller classes and, knowing that he would soon need a new guide, researched other schools. With the encouragement of a former graduate, he came to Guiding Eyes for his third guide dog, Emerson. Dan holds a Masters in Music from Northwestern University and is an accomplished church organist, while working twenty years as a computer programmer. Dan enjoys reading fiction, history, and keeping up with politics and current events. He serves on the Board of Directors of his church, and in his spare time enjoys walking, swimming, cooking and socializing with friends. Dan anticipates that Emerson’s mischievous, outgoing, friendly and eager-to-please personality promise an excellent partnership between them. Dan has been without a dog for two years, and knows that Emerson will expand his independence and travel. Of Guiding Eyes, Dan states: “The training here is fabulous; the instructors’ high expectations for the fulfillment of every student’s success is contagious and effective.”
Greg Thompson and Grant
Olympic swimmer rewarded with Guiding Eyes dog Grant
Greg Thompson, 41 and from Ontario, won the silver medal in the 100-meter backstroke in the 1984 Canadian Para-Olympics. He has been totally blind since birth and also has a degenerative hearing problem, yet has successfully overcome his disabilities with an accepting attitude and willingness to seek help. He came to Guiding Eyes for Grant, his third guide dog, but first from this school; it was highly recommended by his best friends. His graduated from a mainstream high school and attended college for several years.
He worked with bank main frames for 16 years, and then became his own boss in a web design business. Happily married for five years, Greg says he is a collector of old-time radio programs, likes to read Braille (Charles Dickens, his favorite), is an amateur radio operator and loves to cook. “Grant,” he says, “has me wrapped around his paw; we have already formed a bond and his loyal, obedient, confident (and sometimes crafty) performance is marvelous. I know that he will give me more independence at home in building my business, shopping and my everyday tasks. I truly appreciate the training here. It is always positive. When you make a mistake, the reason is identified and you are firmly but kindly shown the remedy.”
Pedro (Pete) Trejo, Jr. and Island
Determined Arizonian discovers whole new world with first Guiding Eyes dog
Pedro (Pete) Trejo, Jr., 29, was riding on a four-wheeler one day in January 2004 when struck by a rock that hit him directly in his left eye. Then he underwent fourteen unsuccessful surgeries on his right eye to correct total vision loss caused by diabetes. Pete was born and raised in Arizona and came to Guiding Eyes upon the advice of friends. He was single when he became a father at the age of 17; today he has a son (10) and a daughter (11). Formerly a welder, he has taken comprehensive programs in Braille and computer and hopes to soon own his own business in Assistive Technology.
Pete is athletic and well-coordinated, and enjoys a daily regimen of exercise in the local gym. When studying at Colorado Center for the Blind, he served as Vice President of the Student Body, and today speaks at conventions. Island, his first guide dog, is a playful, very cuddly, but well disciplined and dependable leader. Pete enthusiastically states: “It’s a whole new world now, the partnership between Island and me is one of trust and confidence; she is my ‘Pathfinder.’ I’ll soon be rock climbing and white water rafting again.”
Patrick Walsh and Freedom
“Genius” to travel the word independently with Guiding Eyes dog
Patrick Walsh came from upstate New York for Freedom, his second guide dog, but first from Guiding Eyes. He was born with retinitis pigmentosa and Usher Syndrome, and his already limited sight diminished steadily until, by age 15, he was night blind. Patrick is “cerebral;” he says that he “studies for fun.” He is working towards becoming a chess Master, and plays teaches several musical instruments. He particularly enjoys classical music; Bach and Beethoven are his favorites. Patrick reads a great deal, and in the Russian Orthodox tradition, carefully scrutinizes theology and patristic studies, past and present. He was a soccer player in high school, and today walks for exercise. Patrick favors Greek, Italian and Sicilian foods and cooks for himself.
“Freedom,” he says, “is a laid-back female Lab with a very swift pace. A bond has formed between us already.” Although Patrick lives alone, he travels the world and spends time in a wide variety of rooms, hotels and ships. He predicts that his life will be greatly enhanced with Freedom at his side. “Thank you, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, for giving me such a well-matched dog and the very best of instruction. I now feel I can go out and conquer the world.”
Dick Wamser and Donald
Guiding Eyes veteran replaces pianos with computers
Dick Wamser, age 65, returned to Guiding Eyes from Oregon for his seventh dog from the school. He has been blind since birth as a result of retinopathy of prematurity, and applied for his first guide dog in 1968 after meeting a representative of Guiding Eyes at a camp for the blind. Dick was a piano tuner for 40 years, and today teaches the visually impaired how to use computers. He has been married to his wife Donna for 19 years and is the father of two. His favorite forms of recreation are hiking, reading and travel, working on his computer and watching baseball.
Donald is excited and happy about his work and most eager to please. Dick fully expects that his daily regimen of walking will be greatly enhanced with his new partner at his side. Dick has been coming to Guiding Eyes for almost 40 years, and extols the training, campus updates, and willingness of every staff person to meet the individual needs of every student – all of which, he exclaims, have been more amazing with each successive visit.
Antoinette (Toine) Ward and Manny
Retired US Navy officer continues full life with second Guiding Eyes dog
Toine Ward retired 30 years ago from the US Navy, and the story of her vision loss began 13 years ago. Her tale begins when, for twelve seconds, she lost total vision behind the wheel of a car. The subsequent difficult path to finding a cause was long and painful. Toine was inspired to come to Guiding Eyes from Maryland for her first guide dog by a school representative who spoke at a blind veteran’s group.
Toine returned for her second dog Manny who, when they return home, will share the house with her retired guide, Roy-S. She is divorced and enjoys her frequent visits with her daughter Jennifer. Toine volunteers in local community organizations and reads, knits Afghans, watches TV and cooks. She values Manny’s personality – affectionate, positive and calm. “I love it here – this is the best school; I will always come back. I have traveled the world and squeezed out so many of its pleasures; I know, with Manny, there are many more yet to come.”