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October / November 2009 Graduating Class

Meet some members of our recent student class.

And many thanks to our instructors:

Molly Adams and Gwenyth (not profiled)

Douglas Bruso and Chaz

Ohio resident Doug Bruso was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in kindergarten, and his sight has steadily decreased throughout his lifetime.  In early 2007, Doug accidently crossed an intersection with a bus approaching.  Concerned bystanders yelled for him to get out of the way, and Doug dove towards the curb.   He wasn’t injured, but the incident forced him to think carefully about his safety when traveling.  At the urging of his family, he applied for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes.

Being matched with Golden retriever Chaz was a fateful moment.  Doug has always loved Goldens; his own retriever passed away only two years ago.  Already, he can feel the effects of his new companion.  In just these first few weeks, Chaz has provided a quality of life and independence that has Doug eagerly looking forward to the future.

Doug returns home to his wife and daughter, and to his successful vending machine company.  In his spare time, he enjoys poker, gardening, and playing guitar and harmonica.

Sandy Burgess and Ella

Sandy, who is 58 and lives in Massachusetts, came to Guiding Eyes this autumn for her fifth dog, Ella.  She’s been with us since she was 19 years old, when she decided to make the switch from cane to guide dog.  She qualified for our Special Needs Program, because she has other medical issues to contend with in addition to blindness.  Because of this, she initially thought that she would be her ineligible for a guide dog.  A fellow guide dog user put her in touch with Guiding Eyes, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Sandy is challenged with hearing loss, and has a different degree of hearing in each ear.  Thus, she can’t use sound to navigate, and she is not a good judge of traffic patterns.  Guiding Eyes dogs are trained in “intelligent disobedience.”   They will override their handler’s command if they feel it might put their handler in danger.  Sandy depends on Ella for this on a regular basis.

Sandy also has balance issues, and uses a “quad cane,” which is a cane with four small “legs” on the end, to help her.  Ella has been trained to clear both Sandy and Sandy’s cane on her right side.

Sandy recently earned her Masters in Social Work from Springfield College, and today works on a fee basis out of a community mental health center.  She would rather have a full-time job, and while she was at Guiding Eyes she applied for a position, using our Assistive Technology Center.

What keeps bringing Sandy back to Guiding Eyes is “its friendly atmosphere, which makes me feel less stressed.  I also appreciate the individual attention I receive from my Special Needs instructor.”

Dorothy Denny and Gandolf

Dorothy Denney of CT, graduated this month with yellow Labrador Gandolf.  Dorothy was born premature and diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa.  Her sight loss has never stopped her from being active in her local community and caring for all around her.  With Gandolf, Dorothy looks forward to having yet one more loved one to take care of, while at the same time having another pair of eyes to look out for her.

The team bonded quickly, and Dorothy delighted in Gandolf’s eager kisses and displays of affection.  Her new guide dog has motivated her in many aspects of her life; she looks forward to learning Braille and using a computer.  Dorothy is skilled at creating flower arrangements, and considers starting her own floral business.  She is excited to return home and travel independently; doctors appointments, stores, and general errands will be much easier with Gandolf by her side.

Catherine Flesher and Dana

Cathy Flesher received her first Guiding Eyes dog in 1978 at the age of 21.  Born with congenital glaucoma, Cathy had previously traveled with a cane, and often struggled with snow-covered sidewalks in her hometown state of Ohio.

Cathy will never forget returning home with her new guide.  A major snowstorm had just hit, and many Ohio residents were tucked inside their homes.  Cathy ventured out slowly, curious to see how her dog would work in the snow.  As he avoided the snow banks and safely kept Cathy on the sidewalk, she began to relax and laugh.  Soon she broke into a run, grinning from ear to ear.  The feeling of freedom was indescribable, and she’s never looked back.

This month, Cathy was match with Dana, a gorgeous black Labrador and her fifth dog from Guiding Eyes.  The pair has already started trusting each other and will enjoy Cathy’s busy lifestyle back home.  There will be trips to college to visit Cathy’s daughter, trips to the ski slopes, many local long walks, and lots of time spent at home gardening and crocheting.

Ruth Ann Gurney and Nemo (not profiled)

Joseph Harris and Herbert

Joseph Harris lovingly refers to his new black Labrador guide dog as “Herbie.”  Herbie is Joe’s first guide, and the pair has already formed a nice relationship.  After long days of training, the team returns to the school for the evening phone call from Joe’s wife.  (Joe thinks she enjoys speaking with Herbert just as much as with her husband.)  The day spent training in Manhattan was the ‘icing on the cake’ for Joe; after that, he truly felt he could trust his new dog to safely guide him.

Joe was a general contractor before losing his sight in an accident.  He hasn’t worked since his sight loss, but plans to participate in a work rehabilitation program back in his hometown of NJ.  Before Herbie, Joe would consistently trip over people’s feet or bump into things when traveling; now he looks forward to the expanded horizons his guide dog will bring.

Tracey and Mystic

Guiding Eyes Mystic shares the same “go, go, go” mentality as her new handler Tracey.  A resident of Maine, Tracey works in a customer service role for a large corporation, and is always on the move.  Tracey has been an animal lover since childhood, so having a guide dog felt very natural.  Mystic is her fourth from Guiding Eyes; Tracey continually returns to the school believing that the dogs are truly some of the best in the world.

Tracey enjoys long walks along Maine’s shores, and plans to bring Mystic to the shore as soon as they get home.  Even though she’s been through it several times, Tracey is consistently amazed by the guide dog and handler matching process.  Every one of her guide dogs have been perfect fits in her life; she believes Mystic will be no different.

Katie Mawby and Lennon (not profiled)

Teddy Rende and Robinson

After calling several guide dog schools, Teddy chose Guiding Eyes for the Blind because the people were so friendly.  He felt they were talking with him as an individual and he felt comfortable they would understand his needs.

When Teddy started kindergarten, the school tested everyone’s vision.  It was then that they noticed Teddy could not see from his right eye.  For the next twenty years he had many visits with doctors- surgeries for cataracts, lens implants, and cornea transplants.  The road ultimately led to total blindness.

Upon successful completion of his mobility training, he applied to get a dog from Guiding Eyes.  With black Labrador Robinson, Teddy is thrilled to have increased independence and a new member of his family.  He is hoping he will be able to get back to work with the help of his guide.  He is planning to volunteer at the local VA hospital now that he can travel.

Guiding Eyes has provided more than just a wonderful guide dog.  While at the school he was inspired by some of the other students and their skills and abilities.  One of the students took the time to teach him Braille and he is a “natural.”  He feels that everyone at Guiding Eyes worked to help him succeed.

Nichoel Schlender and Eleni

Nichoel Schlender chose Guiding Eyes three times – because of the small class sizes that provide extensive one-on-one time, and more recently because of the on-site assistive technology.  This month, she was matched with Eleni, a vibrant yellow Lab who will soon accompany Nichoel to work at her packaging job.

Nichoel has been blind since birth due to retinitis of prematurity.  She finds traveling with a guide dog to be “beautiful” and marvels at the fluidity of the movement.  Back at home in Minnesota, there will always be activity – Nichoel loves music and has an FCC issued license to operate a hand radio; she regularly converses with people all over the world.  This team is sure to have a lot of fun together.

Kathleen Sweet and Garfield

Kathleen Sweet’s guide dogs have been a pivotal part of every stage of her life.  From college to marriage to kids’ soccer games, Kathleen has reveled in the sense of normalcy that her guides have allowed her.  Consistently amazed by the matching process, Kathleen feels that Guiding Eyes has succeeded again in placing her with her fifth dog – Garfield.

Yellow Lab Garfield has a loving, playful nature combined with a strong work ethic.  Kathleen finds him to be absolutely remarkable – sharing that his personality reminds her of herself, and her own determination to enjoy life to its fullest.

Kathleen and Garfield return home to Long Island, NY.  With her children grown, Kathleen plans to head back into the workforce to pursue a career in corporate communications in the nonprofit world.  Just like her previous guides have accompanied her through life’s earlier adventures, Garfield will be by her side – every step of the way

Frank Toscano and Donovan

Frank Toscano chose Guiding Eyes for his first guide dog because of the available in-house nursing staff.  This provided him with a peace of mind that made him more comfortable being away from home for 26 days.

Just three years ago, Frank worked as the vice president of operations for a large chemical company in Delaware.  He traveled around the world for work, but loved to be at home with his large family – six children and ten grandchildren!

Health and eyesight changes made Frank decide to retire early.  Although his life has slowed down, it is still “full.”  This month, Frank was matched with Guiding Eyes Donovan, a black Labrador.  When asked what it was like to travel with Donovan, Frank mentioned the freedom and independence that most of our students associate with their new dogs, but he also quite simply described the experience as “fun.  When I’m with Donovan, I feel like I’m walking down the street with my buddy.  We’re in this together, and it’s a great time.”

Frank’s experience at Guiding Eyes was multi-faceted. Not only does he come away with a companion who will faithfully look after him, but he has a deeper understanding of the blind population.  This was Frank’s first time being with other blind and visually impaired people, and conversations with other students were both comforting and enlightening.

Frank heads back home to his wife of 41 years, his ever-growing family, and his new guide dog.  His leaving remarks – “Now that I’m with Donovan, nothing can stop me.”