October 2016 Graduating Class
In Loving Memory and in Gratitude of Shirley M. Kessler.
We gratefully acknowledge the Fain Family’s support of our
video streaming capabilities.
Carol & Esther
Carolyn & Iva
Corey & Woodrow
Douglas & Aria
Kathleen & Brewster(P)
Lisa & Iron
Patrick & Elise
Russell & Duncan
Barbara & Blossom
Deni & Koala
Ellen & Daria
Frank & Nexa
Holly & Frances
Isaac & Fonda
P: A Pathfinder Society Member—someone who has remembered Guiding Eyes for the Blind in their estate plans and has received this dog’s progress reports and photos from puppyhood.
Congratulations to our graduating class!
Many thanks to our instructors:
Class Supervisor: Woody Curry
Class Instructors: Lori Busse, Louise Thompson
Instructor Assistant: Laurel Sheets
Graham Buck, Assistant Director of Training
James Gardner, Director, Home Training
Chrissy Vetrano, Home Training Instructor
Megan Crowley, Home Training Instructor
Julie Angle, Special Needs Instructor
Michael Goehring, Field Representative
Carol Edwards traveled from Virginia to train and team up with Esther, a yellow female Labrador. Though diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at 11, she still has quite a bit of vision as her sight loss has been diminishing gradually. “I knew it was time to trade in my white cane for a guide dog,” she says, “when I realized my world was getting smaller and smaller. I was doing less and less because I was nervous and lacked the confidence to continue to do things like hiking or walking into a restaurant without tripping over things as I moved from the sunny outdoors to the darkness of the restaurant.”
Carol remains very active. She is married with two children. Currently she is the communications coordinator at Floris United Methodist Church. She has a master’s degree in human resources and worked at Sprint and Electronic Data Systems as an HR representative. She is a co-founder of the Northern Virginia Chapter of the Foundation Fighting Blindness, a global organization that raises funds to prevent, treat, and cure retinal diseases. In her spare time she enjoys creating her own recipes.
“Having Esther is everything I imagined it might be,” she says. “I never liked the stigma of using a white cane. People treat you differently. With Esther by my side I have more confidence, and I will be more physically active and independent. Esther is a gift.”
Congratulations to Esther’s puppy raisers, Karlee Sullivan & Family!
Carolyn’s Guiding Eyes experience was one of many firsts—her first airplane flight alone (and first layover), first trip to New York City, and first time in a dorm setting. She says of her first walk with her first guide dog: “I cannot describe what a freeing experience it was. I could walk briskly without fear with Iva (pronounced Eye-vah), my female yellow Labrador.”
Carolyn was just seven when her mom noticed she was holding her books much closer to read. After numerous consultations, a specialist determined she had cone-rod retinal dystrophy, an inherited condition that generally leads to loss of visual acuity and peripheral vision, as well as night blindness. “I can see things that are close, but my vision comes and goes,” she says.
While out walking one day with my white cane, Carolyn says, “I got away from the curb and couldn’t find it again. I was so frightened and embarrassed. That’s when a friend, a former Guiding Eyes graduate, suggested I consider getting a guide dog.”
Of the Guiding Eyes experience, she says, “This has been like Christmas on steroids! I owe Guiding Eyes an incredible debt for what everyone has done for me. Once I learned to trust Iva, I found we could cut through crowds like a hot knife cuts through butter.”
This wife and mother of two stays busy juggling three jobs. She is an author of several inspirational books, an Apple tech tutor for the Virginia Department for the Blind and Visually Impaired, owner of a few rental houses, and she does ministry work at her church. “Most of all, I want to become an inspirational speaker, and I really believe Iva will open that door for me.”
Congratulations to Iva’s puppy raiser, Rachael Bell!
Corey was about 14 or 15 when he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, but he didn’t have significant problems until years later. He gave up driving in 2007, then tried a bike and an electric bike until they, too, were unsafe. Corey returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for Woodrow, a yellow male Labrador and his second Guiding Eyes guide dog.
Corey was a high school guidance counselor for the freshman class and students in the International Baccalaureate Program. Unfortunately his vision loss led to early retirement in 2013. Corey plans to become a Licensed Professional Counselor so he can counsel students, young adults, and people who are visually impaired on a private basis. He volunteers at WWOZ, New Orleans’ Jazz and Heritage Radio station, listens to audio books, and cooks Cajun, Creole, and Southern food.
He has been able to lead an active life because of his guide dogs, he says. In recent years he’s attended a baseball game at Yankee Stadium, sailed on the Charles River, traveled to Boston for a medical consultation and vision rehab, camped out at Woodstock, volunteered at the Clearwater Festival, and moved to New Orleans—all with a Guiding Eyes guide dog by his side.
“Woody,” Corey says, “is over-the-top smart, hard-working, and so focused and intense. Personality-wise we’re a great match—same energy, same ebb and flow.”
Congratulations to Woodrow’s puppy raisers, Hugh & Paula Sigmon!
Doug has returned from Ontario, Canada, for Aria, a black female Labrador and his third Guiding Eyes guide dog. He had driven an 18-wheeler tractor trailer for nearly 40 years before he had to retire due to his increasing sight loss, caused by retinitis pigmentosa. He has some central vision, but no peripheral sight.
Doug used a white cane for several years before deciding to try a guide dog. From the first, he says, he felt he had more freedom. “I never felt safe with my cane,” he says. “I was afraid in traffic. I respect the dogs. Once they learn my routes—to my daughter’s house, to my doctor, to the mall—I know they can get me to where I want to go.” Doug has high praise for the Guiding Eyes staff, especially the trainers. “They’re very good and friendly,” he says.
A widower, Doug likes to spend time with his family, friends, and neighbors. He’s proud of the fact that he takes care of his home and smiles when he tells of thoughtful neighbors who let him know when he’s missed a spot while cutting his grass. He enjoys old-time movies, baseball games, and camping in his trailer, something he’s done every year for 20 years. “Same park, different people,” he says. “I like it because it’s quiet there.”
Doug will introduce Aria to Patch, his second Guiding Eyes dog, who lives with him. And he can’t wait to see how Aria does with his three-year-old great grandson.
Congratulations to Aria’s puppy raiser, Hannah Matthew!
Kathleen was in college when she discovered she had a rare eye disease that would leave her totally blind within a year. Her orientation and mobility instructor suggested she consider a guide dog. “I knew I wanted to return to college, and I like to travel and keep moving, doing things. If a guide dog would allow me to regain my independence, then the only question was where to go,” she says.
Brewster, a black male Labrador, is Kathleen’s sixth Guiding Eyes guide dog. “Having these dogs,” she says, “is not just about freedom and independence, though. It’s more than that. It’s feeling that I’m not out there alone, it’s not feeling vulnerable like I do with my white cane, it’s being able to depend on ‘someone’ when I’m in a train station and no one’s around. I know that when we work together as a team my guide dog will lead the way and I’ll be safe.”
Kathleen finished college, married, raised her children, attended their soccer and softball games, sat through music lessons, and visited colleges with them—all with her Guiding Eyes guide dogs by her side. “Somehow, Guiding Eyes matched me with the perfect dog for each stage of my life, one that would give me what I needed at that time. I’ve learned that if I trust my dog, no matter the challenge, it can be worked out easily, comfortably, and calmly. I can’t picture my life without the Guiding Eyes team. So many small things have made all the difference.”
Congratulations to Brewster’s puppy raiser, Jeanyne Gembarski!
“I never thought I would end up blind,” Lisa says. “Five years ago I was still driving.” She hadn’t had any sight in her right eye for 20 years due to Von Hippel Lindau Disease (VHL), a rare hereditary condition that in Lisa’s case resulted in blood vessel tumors of the eye. Then she began to experience vision loss in her left eye. She’s undergone five brain surgeries and sees a specialist every six to eight weeks. Today Lisa has only light perception.
Married and a mom to two sons, Lisa is very active in her community. She contemplates resuming her career as a speech language pathologist. She loves to read, garden, bake, and ski. This summer she tried adaptive sports—archery, tandem kayaking, and recumbent tandem biking.
“My loss of independence, being able to go where I want and make my own schedule, is so raw still,” she says. “My friends and family have been so supportive and accommodating, but I miss being spontaneous, so it was good for me to meet other blind people in my class at Guiding Eyes. They’re working and traveling. They inspire me. My perspective on what it means to be blind shifted. I now realize my limitations are only what I put in front of me.”
Lisa looks forward to returning to Cape Cod with Iron, a black male Labrador. “Already,” she says, “Iron has become my companion. He is my lifeline, my freedom, my connection back into the sighted world.”
Congratulations to Iron’s puppy raiser, Debra Jackson!
Congratulations to Elise’s puppy raisers, Mallory Busso and Jeannie Neary!
Russell returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his fifth guide dog, Duncan, a yellow male Labrador. Russell has been totally blind since birth, the result of retinopathy of prematurity. He decided it was time for a guide dog when he lost his sense of direction one windy day while headed for the bus stop. “There were no audible cues,” he says, “so I bumped into a column and injured my head.”
Russell attended regular schools and was the first blind student to graduate from his high school. He majored in education and French and Spanish at the University of Northern Colorado. For 30 years he was a dispatcher for field techs who install general phone service and high-speed internet. “I was able to do my job by phone and computer with a Braille display.”
Russell served on Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s Graduate Council. Now that he’s retired, he wants to travel more, maybe to Australia, and learn Japanese. He loves his audio books, Westerns, and radio. Recently he had an opportunity to select music on KAFM.
“My Guiding Eyes guide dogs have meant companionship, independence, safety, and freedom to travel. It’s really neat to be able to pick up that harness and move forward. I can go anywhere, even if I’ve never been there before, because I have complete confidence in these dogs.”
Congratulations to Duncan’s puppy raiser, Daniel Connors!
“A Guiding Eyes team—a guide dog and its human handler—working in sync creates an entity that is bigger than either of them alone,” says Deni. “Six legs, two eyes, one goal. Together you become one person.”
Deni struggled with her vision as early as third grade. She was in her 30s before she got a definitive diagnosis: progressive bilateral optic neuropathy. Guiding Eyes matched her recently with Koala, a black female Labrador and her second Guiding Eyes guide dog. “Koala is great fun, so smart, calm, sweet, high energy,” says Deni. “A very gentle soul.”
Deni earned an interdisciplinary doctoral degree from Harvard University. She is the department chair of journalism and media studies at the University of South Florida and holds the Eleanor Poynter Jamison Chair in Media Ethics and Press Policy. Deni leads a team of researchers, charged with examining the teaching of ethics in this country; it is a five-year project involving 4700 institutions. She has written nine books and nearly 200 academic articles. Fittingly she is also the campus ombudsman.
“I travel a lot professionally, so having a dog means I can continue to do important work,” says Deni. “During those times when I had to rely on a white cane, I felt trapped in my blindness. I wasn’t confident traveling by myself. Having a well-trained, smart, critical-thinking dog in my life means I can go anywhere in the world and feel safe and confident with a partner I trust. Koala has a vision of the world that’s way bigger than mine. She depends on me in some situations, and I depend on her in others.”
Deni can’t wait to start Koala in Rally Competitions, a type of obstacle course for dogs. Deni and Alberta, her first Guiding Eyes guide dog, were the first blind team to complete the Advanced Rally Degree. Gourmet cooking is one of Deni’s hobbies. “All it takes is a love of kitchen chemistry and a really good cut glove,” she says.
Congratulations to Koala’s puppy raiser, Eileen G. Bengtson!
Ellen Moulder participated in our Special Needs and Home Training programs. She is visually impaired due to OAT deficiency (ornithine aminotransferase deficiency), an inherited condition that impacts the retina. Ellen has no peripheral vision and only some light perception. “It’s like looking through frosted glass,” she says. Daria, a black female Labrador, is trained to assist Ellen with her mobility and balance issues.
Ellen was a scientific computer programmer and is now retired. She taught math as a volunteer for Deseret Industries, a place where people with disabilities can get the education and skills they need for employment. Ellen enjoys spending time with her three adult children and eight grandchildren. An avid family historian, she is working on tracing her family’s genealogy.
To stay fit, Ellen attends her water aerobics classes regularly. “I feel confident walking to the water’s edge with Daria,” she says. “She has her own mat that she sits on so she doesn’t get wet. And she waits patiently while I swim. She’s perfect, a wonderful, loving guide dog, thanks to Guiding Eyes for the Blind. For me, she means independence.”
Congratulations to Daria’s puppy raisers, Larry & Janet Amberger!
“I have the ultimate freedom to go when and where I want to go,” says Frank. “That’s the biggest prize of all—total independence—thanks to my Guiding Eyes guide dogs.”
Frank was born with retinopathy of prematurity, then was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age six. For a while he could still see colors, then only light perception. He has now been totally blind for nearly 40 years.
For years, Frank worked for various town committees in Provincetown, MA, taking minutes at meetings. These days he spends his time doing a lot of reading and walking. Nexa, a yellow female Labrador and his third Guiding Eyes guide dog, is by his side. “She’s great to work with,” says Frank. “She responds well to commands, and we’re already working on a new route.” When not out and about, Frank is likely in the kitchen. “I’m a one-pot specialist,” he says. “I’m known for my tomato sauce.”
Frank finds his Guiding Eyes guide dogs have been good company. Hansel, his previous guide, retired and lives with him. “We have a bond,” says Frank. “I couldn’t let him go. I see these dogs as an extension of myself. I feel more secure and stable riding the subway or bus with a guide dog than with a cane. I suffer from depression. They know when I’m going through a down time, and they comfort me. When we’re working together, they want to get it right. And at the end of a day, Nexa and I find a place to hang out and snuggle. These dogs are awesome.”
Congratulations to Nexa’s puppy raisers, Betsy & Charles Pyne!
Holly wasn’t expecting a cancer diagnosis when she was 18. And she certainly didn’t think the radiation and chemotherapy would ultimately lead to her sight loss. “The treatment impacted my optic nerve function, neurologically causing my brain and eyes to stop communicating with one another,” she says. “I can see shapes and light in one eye and nothing in the other. I’m told in three to five years I may lose my residual vision too.”
Having always had a dog, Holly knew she would get a guide dog at some point. Frances, her yellow Guiding Eyes Labrador, is a very good complement to her, she says, because Frances loves to work in harness, and she also loves her down time and her alone time. I’m like that too.”
That path to guide dog partnership was delayed, however, when Holy learned she was pregnant, just six months after losing her sight. Holly and her husband are the proud parents of two young girls, and Holly has turned her journey from blindness to motherhood into a personal blog called Blind Motherhood (blindmotherhood.com).
Holly is the director of education and outreach for IlluminArt Productions, an organization that uses the power of theater to teach children about social issues. She has two master’s degrees, one from Metropolitan College of New York and one from Columbia University School of Social Work. She is a credentialed Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC) in New York State, a volunteer peer counselor for the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), a volunteer for Soroptimist International, and she writes regularly for the AFB and Perkins School for the Blind.
“I am so grateful for Frances,” says Holly. “I was very independent before I lost my sight. Working from home, I found it was easy to become isolated. Now I can leave the house with Frances when I want. My husband worries less when I’m out at night attending a meeting. I chose the Home Training option because I’m juggling so much. It’s a great feeling to have my independence again.” As Holly says on her blog, “I navigate my world never losing sight of life, love, and laughter.”
Congratulations to Frances’s puppy raisers, The Cashman Family!
Isaac has been totally blind since birth due to retinopathy of prematurity. He knew as early as third grade that he wanted his own guide dog. His teacher, who was visually impaired, had a guide dog, and they struck a deal. If Isaac, an admitted class clown, completed his work in a timely manner he could go outside with her and park her dog. “It was the highlight of my day,” he says.
Isaac is currently working on a master’s degree in rehabilitation and counseling at the University of Texas at El Paso. He wants to teach people with vision loss how to live independently. Over the years he has been an active volunteer with the First Offender Program at the El Paso County Juvenile Probation Department, getting young people the help they need and redirecting them in more positive directions. At CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), he worked with children in the foster care system. He’s president of his local Lions Club and serves on the board of the El Paso Council of the Blind. A frequent passenger on city buses, he teaches the drivers how to assist riders who are visually impaired.
“The first time I walked with my guide dog,” Isaac says, “I knew I would actually enjoy going somewhere and not have to worry about getting there with my white cane. It felt more natural. Besides, no one ever said to me ‘that’s a great looking cane you’ve got.’ The Guiding Eyes training was exhausting—so much information to learn—but very rewarding. My guide dogs—Fonda is my second one—have opened a lot of doors for me, and I’ve met a lot of people because of them. Thanks to Guiding Eyes and my guide dogs I am more independent and more adventurous. I am a better person.”
Congratulations to Fonda’s puppy raisers, The John Kelleher Family!