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October 2017 Graduating Class

Congratulations to all October graduates! May your future journeys together be filled with trust, joy, and mutual love. We wish you all the best.

–John and Lynn Dillon

We gratefully acknowledge the Fain Family’s support of our video streaming capabilities.

Watch this month’s graduation live by clicking here.

Residential Graduates

A Richard & Leon
Alysha & Clare
Deirdre & Cappy (S)
Jeanie & Felipe
Ken & Winnie
Nikolaos & Pearl
Rob & Andy
Shelby & Cole
Vanessa & Riley

Home Training

Ann & Lennox
Katherine & Gianna
Krissy & Quest
Lonna & Raisin
Michelle & Ella
Robert & Ari
Valarie & Irvin

(P): A Pathfinder Society Member—someone who has remembered Guiding Eyes in their estate plans and has received this dog’s progress reports and photos from puppyhood.

(S):  The donor listed below made a special gift to personally name the following dog:

Congratulations to our graduating class!

Many thanks to our Training Staff

Class Supervisor: Jolene Hollister
Class Instructors: Lori Busse, Louise Thompson
Instructor Assistant: Katherine Russell
Running Guides Specialist: Nick Speranza

Home Training

Graham Buck, Asst. Director of Training
James Gardner, Director, Home Training
Megan Crowley, Home Training Instructor
Julie Angle, Special Needs Instructor
Susan Kroha, Special Needs Instructor
Michael Goehring, Field Representative

Alysha & Clare

After receiving a diagnosis of glaucoma during a routine eye exam, Alysha was declared legally blind earlier this year. Despite five surgeries, this mother of four children under the age of nine is now completely blind in her left eye and has limited sight in her right. A former concert violinist, Alysha is determined to regain her independence with the help of Clare, a female yellow Labrador. “Clare is the silver lining in a really dark cloud,” Alysha explains. “I never thought I would move again like I do with her. We fly—that’s what I call it. When we pick up the harness and fly, it’s like I can see again and nothing’s different.”

The loss of her sight has not diminished Alysha’s drive. In addition to being a mom she teaches music in West Virginia to elementary and preschool students as well as private violin lessons. Until recently, she and her husband ran a nonprofit music school for at-risk youth. She wants to get an additional degree so she can teach children and adults who are visually impaired. Alysha participated in our Running Guides program for people with vision loss who want to run recreationally with a dog that has been trained to guide and run safely.

“I wanted to keep working when everyone was telling me ‘You can’t do anything. You can’t go anywhere. It’s not safe.’ I said, ‘I’m going to do it all. I’m just going to do it differently.’”

In describing Clare, Alysha says, “She’s my wheels, but she’s also my best friend.” And Guiding Eyes? “It’s the kindest place I’ve ever been.”

Congratulations to Clare’s puppy raisers, Betty Goldfarb and The Arey Family!


A Richard & Leon

Richard—or Rick, as he’s known to friends and family—has owned large breed dogs most of his life, but he has never had a guide dog. Blind since the 1990s after developing progressive retinitis pigmentosa, Rick maintains some vision. He has relied on a white cane to navigate his daily routine in his second career—he spent years in the construction industry—as an alcohol and drug counselor with the New Jersey court system.

Guiding Eyes guide Leon, a male black Labrador, will help Rick in his travels to and from work and in his leisure time which he spends in New Jersey with girlfriend Wendy, her two rescue greyhounds, and his Great Pyrenees. Leon may also have an additional role as “therapy” for Rick’s 60-70 clients. “Both court systems that I deal with are anxiously awaiting his arrival,” Rick says with a smile. As for his experience with Guiding Eyes, Rick says, “I’m absolutely ecstatic. I have nothing but the ultimate of compliments and praise for this organization.”

Congratulations to Leon’s puppy raisers, The Henry Vanderminden Family!


Deirdre & Cappy

While she may share her home with seven dogs and two snakes, Deirdre knows there’s ample room for a Guiding Eyes guide dog in her life. Enter Cappy, her new male German Shepherd partner. A resident of Washington who was trained as a Chinese-speaking interrogator for the U.S. Army, Deirdre retired from the military in 1987 after a faulty landing during a military parachuting exercise resulted in a head injury and the loss of her sight.

Deirdre is an experienced guide-dog handler, but she had been without a guide for months after her previous guide died earlier this year. When she began training with Cappy, she had an immediate realization. “I thought I was getting around really well on a white cane,” she says, “but it just made such a difference when I went out with Cappy. You don’t realize how slow you get and how out of shape. It’s nice to be what I consider ‘normal’ again.”

Deirdre now works as a volunteer for the Veterans Administration. She attends up to 30 dog shows each year with her toy fox terriers. An avid international traveler, she hopes to take Cappy to Paris in the spring.

Congratulations to Cappy’s puppy raisers, Amy S. Thaler & Blythe Windle and Terri Binder!v.-tirado-walker-felip

Jeanie & Felipe

Jeanie, who has been blind since birth, traveled from upstate New York and was partnered with Felipe, a male yellow Labrador—her fourth Guiding Eyes guide dog. A native Spanish speaker, Jeanie is proud of her Puerto Rican heritage. She majored in French in college and is now a retired homemaker who enjoys walking at indoor malls when the weather forces her inside. She looks forward to walking to church and around her town, as well as traveling on Amtrak to Ohio to see her daughter, her granddaughter, and great grandson.

Congratulations to Felipe’s puppy raiser, Lisa Gaskin!


Ken & Winnie

Ken has been legally blind due to juvenile macular degeneration since he was a young child. Today he is the president and CEO of a nonprofit organization providing vision rehabilitation services and employment opportunities for people who are blind or visually impaired. While Ken still has some vision, his eyes are very light sensitive and his condition has advanced, leaving him with a loss of central vision. Ken uses a white cane for mobility and travel as he navigates to and from business meetings throughout the country.

With the addition of Guiding Eyes guide dog Winnie, a female yellow Labrador, Ken will be able to move with greater confidence and speed, whether he is in his office, his organization’s manufacturing operations, his suburban neighborhood in upstate New York, or any of the cities he visits for business. He looks forward to introducing Winnie as a new family member to his wife Amy and grown children Michael and Sarah. “In addition to the enhanced independence Winnie will bring to my everyday life, I look forward to the freedom she will bring to me,” says Ken, who participated in our Running Guides program, for people with vision loss who want to run recreationally with a dog that has been trained to guide and run safely.

Congratulations to Winnie’s puppy raisers, Mr. & Mrs. Ron Daniels!


Nikolaos & Pearl

Legally blind since 1997 due to retinitis pigmentosa, Nikolaos is a Greek immigrant and former member of his homeland’s navy who approaches life with the same determination and rigor that he learned in the military. A one-time house painter, dishwasher, and cook who left school after seventh grade, Nikolaos’s strong work ethic allowed him to eventually buy and run several restaurants and watch with pride as his four children pursued degrees in higher education.

These days he is fully retired, living in Connecticut, but hardly sitting still. A cancer survivor, Nikolaos keeps fit with regular walks of up to three miles per day, sometimes on hilly terrain with his wife Janice at his side. While Nikolaos maintains some sight in both eyes, this grandfather of ten is anxious for the independence and safety that Pearl, a female yellow Labrador and his first Guiding Eyes guide dog, will afford him.

Congratulations to Pearl’s puppy raisers, The Jollie Family!


Robert & Andy

Imagine a defense attorney, standing before a jury in the front of a courtroom. Now imagine a guide dog by his side. Such is the life of Rob, an Eagle Scout, born in Hawaii, whose bilateral retinoblastoma was diagnosed when he was six months old. Husband of Denise and the father of two young boys, Rob welcomes his third Guiding Eyes guide dog with the arrival of Andy, a male black Labrador Rob describes as a “work hard, play hard, sleep hard” partner.

Andy will help Rob navigate his toy-filled life at home, his neighborhood walks, routine trips to downtown Shenandoah Valley, occasional visits to the local jail and, of course, high-pressure work in the courtroom. As someone who spends many of his working hours with people, Rob notes the collegial nature of the Guiding Eyes staff. “This makes for happy people which makes for happy students and happy dogs,” he says. “Everybody benefits.”

Congratulations to Andy’s puppy raiser, Jody McCain!


Shelby & Cole

Maybe mother does know best. As someone who plans to leave her home to attend college next year, Shelby suspected she should listen to her mom when she strongly urged her to try working with a guide dog. A native Texan, Shelby has been blind since birth and has always used a white cane to navigate her world. Sometimes, however, she would avoid accompanying her family on outings because she found it difficult to move through crowds with the white cane.

The day after her birthday this year, Shelby learned she had been accepted into this month’s graduating class. Shortly thereafter she took her first solo plane trip. She’s thrilled to now know the feeling of “gliding through” a crowd with male black Labrador Cole, with whom she felt an instant connection. “I already feel like a different person,” says the aspiring social worker. “I’m more open, more relaxed, and I can plan my day and go out and feel confident. Even my family says, ‘Who are you, and what did you do with Shelby?’”

Congratulations to Cole’s puppy raiser, Kevin Bersch and Tyler Hoskins!


Vanessa & Riley

Blind since birth due to albinism, Vanessa is new to the state of Nevada as well as to the world of guide dogs. The native Californian has wanted a guide dog for nearly a decade, but when her brother—who was sighted—died after being hit by a car while crossing the street, Vanessa felt her confidence diminish. “I still went out,” she says of her life at the time, “but I had a lot of anxiety and was very nervous about traveling.”

Enter Oscar. Vanessa’s fiancé—with whom she shares a home as well as two cats—gently pushed her to consider a guide dog to help her move more confidently through her daily routine. She credits him for her determination and positive outlook. Vanessa has already seen the change in her life with the help of Riley, a female yellow Labrador. “The first time I walked with Riley,” Vanessa says, “it was like a weight had been lifted.”

Vanessa works at a military supply distributor and is on her feet in a warehouse most of the day.  Even so, in her free time she loves to walk, particularly in local malls where she can escape the Nevada heat. But wherever they walk, Riley has already alleviated her anxiety. “I was super nervous,” Vanessa says about training. “Now that Riley and I have been working together, it feels like a breeze.”

Congratulations to Riley’s puppy raisers, Anna & Melissa Coleman!



Ann & Lennox

As someone who welcomes her third Guiding Eyes guide dog this month, Ann clearly lives by the motto stitched on a pillow in her Maine house: “No outfit is complete without dog hair.” A former teacher of domestic arts and communication skills for blind and visually impaired teens and adults, Ann lost her vision in 1996 due to complications of diabetes. Five years ago, this longtime Pittsburgh resident moved with her husband Tom to the rural Maine town where Tom grew up. Life in the country, on a quiet piece of property with a pond, is quite different from city life, as Ann must rely frequently on others to drive her around town. However, she says, “Once I get there, I want to be able to walk along by myself and be as independent as I can be.”

She describes Lennox, a female black Labrador, as “very joyful. My husband calls her a ray of sunshine. She wakes up in the morning and her tail is wagging. But,” Ann adds, “when you put the harness on her, she’s ready. She’s like ‘I know, time to work.’” And Lennox will help Ann in her work, as she volunteers at the local library and schools, teaching children of all ages about blindness. “Education is not what I do,” she says. “It’s who I am. When I quit working and moved up here, that was a great loss to me. But I recognized that traveling with a dog is an opportunity to educate people all the time. If you’re walking with a dog, people talk to you, and in doing so you get a chance to tell them about vision loss. It’s such a gift to be a part of a team that brings a smile to a room.” Regarding her Home Training experience, Ann says simply, “It’s one of those gifts Guiding Eye for the Blind gives that is miraculous and wonderful.”



Katherine, who goes by Kitty, has settled in nicely in her comfortable home in Ohio with a female yellow Labrador, her third from Guiding Eyes. She is legally blind, and when she speaks proudly of her accomplishments, it’s easy to understand why she needed this energetic guide, curled up beside her, who enjoys being around people and can keep up with her busy schedule.

Katherine has dedicated her life to helping people who are visually impaired to live as independently as possible in their home, school, and work environments. She is a retired vision rehabilitation teacher. She provided customized training to businesses and organizations so they could make products and provide services that would be more accessible to this population. She has trained fire departments in how to safely work with service animal teams—a human handler and service or guide dog—in emergency situations. And she is an award-winning speaker who educates audiences, ranging from first and second graders to Toastmasters, on blindness and guide dogs. But wait! There’s more. You’ll find her in a pool up to four times a week engaging in some water-related activity.

When asked what her guide means to her, she says, “I am a professional, capable, intelligent person who happens to use a guide dog so I can do all of the things I enjoy doing. My guide enables me to remain independent, living my active, rich life. For that, I am so grateful!


Krissy & Quest

A busy stay-at-home mother of five children who range in age from two to 14, Krissy has been legally blind since late 2008 due to retinitis pigmentosa. She has some residual sight, and has been using a white cane this past year. However, after a number of falls, she had become reluctant to leave the house without someone to accompany her. Now she welcomes Quest, a male black Labrador, her first Guiding Eyes guide dog. (Actually, says Krissy, “His head always has to be in your lap. So he’s not a Labrador. He’s a LAPrador.”) Krissy participated in our Home Training program.

Quest has already helped Krissy regain her independence. “When I put the handle in my hand for the first time, it felt natural from the get-go,” she says. Krissy knew for certain that Quest would change her life when, she explains, “I took my two-year-old daughter to the bathroom in a dark restaurant. By myself. And it was in a crowded restaurant to boot.” Quest—who has become an official member of the family’s church—is now gearing up to accompany this active mom on school field trips with her children.


Lonna & Raisin

A terrible car accident in 1991 left Lonna with degenerated optic nerves and permanent vision loss. It was her Guiding Eyes guide who was by her side as she worked through the difficult process of relearning fundamentals such as talking and feeding herself.

Recently Lonna welcomed Raisin, a female black Labrador and her second Guiding Eyes guide. This married New Jersey resident says she is immensely grateful for the adjusted pace of our Special Needs Program, for people with vision loss and additional physical or health-related challenges, and our Home Training program. “I thought it would take a lot longer to train,” she explains. “Inside of ten days Raisin and I had the techniques down pat. No matter what I thought might be a problem, it wasn’t.” Once again partnered with a dog she describes as “my set of hands,” Lonna looks forward to having Raisin lead the way when she runs errands with her husband and son or simply walks around the neighborhood, just she and Raisin.


Michelle & Ella

Michelle has been legally blind since 2013, but with the arrival of Ella, a female black Labrador and her first Guiding Eyes for the Blind guide dog, this small business owner, mother of two, and grandmother of eight has found the “source of freedom” she’s been waiting for. As a diabetic who lost her sight to lupus, Michelle undergoes dialysis three times per week. But that strict regimen does not stop her from pursuing her many passions, from dancing with her husband Robert (also a member of this class) to starting a new food cart business. It’s no wonder Michelle chose the Home Training program. She describes her relationship with Ella as a natural fit. “She’s rambunctious, and so am I,” Michelle explains. “I very seldom stop. Ella likes to go, do things, be busy. I don’t know what I would do without her now.” Even more important, Ella has adjusted quickly and smoothly to life in a two-guide-dog household. “We’re a family,” says Michelle. “And we look at our dogs as family, not just as tools. They’ve brought a lot of fun into our lives.”


Robert & Ari

The retired owner of a welding business and step-grandparent to 19 grandchildren, Robert was declared legally blind in 2013, after glaucoma and cataracts complicated the vision loss he already suffered due to diabetic retinopathy. But with the arrival of male black Labrador Ari, his first guide dog, Robert says, “I don’t feel blind.” Now that he has a new partner by his side, he is walking “taller and prouder” than he has in years. As for Ari, “I cannot believe they fit this dog to me so perfectly,” Robert says. “He likes to work, but then he likes to be laid back. He loves hugs and kisses, just like I do.” Robert and Ari keep busy with frequent trips around their Arizona town, joining his wife Michelle (who is also a member of this class) and her guide dog on outings to football and baseball games, as well as to stores such as Home Depot and Target, where, he says, “the dog understands that I have a prosthetic leg and everywhere we go, he finds places for me to sit.” Robert participated in the Home Training program.


Valarie & Irvin

A childhood accident caused Valarie to lose her sight at the age of seven. Now a retired professional psychic who practices Reiki and advises clients on alternative health—which she considers a calling—Valarie lives in a small Ontario town and enjoys frequent visits from family. This mother of two, grandmother of five, and great-grandmother of a seven-month-old girl, opted for our Home Training program. She describes her second Guiding Eyes guide dog, male black Labrador Irvin, as “hilarious.” She adds, “He has so much personality, you wouldn’t believe it. It was love at first lick.” Irvin is also a fast learner: “I’ve lived in this town for quite a while so I know it very well,” says Valarie, “but he’s caught on very quickly to the different routes that I take. I feel very safe with him.”