Congratulations to our October 2018 graduating class!
Congratulations to Team Merion. May you have many safe and happy adventures together. Many thanks to Merion’s puppy raisers, Ruth and Larry McConnelee, for all they do to support the Guiding Eyes mission. — Central New York Region
Wishing the October 2018 class many happy adventures together with your new guides! Special wishes to Viking’s pups, Gillian and Julie, and their handlers, Patti and Kayla. — Barbara Brunner, Foster for Guiding Eyes Viking
Congratulations to the October 2018 graduating class and guide dogs Valance, Volley, and Freddie. — Bob Rollmann and Cindy Sullivan, fosters for proud dad, Guiding Eyes Ingot.
We gratefully acknowledge the Fain Family’s support of our video streaming capabilities.
Watch this month’s graduation live
- Amanda & Adeline
- Ana & Beanie
- Cathy & Coral
- Chris & Beryl
- Don & Macintosh
- Elaine & Kaylie
- Everett & Sunny
- John & Merion (S)
- Nataly & Ruffles
- Patti & Gillian
- Rene & Ocho
- Rose & Freddie
Home Training Graduates:
- Bill & Shirley (S)
- David & Volley
- Gary & Enzo
- Kathleen & Valance
- Kayla & Julie
- Leah & Odell
- Sandra & Wafer
- Sheila & Watkins
Many thanks to our Training Staff:
- Class Supervisor: Miranda Beckmann
- Class Instructors: Caryn Fellows, Allie Greenberg, and Deanna Lentini
- Specialized Training Instructor: Jessy DiNapoli
- Running Guides Specialist: Nick Speranza
- Instructor Assistant: Kimberly Hansen
- Home Training Instructors: James Gardner, Graham Buck, Stephanie Koret, Woody TenEyck, Nikki Wentz, Susan Kroha, Lisa Derleth, and Dave Hagemann
S: A special gift was made to personally name the following dogs:
- Merion was Special Named in memory of Merion Ritter.
- Shirley was Special Named in memory of Shirley Ada Kessler.
Meet the Residential Training Graduates
Graduate Team: Amanda and Adeline
About guide dog: Adeline is a female black Lab and Amanda’s first guide dog
Hometown: Fishers, Indiana
Amanda, a busy single mom, works six days a week running the special needs ministry at her church. Although she still has some vision, she is grateful to Guiding Eyes for matching her with her first guide dog, Adeline, and the ease and companionship that will now come with navigating her “blurry world.”
How would you describe your guide dog? “Adeline is a lady. She’s very sweet, gentle, and eager to please.”
Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “I didn’t like using a cane. It’s hard to walk and exercise on uneven ground with it, and I was always getting jabbed in the stomach. Plus, I really wanted the companionship that comes with having a guide dog.”
What are you looking forward to about returning home? “In the beginning, I was really overwhelmed with the amount of training I had to learn and teach Adeline. But now I am looking forward to bringing her home and introducing her to my world. I can’t wait to show her around my home and work environment.”
Any training highlights? “My first walk with Adeline was definitely a highlight. It was pouring rain, but I remember the first time I held the harness handle and thought, ‘This isn’t as scary as I thought it would be.’”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “Adeline will provide me with the safety and security I need so I can start doing the things I had stopped doing because of my vision loss. Also, just having a dog to care for will help get me out of bed in the morning.”
What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “Guiding Eyes is the place to come; I highly recommend it. I was fearful of the amount of training I would have to learn, but the program is beautifully designed. The trainers are so great, and it’s been a fantastic experience.”
How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “I’m sograteful to have been accepted into the program here, especially since I still have a lot of usable vision. I walk around in a blurry world, so I am thankful to have the companionship of my guide dog and the new sense of security she gives me.”
Congratulations to Adeline’s puppy raiser, Amy Sodus!
Graduate Team: Ana and Beanie
About guide dog: Beanie is a male black Lab and Ana’s second guide dog from Guiding Eyes
Hometown: Las Cruces, New Mexico
When Ana decided to come to Guiding Eyes after graduating high school, she was looking for more independence and ease of travel. Now paired with her second guide dog, Beanie, she got that and more. Ana loves having a companion always by her side, especially as a current student at New Mexico State University, and the conversation that a guide dog encourages.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Beanie has a funny personality. When he’s not in harness, he is very playful and energetic, like a puppy. He’s also very sweet and sensitive.”
Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “I thought a guide dog would give me more independence and be helpful for getting around after I graduated high school. A cane finds obstacles in your way whereas a dog avoids them and helps you walk faster, which I enjoy. People are also more open towards you with a dog; they start more conversations with you. The dog is like having another person with you, so you’re never going anywhere alone.”
What are you looking forward to about returning home? “I’m looking forward to walking faster, doing more routes, and going more places. I really enjoy having a second ‘person’ with me and the bond that will form between Beanie and me.”
Any training highlights? “I bonded very quickly with Beanie. Overall, Guiding Eyes is amazing. Everything is the highlight here.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “Having a guide dog has made my life easier. There are responsibilities involved and it’s not always easy, but you get to meet new people and go new places. It’s great.”
What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “Do it. If you can handle the responsibility, then go for it. It’s very rewarding and worth the time and effort.”
How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “I love it here. Everyone is amazing. The staff, the students, and the facilities are phenomenal. It’s one of the best schools. Keep doing what you’re doing!”
Congratulations to Beanie’s puppy raiser, Christopher Rokosky!
Graduate Team: Cathy and Coral
About Coral: Coral, a female black Lab, is Cathy’s fourth guide dog and first from Guiding Eyes
Hometown: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
An experienced guide dog user, Cathy has already prepped her friends at her local “acquacise” class for “Miss Coral’s” debut in the coming weeks. She knows Coral will be a hit at the pool, but has made sure everyone knows the rules of guide dog etiquette and will give her “sweet, calm, cautious, and conscientious” girl plenty of time to get acclimated to her new environment.
How would you describe your guide dog? “She’s a very sweet, calm little girl. Very cautious and conscientious about her work. Coral has a totally different personality and disposition from my other guide dogs. She’s very laid back, calm, and works at a slower pace. We’re starting to gain confidence between the two of us, and the bond has been there since the moment I met her!”
Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “I wanted the freedom and the mobility back. Having had three guide dogs since 1991, and then not having a guide dog for over two years, I didn’t have any freedom.”
What are you looking forward to about returning home? “Being able to get back out in our community and take buses to where I want to go instead of having to rely on a specific schedule. We’ll be going to the swimming pool for acquacise, downtown to the mall, and just being able to get out and take walks in the neighborhood again on our own.”
Any training highlights? “We’ve been working on getting our confidence together. I’m looking forward to getting out this afternoon; that could be the highlight!”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “It’s given me the freedom of mobility in the city I live in, and I feel much safer having a dog on my side versus a white cane in my hand. I feel like I’m not running into things anymore, I let the dog take me around all the obstacles and get me from point A to point B. I live in a big city, and if it wasn’t for a dog sometimes, I don’t think I’d be alive!”
What would you say to someone considering a guide dog? “If you’re considering getting a guide dog, spend a day with someone who has a guide dog so that you know what you’re getting into. It is a lot of work, and you’ve got to be prepared to put the time in with your dog – playing, grooming, working. If you’re the type of the person who likes to sleep in, you won’t be doing that anymore! I was fortunate that my roommate had a dog before I got my first one, so I knew what I was getting into.”
How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “It’s a fantastic school with fantastic programs! If it wasn’t for the Specialized Training program, I wouldn’t have another guide dog. I would recommend it to anybody, especially because Guiding Eyes offers so many different program options.”
Congratulations to Coral’s puppy raiser, Becky Biggs!
Graduate Team: Chris and Beryl
About guide dog: Beryl, a female yellow Lab, is Chris’ third guide dog and first from Guiding Eyes
Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio
Running errands, taking care of his children, daily walks and exercise… As a busy stay-at-home dad, Chris values the independence that comes with having a guide dog. Now with his third dog, Beryl, he looks forward to getting her acclimated at home and being able to safely go out on his own again.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Beryl is very sweet, down to earth, and well-tempered. I love her.”
Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “The number one thing was my independence. I don’t like people doing things for me. I hated every minute of using my cane; I had gone back to using one after my last dog and I just couldn’t do it. My braille instructor had a guide dog and told me to look into getting one.”
What are you looking forward to about returning home? “Beryl is my third dog now, but every dog is different. I’m looking forward to getting home and getting started with her. I look forward to teaching her my routes and being able to go out on my own.It’s just going to keep getting better and better from here.”
Any training highlights? “The best part about training was getting Beryl and not having to rely on my cane. I like having her because I feel comfortable and safe with her. I won’t be tripping over everything like I did with a cane.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “For me, it’s all about being able to go out on my own. I can get from point A to point B without having to worry that I’ll end up in the street or hit by a car. Even with my third guide dog, it’s still the best thing in the world.”
What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “I wouldone thousand times recommend Guiding Eyes. Everyone is so nice and kind here.It’s also nice to be around other blind people who understand what I’m going through. So if you’re not comfortable with a cane, try a guide dog. I will never go back.”
How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “I love it and I’m so glad they accepted me. I will never go to a different school. Their training program is phenomenal!”
Congratulations to Beryl’s puppy raisers, the Long Family!
Graduate Team: Don and Macintosh, graduates of the Running Guides Training program
About Macintosh: Macintosh (Mac), a male black Lab is Don’s first guide dog
Hometown: Hollywood, Maryland
Don and Macintosh (affectionately known as Mac), will make quite the pair as they head home to Maryland, where Mac will help this soon-to-be 10-time marathoner become even more active. But beyond his important work as a Running Guides guide dog, Mac will also become a welcome new addition to Don’s family. Don’s son will join the pair on training runs, and his daughter, who aspires to one day become a veterinarian, can’t wait for the new family member to come home.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Goofball! He is very fast, high drive, and he likes to run. He really does not have a slow speed, which is why I got him.”
Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “I struggled with it for a while, since I have some usable vision. But at the California International Marathon (CIM) in 2015, I saw Richard Hunter with Klinger and got thinking about it more and more. At CIM last year, I pulled Ben aside to talk about it, and after our conversation, I submitted the application in May.”
What are you looking forward to about returning home? “I’m looking forward to settling in and getting a new routine. It’s going to be new for all of us, but I’m looking forward to figuring out what Mac can do to help me get out there and be more active. I know there’s going to be a big public education and advocacy side to it, which I’m looking forward to.”
Any training highlights? “Overall, it’s been phenomenal. I didn’t even apply to other schools, because no one else has the Running Guides program. I was amazed at how the training goes here – very fluid and seamless. It’s all really come together!”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “I think it will impact my life a lot. It’s cool just having him near me. When I travel sometimes it can get lonely, so it’s nice to have a companion that’s always going to be with you. I’ll be a little more confident when I’m out and about. I’m so tentative with a cane, and I think it will be a lot more freeing to go out in the neighborhood by myself, go for a jog, and just be less stressed.”
What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “Do it. If you’re thinking about it, you’re probably well beyond needing it. Just figure out exactly what you want out of it. For me, I wanted the running, so it narrowed it down for me. Research it, apply, and start now because it could take a while to get the right match for you. A guide dog opens a lot of doors.”
How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “Awesome, great organization in how they train the animals and the way they train the humans! Just the whole organization – logistics, accommodations, training methods, everything is top notch, and the food is great.”
Congratulations to Macintosh’s puppy raisers, Daniel and Karen Connors!
Graduate Team: Elaine and Kaylie
About guide dog: Kaylie, a female German Shepard, is Elaine’s third Guiding Eyes guide dog
Hometown: Cocoa Beach, Florida
“This place means everything to me,” Elaine says fondly of Guiding Eyes. After two brain surgeries, she was used to being handed medical information from doctors that was obscure and confusing. Elaine was inspired to go back to school for medical writing in hopes of educating and helping others, just as Guiding Eyes and her guide dogs have helped her.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Out of harness, Kaylie loves people and loves to play. She’s obsessed with balls. In harness, she is focused on her work and it’s like nothing else exists. I love her long strides and how she moves when she walks. She is like the matriarch of our class; she’s always making sure everyone is together when we’re on a route.”
Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “I had brain surgery and lost a lot of my vision after that. I wasn’t confident in getting around and going out by myself. My friend was a Guiding Eyes grad and always recommended it, so coming here was a no-brainer. I love that with my guide dog, I can now sail past obstacles. As I move to new places and my vision changes, I know Kaylie is always my constant.”
What are you looking forward to about returning home? “I’m looking forward to being able to walk down a sidewalk and not having to feel all the cracks or not worrying about all the people around. With a dog, it’s just so smooth. When I use a cane, I don’t go out as much and I’m not as comfortable. But with Kaylie, I’m more of an extrovert. I’m looking forward to having a strong relationship with her.”
Any training highlights? “My dog is confident when she walks, and that makes me confident. When I was training with Kaylie on a night route, I knew she was going to take care of me. I cried after that walk because I was amazed at how comfortable I was. When we did traffic checks, she stopped immediately and started backing up to protect me. I wasn’t scared because I knew she was going to take care of me. I also liked being in class with new guide dog users. It has been empowering; I like being able to help them.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “My guide dogs have built up my confidence and ability to relate to people. I use them as a conversation starter. People sometimes view the white cane as an object of pity. But with a dog, people relate to you. I love having the confidence and freedom to do whatever I want to do.”
What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “Do it. It takes a lot of getting used to and you have to put your trust in an animal, but it is the best decision you’ll ever make. You get to have another set of eyes looking out for you. You are never alone; you always have someone beside you to walk through life’s challenges. It’s indescribable.”
How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “I love Guiding Eyes. I’m on the Graduate Council and I do a lot of fundraising for them. I try to help out whenever I can. I like that it’s not just the training they provide, but the follow up after you leave. You graduate with an entire organization behind you. Not every school has the support and community that Guiding Eyes has. I knew as soon as I walked through the doors that I was home. This place means everything to me. Without their services and guide dogs, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I would probably still be sitting at home bumming out about my vision loss.”
Congratulations to Kaylie’s puppy raiser, Barbara Ward-Blank!
Graduate Team: Everett and Sunny
About Sunny: Sunny, a female yellow Lab, is Everett’s first guide dog
Hometown: Brussels, Wisconsin
It may have been serendipity that brought Everett and Sunny together; this father of eight happens to work at the “Sunshine House,” which will soon have a new “Sunny” mascot! Everett felt the impact of Sunny even before he met her, noting that the goal of one day getting a guide dog helped motivate him to become more mobile after he lost his vision four years ago.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Very mature and patient. We clicked right away – within the first two days, it seemed like we had been a team for a while, which was kind of amazing.”
Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “Well, I was tired of sitting in my chair. The idea started about four years ago, and I was just coming off of two head surgeries and learning how to walk again. I still had a walker at the time, then I started working on mobility with the cane. I just kept wanting to be able to do more.”
What are you looking forward to about returning home? “I’m looking forward to not running into things! The cane is an excellent obstacle finder, but the problem is you find every obstacle. Whereas with Sunny you just glide past them – she takes that off my mind.”
Any training highlights? “Yes! One night during training, a car decided to blow through the cross walk. What impressed me is that Sunny did her job immediately, as did my instructor Deanna, who jumped in front immediately. I was impressed with both the dog and the instructor, because they both had me. They didn’t even take time to think about it – they just did what they were trained to do.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “It started impacting me before I ever came to Guiding Eyes. Four years ago, I was still using the walker and had to push myself, then went from the walker to stability cane, and eventually off of that, so it’s been a long process toward the goal of getting a guide dog. The goal helped me recover a lot more function than I would have otherwise. With a guide dog, I can walk more naturally; I just go where I want to go and it’s seamless – it’s like I’m getting part of my life back that I used to have.”
What would you say to someone considering a guide dog? “Don’t un-consider it! Just do whatever you need to do to get there.”
How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “Wow. I did my research, and several schools made the list. I wanted the best chance of success, and I felt like Guiding Eyes offered that. The staff here takes care of us – you can ask them anything, anytime. They’re very approachable and open. And the food is awesome! My compliments to the entire kitchen staff.”
Congratulations to Sunny’s puppy raiser, Hadley Drake!
Graduate Team: John and Merion
About guide dog: Merion is afemale yellow Lab and John’s first guide dog
Hometown: Mississauga, Ontario
As an avid rower for over 20 years, John is on the water six to seven days a week – but that’s not his only passion. John also takes classical guitar lessons and is currently studying creative writing at the University of Toronto. He looks forward to now having Merion, his first guide dog, by his side no matter where his life, or hobbies, take him.
How would you describe your guide dog? “She has a very fun-loving personality. She has lots of energy and she’s very playful.”
Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “I’m a very independent person. I have always done things on my own, but I’ve had too many accidents over the last five years while using a cane. I finally realized that it’s unsafe for me and the people around me if I’m walking down the street by myself.”
What are you looking forward to about returning home? “I’m looking forward to getting out more often, being able to go out in the dark, and to start broadening my circles more. I plan on letting Merion bring me as many places as possible.”
Any training highlights? “I think the traffic check was an eye opener for me. It made me realize that I can trust my dog and that she will keep me safe. I also had to tell myself that I’m the one that needs to be trainable here.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “Merion gives me the dignity to walk down the street with my head held high. I’m not as intimidated by difficult situations I might encounter in day-to-day life.”
What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “This is the place you need to come. It’s been a positive experience since day one. I can’t imagine an organization doing a better job than what Guiding Eyes is doing.”
How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “It’s awonderful organization from top to bottom. Deanna is lovely and wonderful.”
Congratulations to Merion’s puppy raisers, Ruth and Larry McConnelee!
Graduate Team: Nataly and Ruffles
About guide dog: Ruffles, a female black Lab, is Nataly’s first guide dog
Hometown: Winooski, Vermont
From kayaking and hiking to sailing and going out with friends, Nataly likes to stay active. But while using a cane, she felt hesitant and sometimes missed out on the things she loves to do. Now paired with her first guide dog, Ruffles, Nataly hopes to thrive more in her community and is especially excited to explore hiking trails together.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Ruffles is quite sassy. But she is very energetic, very intelligent, and has a high drive.”
Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “I have always had a love for dogs and I don’t like using my cane. I felt like a guide dog would give me more independence and a safer way to travel.”
What are you looking forward to about returning home? “I’m really looking forward to gaining the independence I have always wanted. I like to go out a lot, but I am always hesitant because I would have to bring my cane with me. Ruffles will help me be active and thrive more in my community.”
Any training highlights? “I really enjoy the community here. The instructors are great at making sure you feel as comfortable as possible.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “Ruffles has added more personality in my life. She has given me confidence and now I can go out and do the things I want to do.”
What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “It’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s worth it. You get to have a companion with you at all times.”
How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “Guiding Eyes is an amazing organization. They did an awesome job at matching us with our dogs. They truly care about our success as a team after we leave.”
Congratulations to Ruffle’s puppy raisers, Ruth Schoch and the Howell Family!
Graduate Team: Patti and Gillian
About Gillian: Gillian is a female black Lab and Patti’s first guide dog
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
“I’ve gone through all my life watching my feet, and with Gillian I can hold my head high and count on her to get me where I need to go.” A first-time guide dog user, Patti is thrilled to be paired with her new guide, as are her twin granddaughters who helped her choose Guiding Eyes as a school and hope to become puppy raisers in the future. Patti jokes that her grandkids will no longer have to give her an arm now that she has a guide dog: “I’m sure they don’t mind now, but once they start dating, they probably won’t want Grandma to tag along!”
How would you describe your guide dog? “She’s a really good worker, and she has taught me patience. When she’s in harness she’s an excellent dog. As soon as I take the harness off of her, she is just a puppy. She is the sweetest, most loving, playful animal.”
Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “I probably should have done this 10 years ago – I was starting to fall a lot, trip over things I didn’t see or that my cane would miss. I thought a guide dog would see things I didn’t see, andit was just time.”
What are you looking forward to about returning home? “Getting out more! Going to places where I normally would go with a family member as a guide. I think I’ll have more freedom on my own. I’m really excited about not having to worry about what I might run into. Gillian gives me a lot more freedom. I’ve gone through all my life watching my feet, and with Gillian I can hold my head high and count on her to get me where I need to go. It makes me feel so good and gives me so much confidence – I wish I’d gotten her years ago.”
Any training highlights? “I knew having a guide dog would help me and I’d seen others work with guide dogs, but there’s a big difference between watching someone do it and experiencing it yourself. I’ve been amazed how what the instructors teach me works so well and so quickly. And another big highlight was meeting one of Gillian’s ‘babysitters’ who came to visit!”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “It will give me more freedom and more confidence to be out on my own.”
What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “I would tell them that this is a very good school to come to! I would encourage them to apply, even if they’re partially sighted.”
How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “I love Guiding Eyes. It has changed my life – I just don’t feel like I could have gotten the instruction that I got here anywhere else.”
Congratulations to Gillian’s puppy raiser, Rachael Ruggiero!
Graduate Team: Rene and Ocho
About Ocho: Ocho is a male yellow Lab and Rene’s first guide dog
Hometown: Taunton, Massachusetts
While Rene is new to working with a guide dog, he can already tell Ocho is going to give him the confidence to “go where I want to go safely.” Encouraged to apply for a guide dog by his family, Rene now looks forward to having a friend and companion for the rest of his life.”
How would you describe your guide dog? “He’s awesome. He listens well, but he wants to play with every other dog he sees. That’s his distraction, and he’s getting much better!”
Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “I feel that my guide dog is going to give me independence and safe mobility. Anywhere I want to go, I know now I can go. I walk three to four miles a day, and I can take a bus from my home to two different malls to get exercise when the weather isn’t good.”
What are you looking forward to about returning home? “I’m looking forward to making this his last transition, and him being my friend for the rest of my life.”
Any training highlights? “Yes, he does phenomenally on escalators and elevators, and he knows how to shore line very, very well. He responds very well to it; that’s the setting I’m going to have to deal with when I go home, and he does phenomenally well.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “It will give me confidence to go where I want to go safely, I’m sure. It’s a little early, but I can tell already.”
What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “I would say really think it out because it is a responsibility, and once you do have a guide dog, your guide dog should come first no matter what. This is the thing that’s going to save your life. I’d been thinking about it for about two years, and my daughter and my family really inspired me to do it.”
How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “Guiding Eyes is the best ever. The people are so good, so nice, and they really take care of their students. I wouldn’t go anywhere again if I needed another guide dog!”
Congratulations to Ocho’s puppy raisers, Jeannie Neary and Suzan and Lorenzo Bocciarelli!
Graduate Team: Rose and Freddie
About Freddie: Freddie, a male yellow Lab, is Rose’s first guide dog
Hometown: Staten Island, NY
A first-time guide dog user, Rose quickly fell in love with her new guide dog, Freddie, and marvels at the selflessness of puppy raisers who support Guiding Eyes. She laughs that her daughters – whom she fondly describes as “mother hens” – may have worried about her in the past, but after visiting Guiding Eyes during training, they can now rest assured that she’s in good hands (or paws!) with her new guide.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Lovable. Sunshine! I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa when I was 19, and it’s always been this dark cloud following me. Freddie is the sunshine streaming through.”
Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “I didn’t like using the cane, and I only use it if I have to go from point A to point B. I’m hoping with Freddie that I can even just walk just for the sake of walking. The cane creates this invisible barrier, whereas the dog invites people in.”
What are you looking forward to about returning home? “Getting out more, perhaps volunteering. I don’t know where this next chapter is going to take me. I’m hoping with Freddie we’ll get out there!”
Any training highlights? “I’ve gotten such a wealth of information and inspiration from the people that are here. From technology to stories. It’s a happy place – it’s not a pity party, people aren’t bitter. We were made to feel comfortable as soon as we got here.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “I think it will give me the encouragement to get out there more.”
What would you say to someone considering a guide dog? “Without a doubt! This was a big leap of faith. I had considered getting a guide dog about four years ago, even had the paperwork filled out, and filed it away. Then a light bulb went off this year, and I just realized it was time. I was anxious, it was definitely the right decision.”
How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “Unbelievably wonderful. If I win the lottery, you can bet that money’s coming here! It really is a wonderful, wonderful organization. This isn’t just a job to the staff here and you can feel it.”
Congratulations to Freddie’s puppy raisers, Dalton Odom and Family!
Meet the Home Training Graduates
Graduate Team: Bill and Shirley
About guide dog: Shirley is a female black Lab and Bill’s fourth Guiding Eyes guide dog
Hometown: Santa Clara, California
As a music professor at Santa Clara University and an author of several textbooks, Bill frequently travels to and from campus for work. But when he’s not teaching or practicing the piano, he enjoys swimming on campus and hiking in the Santa Cruz mountains. Now paired with his fourth Guiding Eyes guide dog, Bill has lots to look forward to with Shirley by his side.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Shirley is very energetic. She’s explorative and very playful. She also has a good drive to work, which is the most important thing to me. And she loves to go hiking!”
Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “I had read a memoir that mentioned Guiding Eyes and the story of a man’s guide dog. It made me really interested in the organization.”
What are you looking forward to about working with your guide dog? “I’m looking forward to getting to work more easily now and getting back to the pool to exercise a few times a week.”
Any training highlights? “Working with Graham was terrific. He has this deep intuition with the dogs that is great. He’s always willing to find what works best for the guide dog team.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “It’s been big. I have climbed mountains with them, brought them to the beach, and rode a New York City subway. They have even gotten me home during a blizzard. It’s a huge responsibility but when you’re with the right dog, it’s really rewarding.”
What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “Make sure you have at least an hour a day to spend with your dog. It’s not something to take lightly but it can be hugely rewarding!”
Graduate Team: David and Volley
About guide dog: Volley, a female yellow Lab, is David’s sixth guide dog and fourth from Guiding Eyes
Hometown: Las Cruces, New Mexico
“Now that I’m living in the desert, one spot feels the same as everywhere else when I use a cane.” After moving across the country, David is ecstatic to be paired with his new guide dog, Volley, so he can continue living his active lifestyle with ease — from exploring local hiking trails to routine morning walks around his home and teaching Jiu Jitsu with his wife. He is also thrilled that Volley and his pet lab, Kira, have quickly become best buds.
How would you describe your guide dog? “She’s spunky! But when she is in harness, she’s very serious. She’s also extremely fond of tennis balls.”
Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “I was good with a cane, but I wanted more freedom in mobility. At the time, I was young, traveling a lot, and had started rapidly losing my sight. As a child, I remember seeing guide dogs on television and they always fascinated me. So, I figured it was a good time to look into getting one. Now I love working with a guide dog; I do everything with them. Once I get a new dog, it’s like we’re glued together.”
What are you looking forward to about working with your guide dog? “I’m really looking forward to not feeling as blind as I did over the past year without a guide dog. My wife always says that the only time she’s married to someone who is blind is when I’m between guide dogs.”
Any training highlights? “I opted for the Home Training program because it’s harder for me to travel as I get older. I received training specific to my lifestyle; I was very delighted with the way it turned out.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “Getting around without a guide dog is very hard for me. Now that I’m living in the desert, one spot feels the same as everywhere else when I use a cane. A guide dog also comes in handy when I’m shopping, walking around town, or hiking. I use a guide dog for everything.”
What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “A guide dog is a lot of responsibility and you have to be up for that. Establishing and maintaining a good working relationship is a great effort. But with a good attitude, it’s a great relationship and a tremendous amount of freedom.”
How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “I am really pleased with the Guiding Eyes dogs. I think the breeding program is doing very impressive work. I also really like how Guiding Eyes is a leader in developing training techniques; there are always new ideas being introduced in the process. I would like to thank everyone who volunteers and donates to Guiding Eyes who made my match with Volley possible. Guide dogs have made my world a larger and much more interesting place.”
Graduate Team: Gary and Enzo
About guide dog: Enzo is a male black Lab and Gary’s fourth guide dog, but first from Guiding Eyes
Hometown: Marana, Arizona
When asked, Gary explains how greatly his life has been impacted by his previous guide dogs – and his fourth, Enzo, is no different. “He is such a fantastic four-legged human.” While Gary stays busy finishing his master’s degree in professional counseling, he can’t wait for warmer weather so the two can go swimming together. In the meantime, he loves watching Enzo run and play with his two other dogs, who have all quickly become good friends.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Enzo is playful and so loving. He just wants you to pet him and hold him. He would let us carry him if we could! His personality exudes from him. He is such a fantastic four-legged human. Enzo is like walking with a bag of joy!”
Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “I was worried when I received my first guide dog. I was doing okay with my cane but I didn’t know if I could trust a dog to guide me around. I soon realized how truly fantastic they are. I was without a guide dog from last year to just recently and, man, I’ve never been so happy to put my cane back in the drawer!”
What are you looking forward to about working with your guide dog? “We’re still learning; I’m working on perfecting my skills with him. Enzo loves to swim, too, so I’m going to build a deck around my pool. When it’s warm again, he can come swimming with me.”
Any training highlights? “Susan did a magnificent job. I can’t even explain it. During a training session, we were walking through a store and stopped by the toy aisle. Enzo looked at them all and picked the one he wanted. He loves squeaky toys.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “They have made my life. I felt tied down with a cane, but guide dogs have made me feel comfortable getting around again. It’s unexplainable. They mean so much to me.”
How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “Guiding Eyes did a fantastic job training Enzo.The organization helps so many people and I appreciate that. I feel so privileged that you would allow me to work with one of your dogs. The trainers give a bit of their selves with every dog and without them, I would have nothing.”
Graduate Team: Kathy and Valance
About guide dog: Valance is a male yellow Lab and Kathy’s ninth Guiding Eyes guide dog
Hometown: Buffalo, New York
As an experienced guide dog user, Kathy knows how valuable a guide dog can be as she stays busy traveling to the local YMCA for aquafit classes, going to monthly meetings at her church, and advocating for the blind community through the American Council of the Blind. But this wasn’t always the case. Kathy is one of three siblings who are blind – caused by a condition so rare that there are only 250 diagnosed cases. It wasn’t until her sister received a guide dog that Kathy saw the companionship and love that comes with having a dog and decided to get one herself.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Valance is a silly goose. He likes to play, but he’s very serious about his work.”
Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “It wasn’t until my sister had gotten one that I saw the other side of having a guide dog. When I saw the strong bond between them, I decided to apply.”
What are you looking forward to about working with your guide dog? “I like walking with a guide dog because you don’t have to worry about things like a crack in the sidewalk. You can just go; it’s almost like flying.”
Any training highlights? “We were coming back from CVS and Valance pointed out two different spots that we had previously targeted: the bus stop and this particular crosswalk. I was so surprised!”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “A guide dog takes the worry out of traveling. With a cane, I always had to pay attention to the ground so I wouldn’t trip and fall over obstacles. Now, my guide dog takes me around them and I can travel with ease.”
What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “There are responsibilities that come with having a dog, but the ease of traveling is so worth it. The trade-off is fantastic and the bond that develops between you and your guide dog is like no other.”
How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “Guiding Eyes makes me feel taken care of, even during the Home Training program. I’ve had nine Guiding Eyes guide dogs and I can’t imagine going anywhere else.”
Graduate Team: Kayla and Julie
About guide dog: Julie, a female black Lab, is Kayla’s third guide dog, and first from Guiding Eyes
Hometown: East Helena, Montana
As a busy mom, Kayla usually has a stroller in one hand and her three-year old son in the other. With another little one on the way, she needed a guide dog that was flexible and adaptable. Julie, Kayla’s third dog, is all that and more. “She is very responsive to anything that I need. My favorite thing about Julie, though, is how well she plays with my son.”
How would you describe your guide dog? “We’ve nicknamed her Wiggles; she is always moving and has lots of energy. She’s full of spunk! Even when I put on Julie’s harness, she gets so excited. When she is working, she’s very focused and takes it seriously. My favorite thing about Julie, though, is how well she plays with my son.”
Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “I always wanted a guide dog from a young age; I was counting down the years until I could get one. I knew it would increase my freedom and independence. I always felt like a cane put up a barrier between me and everyone else. I always felt so clumsy with it. I had seen other guide dog users move more easily and fluid. I used to daydream in class about getting a dog!”
What are you looking forward to about working with your guide dog? “It was cool to see my second guide dog grow up with my son. Now that I am six months pregnant, I’m excited to have my new baby and family grow up together with Julie. She helps me drop off my son at preschool twice a week; she has the energy for it and I’m excited to have her. I think she’ll fit in really well with my family.”
Any training highlights? “The best part of the Home Training program was that my husband and son were part of the process of receiving Julie, too. It was cool to have them be a part of that. My husband is blind also, so seeing the process of receiving the dog got him excited to get one, too.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “My guide dogs have given me the confidence I need to maneuver through life. They are a good ice breaker, but they also give other people the impression that we are competent and capable. It’s nice to always have a companion with you, too. Whatever situation you’re in, you know that you’re not alone.”
What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “A dog isn’t for everyone, but they change your life so much. I can’t imagine not having one. It’s such a special and incredible process to be a part of, everything from the matching process to integrating the dog into your daily life. Your guide dog becomes a part of who you are — even the people around you. When my first guide dog passed on, everyone had a story about how he touched their lives.”
How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “I was impressed by the application process, the home interview, and everyone I met. They are all so personable, friendly, and realistic. I felt really taken care of. So much thought goes into what the students need, down to the simplest things. I will definitely go back when the time comes.”
Graduate Team: Leah and Odell
About guide dog: Odell is a female black Lab and Leah’s third guide dog from Guiding Eyes
Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina
Since Leah was a young girl, it has always been her motivation to get a guide dog. Now an experienced handler, she feels that her guide dogs have opened up more doors for her than a cane. From commuting to work and traveling with her son, Leah looks forward to all of the adventures she and Odell will go on together.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Odell is sweet and loving and fun. She’s the first Labrador Retriever I have had that actually retrieves!”
Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “I didn’t like the white cane. Since I was nine, it has always been my motivation to be a great cane user so I could get a guide dog.”
What are you looking forward to about working with your guide dog? “The adventures that we’ll have together! Every guide dog I’ve had has been on their own special adventures. I’m looking forward to what’s to come with Odell.”
Any training highlights? “It was cool to experience the Home Training program compared to the Residential Training program. It was more focused on what my life is really like. The training took place while my life was still happening – like going to work and taking care of my son.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “Having a guide dog opens more doors for you than the cane does. They take away the stigma and stereotypes of being blind. That’s the biggest impact.”
What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “It’s a lot of responsibility, but the reward outweighs that!”
How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “Guiding Eyes is an organization that I support and promote to other people. They do great work and I will keep going back as long as I can.”
Graduate Team: Sandra and Wafer
About guide dog: Wafer is a female black Lab and Sandra’s second guide dog
Hometown: Palmetto Bay, Florida
Working to get recertified as an instructor in Unified English Braille, Sandra is thankful for the accommodating and specialized nature of the Home Training program. She adoringly describes her new guide dog, Wafer, as a “dream come true” and is eager to get her involved in Sandra’s newest hobby, sailing!
How would you describe your guide dog? “Wafer ismellow, very mellow and happy. She’s doing a great job so far. She is the perfect match for me!”
Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “I had been using a cane for five long years. There is a lot of diversity here in the Miami area; people come from all over. Guide dogs just aren’t a common thing here so I’m happy that people see Wafer and get to educate themselves about it. She has done wonderful work so far.”
What are you looking forward to about working with your guide dog? “We have a park nearby that hosts a small market every Sunday for our community. That is one of my goals — to learn the route with Wafer and get outside. I also started sailing recently. When Wafer is more comfortable, I’m going to start acclimating her to the water and get her involved with that.”
Any training highlights? “My highlight was the day I got Wafer. I remember Stephanie telling me that we were going to do our first walk together and that was it – that made my entire training experience.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “I’m currently working on getting recertified as a rehab instructor so I can help people learn Unified English Braille (UEB). Wafer will allow me to get out more and find people who may need this instruction.”
What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “If you are interested in a guide dog, I would look into all of the schools out there. Every school is different. The Home Training program is what sold me to come here. Anyone who has a secondary disability should go to Guiding Eyes. I really appreciate the help this organization gave me.”
How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “Guiding Eyes was willing to accommodate my needs so I could be successful in my training. I didn’t get that from other schools and that makes Guiding Eyes number one.I can’t say enough about the school and the independence Wafer has given back to me. It’s a dream come true.”
Graduate Team: Sheila and Watkins
About guide dog: Watkins, a male yellow Lab, is Sheila’s second guide dog from Guiding Eyes
Hometown: Carolina Shores, North Carolina
“A guide dog provides so much love, companionship, and independence.” Sheila can’t say enough great things about her Guiding Eyes guide dogs. As someone who stays active in her church, attends committee meetings as a nursing professional, and runs errands regularly with her husband, she lovingly describes Watkins as a great addition to her life.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Watkins is very loving, but he’s definitely an alpha. He wants to be the boss and in charge of everything! But he is such a loving dog.”
Why did you decide to get a guide dog? “When I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa 30 years ago, I was told that I would gradually lose my vision, which I did. I eventually had to stop working as a nurse. But when I moved to North Carolina, I started looking into Orientation and Mobility training so I could eventually get a guide dog. My sister is also blind, so I was always familiar with Guiding Eyes.”
What are you looking forward to about working with your guide dog? “He’s very responsive. I live in an area with no sidewalks, so I’m working diligently to shoreline with him.”
Any training highlights? “Watkins is extremely responsive in any store or situation. I take him to church every week and we even went to the airport. He is so well-behaved.”
How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “I am able to do so many things now. I have traveled across the country, something I would’ve been much less comfortable doing alone. Plus, a guide dog provides so much love, companionship, and independence.”
What would you say to someone thinking about getting a guide dog? “It’s a full-time commitment so think long and hard about it. You have to be ready, willing, and able to provide the dog with everything they need, but they are such a wonderful addition to your life.”
How do you feel about Guiding Eyes? “It’s a spectacular organization. My experience has been nothing but positive. I even still keep in touch with some of my classmates.”
Congratulations to Watkins’ puppy raisers, Jim and Lynn Sinnott and Carlo and Barbara Galante!