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September 2009 Graduates Class

Meet some of the members of our recent training class who graduated in September 2009.

September 2009 Class

And many thanks to our instructors:

Eric Bridges and Hans

Washington lobbyist returns for second dog

Eric Bridges, from Virginia, returned here for his second Guiding Eyes dog, Hans. Eric’s sight loss occurred as a result of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Now, at the age of 31, Eric is an active Washington, D.C. lobbyist who represents the membership of the American Council of the Blind.

Eric has been married for two years to another Guiding Eyes graduate, who has a black Lab. He is an avid fan of college football and hockey. Eric adapted well to Guiding Eyes’ new training curriculum, finding the new commands and practices effective and helpful.

Lena Contreras and Alden

Veteran handler gets first dog from Guiding Eyes


Lena was born in Japan and immigrated to the United States when she was three years old. She has had three guides, but Alden is her first from Guiding Eyes.

Lena lives in California and is approaching a “big birthday” 50. She is an independent provider of services to the disabled. She also creates and sells her own hand-fashioned pine needle baskets, lectures on disabilities to all types of groups, and volunteers at her church. She enjoys reading, taking long walks, hiking, and listening to the birds.

She found acclimating to Alden – how he thinks and works challenging, rewarding and reassuring.

Samantha Covington and Carly


Teenager embraces life and responsibilities of a guide dog handler


“A miracle in the making” is how Sammy Covington, 17, described her training at Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Her parents urged her to become a guide dog handler, as they watched Sammy’s vision deteriorate throughout her childhood. They also believed that Sammy would gain emotional fortitude with a guide at her side.

Sammy feels that Carly, her black female Lab, is much like she, and they understand each other perfectly. She aspires to become a lawyer in the field of family law or criminal justice for the needy. A talented artist, she particularly enjoys creating sculptures of birds and small animals.

Ron Davidson and Pal

Talented woodcarver finds second partner at Guiding Eyes

Ron returned from his home in Kansas for Pal, his second guide. His limited sight is due to both uveitis and an industrial accident. Ron was a furniture and cabinet builder for 38 years, and now, at age 54, is enjoying retirement. However, he is a talented woodcarver, creating three dimensional “portraits in the round.” So impressive is his work that he was profiled recently on the Kansas CBS affiliate television station, KWCH, in a segment entitled “Woodcarver Brings Pieces to Life for the Blind”.

Ron’s new guide is an energetic dog with a big heart and strong personality. He’ll accompany Ron as he travels to woodcarving events and volunteer activities. “Pal will just ‘pick up’ where my former guide left off.”

Miguel Gonzales and Adonis

Spanish-language speaker grasps full understanding of the Guiding Eyes life

Miguel lives in Connecticut and returned here for Adonis, his second Guiding Eyes dog. Unable to work, he keeps himself busy at home – cooking, listening to music, and visiting with friends. At one time, Miguel had high blood pressure. Once he started working with a guide dog, his pressure became normal.

Miguel was accompanied by a Spanish translator during his Guiding Eyes training. But it isn’t necessary to understand Spanish to grasp Miguel’s deep appreciation for his guide dog instruction, and for the companionship extended by the entire Guiding Eyes staff.

Michael Grondin and Justice

Active father enthralled with first Guiding Eyes experience

Diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy nineteen years ago, 53 year-old Mike Grondin came here from coastal Maine for his first guide dog, Justice. Mike is the father of two children and enjoys many sports: fishing, hunting, snowshoeing and white water rafting. He is happy to now be able to abandon his cane and truly enjoys Justice’s leadership qualities. In addition, Mike feels that Justice is able to read his mind and has concluded that “he is absolutely perfect.”

David Kweder and Doc

Computer engineer’s new guide to begin a commuter’s life

David Kweder was first partnered with a Guiding Eyes dog in 1985, and, in selecting a school, found exactly what he was searching for: a friendly, warm atmosphere with outstanding instruction. Doc will be David’s fourth guide.

David commutes to New York from New Jersey for his full-time job as a computer engineer, a position with the Federal government that he has held for almost twenty years. Thus, having the independence a Guiding Eyes dog provides is key to David’s career.

Patrick Leahy and Galahad

D.C. consultant and Guiding Eyes dog walk the halls of Congress

Pat Leahy, 35, returned here to be partnered with Galahad, his third Guiding Eyes dog. He was born with Lebers Congenital Amorosis and has a minimal amount of peripheral vision. Pat is a legal consultant residing in Washington, D.C. He works with six members of Congress on Capitol Hill.

Pat takes fitness seriously, and includes weight training as part of his regiment. He also skis, and keeps close track of his favorite sports teams. Pat knows from his prior guides that having a Guiding Eyes dog facilitates meeting new people. “Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a top notch organization filled with great instructors and leaders and their response to each student’s need is immediate and assuring.”

Myrta Lopez and Orchid

First-time graduate treats her new guide to the sound of music

Originally from Puerto Rico, 39-year-old Myrta Lopez came here from Connecticut, where she has lived since 2006. Her mobility instructor recommended Guiding Eyes to her, and during her training she was partnered with Guiding Eyes Orchid. Myrta’s degenerative sight loss is the result of retinitis pigmentosa.

Myrta came to the school with her brother Miguel, who also has RP. Myrta loves to listen to music and sings; she notes that Orchid loves the sound of her voice, so she has found a new fan and appreciative audience member.

Of Guiding Eyes, Myrta says that “every day is very special here and I am so glad that I came.”

Linda Olsen and Roz

YWCA executive leads active, hectic, and productive life

Linda Olsen, 54, has been married for 32 years and is the mother of a 17 year-old high school senior. Her progressive sight loss is caused by retinitis pigmentosa.

Linda works as the YWCA’s Director of Facilities and Volunteer Services in Genesee County, New York. In this position she recruits, trains and supervises volunteers to perform functions that will serve the community. When not working, Linda enjoys cooking, reading, swimming and riding tandem on the family bicycle. She looks forward to now being able to go when and where she wants without human assistance, and she is confident in Roz’s ability to safely lead her through her almost always congested and confusing daily schedule. “There is no other word to describe my experience here at Guiding Eyes. It all adds up to excellence.”

Sandy Thompson and Daytona

Customer service representative has ambitious vision for her future

Sandy, 33, is partnered with Daytona, her second Guiding Eyes dog. She lives in Ohio and has been married for ten years. Her eyesight steadily diminishing, Sandy initially heard about Guiding Eyes from alumnus Steve Kuusisto.

Sandy will readily tell you that her first Guiding Eyes dog changed her life. She is a recent graduate of The Cleveland Sight Center, a program that trains students in customer service and adaptive technology.  Sandy is currently employed as a technologist in a call center.  She is interested in mastering canine obedience training.

“Daytona is awesome,” Sandy exclaims. “I know that we’ll be a good team and take good care of each other.  This is a great organization. Guiding Eyes follows the latest sight impairment and canine research and implements new training methods to support new trends.”

Jay Williams and Whitney

Daredevil graduate reveres Guiding Eyes tradition

A nurse from North Carolina State College initially advised Jay Williams, 33, to pursue guide dog training. He is a fund raising coordinator and licensed professional counselor for substance abusers. His sight became seriously compromised by diabetes when he was 19 years old. He is married and father of a 2 1/2 year old with another one “on the way. ”

Jay worked and lived with his first guide for more than thirteen years. Jay’s adventurous inner voice has led him to sky diving, bungee jumping, and water skiing. Jay regards Whitney as his carrier of tradition: of freedom and liberty and an ambient bridge to the everyday world. “One sees clearly only with the heart; what is non-essential is invisible to the eye. I am most thankful for Whitney.”