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September 2019 Graduating Class

The official class photo for the residential graduates in our class of September 2019

Congratulations to our September 2019 Graduating Class!

“Congratulation to Team Finn! May you have many safe and happy adventures together. Thank you to the puppy raisers of these amazing dogs for all they do to support the Guiding Eyes mission. Special thanks to Region Manager, Joy Hawksby, for her guidance and support in helping the Central NY raisers and puppies be the best they can be!”

— Central New York Puppy Raising Region

Congratulations to the September 2019 graduating class and guide dog team, Thomas and Blaze, from Cindy Sullivan and Bob Rollmann, fosters for proud dad GEB Ingot.”    

— Cindy Sullivan and Bob Rollmann

“Congratulations to the September 2019 graduating class from the Trivedi family. Good luck with your new best friends. We hope you experience new adventures and overcome challenges together for many years to come. Please stay in touch and keep us updated with your progress.”

— Dr. Gaurang Trivedi

Residential Graduates:

Jim and Vespa
Chris and Ronnie
Verlisa and Addie
Elle and Fauna
Cody and Drummer

Home Training Graduate:

Thomas and Blaze
Christopher and Rico
Eric and Trent
Megan and Finn
Robert (Kevin) and Hedy

Many thanks to our Training Staff:

Class Supervisor:  Jolene Hollister
Instructor:  Katherine Russell
Instructor:  Michelle Tang
Instructor Assistant:  Maddy Swab
Home Training: Lisa Derleth, Nikki Wentz,
Jolene Hollister, Julie Angle
and Andrea Martine

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

Meet the Residential Training Graduates

Formal photo of Jim and black lab guide dog Vespa

Graduate Team: Jim & Vespa
About the Team: Vespa, a female black Lab, is Jim’s 6th guide dog
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

 Now retired, Jim enjoys spending time with his wife, Sue, who is a retired teacher. Jim is very involved in the guide dog community, including participation in a coalition that meets regularly through teleconference to discuss issues facing Canadian guide dog handlers nation-wide. He is also very passionate about music; Jim plays multiple instruments, sings, is currently taking courses to learn more about recording software and even has a small recording studio in his home! He is very much looking forward to bringing Vespa home to Montreal and is sure that she and Sue will be fast friends.

How would you describe your guide dog? “Vespa has been so great; she responds very nicely to verbal commands and she’s very quiet and dainty on the feet. It’s been a very nice transition from my last dog; they are different in many ways, but both have been great for me. Vespa’s pull is just right. She is in control and she knows just what she is doing. When out of harness, Vespa is a lovey-dovey pooch and is always next to me.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “Before I got my first guide dog, I was attending a program at the Montreal Association for the Blind, and there were some Guiding Eyes employees giving a presentation. I felt that they were very sincere and very proud of their organization. I got my first dog from Guiding Eyes in 1980 and I’ve never looked back.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “Things were very cloudy back then, but then on a sunny day I was with a trainer and I took that first step with a guide dog, and things changed. Then, slowly the internal barriers fell away, and in turn, the external barriers fell, too. It was magical. This process is so empowering. Your heart goes into the dog and theirs goes into you.”

Were there any training highlights? “All the students here are characters. They are very driven individuals, and I think that empowerment has hit them, too. The young ones are moving forward, going to university or management jobs; they’re all very amazing people. It’s a good vibe and a good feeling here at Guiding Eyes, and there’s still that sense of pride and care that really shines through from the entire staff.”

Congratulations to Vespa’s Puppy Raiser, Janet Newcity!

Formal photo of Chris with black lab guide dog Ronnie

Graduate Team: Chris & Ronnie
About the Team: Ronnie, a male black Lab, is Chris’ 1st guide dog
Hometown: North Platte, NE

Chris is an Area ADA Coordinator for Mid Planes Community College and is looking forward to traveling more with his first guide dog, Ronnie, by his side. Chris enjoys cooking, fantasy sports, and putting bacon on just about anything. Chris is also one of the co-chairs of the Blind & Low Vision special interest group(SIG) AHEAD, the Association of Higher Education Disability Services, which is a national organization that is committed to equality for persons with disabilities in higher education. 

How would you describe your guide dog? “He is everything that I’m not. Ronnie is a lot more mellow with a quieter spirit, but that doesn’t mean he’s not strong. It was like it was meant to be. He is my strength.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I spoke with a graduate last year and she and I did a lot of research and bounced things off of each other. Long story short, there was something about the philosophy at Guiding Eyes that just felt right. The length of the training, the way things were done. I think I was even more sure after my home interview that this was the right place for me.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “My workplace is set up with four hallways leading from the college, so every time you leave the hallway you reach a blind corner and I have to focus on knowing where I need to go. I’m looking forward to moving swiftly through the halls with Ronnie while avoiding others. Plus, I think with Ronnie I’ll actually do a lot more traveling than I’ve done before.”

Were there any training highlights? “We were traveling through heavy pedestrian traffic while on route the other day and when I got to the corner it just hit me how treacherous that would’ve been to get through with a cane. Ronnie made it so smooth and effortless for me; it was that moment when it’s like ‘okay this is what it’s all about.’ He even waited for a car that ran a red light to pass before getting us through an intersection. I’ve really come to trust Ronnie and this is just the beginning as we continue to work as a team. You still have to do your part of it, but I’m actually able to focus on that better than I was before. There’s a little relief in that stress and load that you carry.”

 Congratulations to Ronnie’s Puppy Raiser, Lee Nagell!

Formal photo of Verlisa with black lab guide dog Addie

Graduate Team: Verlisa and Addie
About the Team: Addie, a female black Lab, is Verlisa’s 1st guide dog
Hometown: Wichita, KS

Verlisa is looking forward to her newfound independence alongside her guide dog, Addie. Verlisa works at Envision, a company that makes supplies for the military. She enjoys reading in her free time and loves Addie’s silly personality. 

How would you describe your guide dog? “Very much like me: quiet, but full of fun! She makes me laugh all the time. And the things Addie can do are just amazing. She knows exactly when I sit down that I’m about to say ‘close’ and she gets down and waits for me to slide her under the chair so neatly.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “Safety and independence. Having a guide dog will make my family feel more comfortable knowing I am out traveling on my own. I’m really confident in Addie’s ability to help me navigate around obstacles; and I know I’ll be more independent with her by my side.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “I’m excited to introduce her to my children and grandkids. I’ve been telling my family all about the things she can do, so they’re excited to see it in person and I’m happy to show them! I’m also looking forward to taking Addie walking in a local park and being able to travel to the store with just Addie and not having to rely on someone else.”

Were there any training highlights? “I really like Guiding Eyes overall and what they’re doing for the blind and visually impaired community. I had such a good experience and truly loved it. Everybody back home is excited to see me with my dog because most people in my hometown haven’t had much exposure to guide dogs. Hopefully, it will inspire more people to come to Guiding Eyes for a guide dog. I would definitely recommend Guiding Eyes because they are so hospitable. They’re spoiling me here so much that I don’t know if I want to go home! The staff in Rosie’s Cafe feed you so well and everything is so accessible.”

Congratulations to Addie’s Puppy Raisers, Sara Kate Hill & Carol Buchanan!

A formal photo of Elle with yellow lab guide dog Fauna.

Graduate Team: Elle and Fauna
About the Team: Fauna, a female yellow Lab, is Elle’s 1st guide dog
Franklin, TN

Elle comes to us from the city of Franklin, TN and looks forward to taking her new guide dog, Fauna, back home to meet her friends and family. Elle is an artist who draws, paints, and sculpts and also enjoys spending her free time listening to music, watching TV and playing with Fauna. 

How would you describe your guide dog? “Fauna is amazing. She is cuddly, playful, spunky, and beautiful. She is a great dog.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I wanted a guide dog to give me more independence and confidence. Back at home, I don’t always feel as comfortable with my cane as I would like to. I thought a guide dog would benefit my life and open doors for me.”

What are you looking forward to about returning home with your guide dog? “I’m looking forward to introducing her to my friends and family and taking her everywhere I go.”

Were there any training highlights? “How do you pick one thing out of everything? Working with Fauna on stairs has been remarkable for me. She’s done really great. She’s also a pro at crossing intersections. With her, I’m able to feel a lot more comfortable.”

Congratulations to Fauna’s Puppy Raiser, Day Palmer!


A formal photo of Cody with black lab guide dog Drummer.

Graduate Team: Cody and Drummer
About the Team: Drummer, a black male Lab, is Cody’s 1st guide dog.      
Everett, WA

Cody has just completed his Freshman year of college and will soon be starting his Sophomore year at Eastern Washington University where he is pursuing a degree in Recreational Therapy. He is interested in possibly working in a variety of settings like schools or correctional or mental health facilities. Cody very much enjoys playing sports of any kind and is very involved in his school’s intramural sports leagues. He participates in multiple sports throughout the week and particularly enjoys soccer and basketball. 

How would you describe your guide dog? “He’s an energetic, funny kind of dog and a great guide dog. He’s very serious when he’s working and when not working, he is silly, care-free, and loving.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I was tired of my cane getting stuck in the cracks of the sidewalk, so I started looking into getting a guide dog. I had a friend that graduated from Guiding Eyes and they highly recommended the school to me.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “During the day, I’m not having to rely too much on my residual vision to look down anymore. I can really rely on Drummer, and then I can focus more on assessing the traffic and keeping us safe.”

Were there any training highlights? “It’s been really awesome to see how far we have come as a team. Today a dog tried to distract Drummer, and he did a good job of just ignoring the distraction as much as he could and focusing on his work. I also feel that for me, being here has helped me to be more independent. I’ve never traveled cross-country on my own, so this was a great opportunity for me to see what I was capable of.”

Congratulations to Drummer’s Puppy Raiser, Alexander McIntyre!

Meet the Home Training Graduates

A formal photo of Thomas with yellow lab guide dog Blaze.Graduate Team: Thomas and Blaze
About the Team: Blaze, a male yellow Labrador, is Thomas’ 3rd Guiding Eyes dog
South Salem, NY

As CEO of Guiding Eyes for the Blind and a husband and father of four, Thomas has a very busy and full work and family life. Staying active and healthy is very important to Thomas, and he has very much enjoyed being able to run with Blaze. Thomas recently became the first blind runner to complete the 2019 NYC Half Marathon guided solely by a relay team of 3 dogs. Thomas’ retired guide, Gus, marked the beginning of his retirement by completing the last leg of the Half Marathon with Thomas and crossing the finish line. Thomas has been enjoying some family activities with Blaze, like visiting movie theatres or welcoming friends and family into their home. Thomas is excited to be doing some traveling in the near future and is looking forward to bringing Blaze along for the first of many plane rides together.

How would you describe your guide dog? “Blaze is a fun-loving and confident dog who loves his bones! He has the best house manners that I’ve ever seen. His only fault is that he’s so cute it’s difficult to keep people from petting him! We’ve been able to travel in so many different environments, from big box stores to Manhattan, and he’s just a lovable dog. Blaze can match my faster walking pace and we’ve been able to run together. Honestly, he’s like the perfect guide dog, so I’ve been really very pleased with him.”

 What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I’ve had guide dogs from two other schools, and the freedom to work with a staff that embraces innovation and trying new things makes Guiding Eyes a very special place. The training here at Guiding Eyes is very specialized and has been able to meet my specific needs. I recently graduated with another guide dog which did not work out, and it is important for people to know that this is okay and is part of the process when getting a guide dog. That’s why people spend three weeks here and why we do the follow-up work after our teams graduate. The trainers here work tirelessly to make sure that the teams they train are going to be successful, and the dogs that make it through the program and stay with their handler are the ones that are meant to be.”

 How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “Having a guide dog really gives you the confidence to get out there and travel independently, go to school, get a job, and do all of the things that a person would do without vision loss. Life without a guide dog can be tough and this process can be really freeing. These dogs really unbind us from some of the limitations that blindness brings, allowing us to focus more on relationships with other people and the other important aspects of our lives. An experienced guide dog handler picks up that harness handle and it really is second nature – just a natural part of how you are mobile.”

 Were there any training highlights? “I do quite a bit of public speaking and while speaking at a formal event in Manhattan, Blaze was rolling on his back playing with his leash and many mentioned that it was a great stress-reducer. He can be a bit silly and I think that is welcome in some environments. He can also be incredibly well-behaved; there have been quite a few ‘Ah-ha’ moments in his training. Our trainer, Jolene, was led, blindfolded, by Blaze for 20 blocks in New York City, and it was pretty amazing to see the confidence that she had in him and the team that trained him.”

Congratulations to Blaze’s Puppy Raiser, Kelly Walsh!

Megan stands next to guide dog Finn, a yellow lab in harness. Finn sits on a low concrete wall while at Megan's side.

Graduate Team:   Megan and Finn
About the Team: Finn, a male yellow Lab, is Megan’s 1st Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown: Houston, Texas

Megan is currently working towards a bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Sciences and Health Promotions, with the goal of becoming a Diabetes Educator, providing support to those living with the disease. She understands the challenges faced, having been a diabetic herself for 37 years. Megan enjoys listening to mystery novels, particularly by Patterson and Baldacci, and singing along to music, preferring Soft Rock, Alternative and Country. She likes being outdoors and meeting people, and being involved in her church communities is an important part of her life. 

How would you describe your guide dog? “Finn is very lovable and social. I’m often told he’s such a handsome dog! He’s very good at getting me wherever I need to go and finding targets. If I say, ‘to the door’, he knows which one I’m talking about. He listens very well and pays close attention. He’s sensitive to my sight/balance issues, looking back now and then to check on me.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes?  “I had heard the name of Guiding Eyes on the Internet and the Today Show. Then I learned of the Specialized Training program, so needing another guide dog, I called to find out about dogs trained for people who are blind, but have other issues.  Unlike others schools I spoke to, Guiding Eyes was willing to work with me and my balance issues. Also, being able to train in my home environment was a big plus.” 

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “For the better. It’s made me more willing to get outdoors and walk or work. I was hesitant on some sidewalks with the cane, because I didn’t always know my way. He’s made it much better. He knows what to go around and sees the obstacles that could impact my balance. And I love him.”

Were there any training highlights? “I was surprised by his sensitivity to my needs. Now, I’ve become more and more grateful that he’s cautious to keep me safe. I don’t know myself, what I might be about to fall over. He’s so watchful as to how close to the edge of the sidewalk I get, and leads me to the left or right. I’m very appreciative. I love him so much and we get along great.”

Congratulations to Finn’s puppy raisers, Donna Lynd and Family

Chris stands with black lab guide dog Rico on a park path.

Graduate Team:   Christopher and Rico
About the Team: Rico, a male black Lab, is Chris’ 4th Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown:  Portland, Maine

Chris works as a receptionist at Portland’s career center and returns to Guiding Eyes for his 4th dog. He enjoys being on his computer or tablet, playing games or browsing the Internet. As an organ transplant recipient, Chris follows the latest advancements in research for the support of transplant patients. He also focuses on staying fit, exercising to support his balance and coordination on a prosthetic leg. Whether working at the center, attending church services, walking or relaxing at home, Chris and Rico continue ahead as a team.

How would you describe your guide dog? “Rico is my first male and bigger than my previous dogs. This is good, because he is tall and strong and that helps me keep my balance. If I start to lean against him for a moment, we’re able to keep moving forward. Guide dogs are like two dogs in one. When he is in harness, he’s all business as he was trained to be. As soon as that harness comes off, he becomes a dog with a ball or a toy. After work he runs around like, I’m free! I laugh at him being a goofball every day.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes?  “Originally an O&M instructor recommended that I apply for a guide dog and suggested this school. Guiding Eyes has a specialized training program the others don’t have. I got my first three dogs from here too, but this was my first home training.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “Getting around is smoother and I can definitely go faster outside. I feel more confident with a dog; I’m less likely to fall and get hurt. Rico gets me from point A to point B and if there is an obstacle, he’ll take me around it.  He does things, like steering me to the side, because other things are going on that I’m not aware of. I learned to trust his decisions.”

Were there any training highlights? “The newer training really stresses positive reinforcement; lots of praise and encouragement.  I had to get used to using ‘touch’ and the clicker sound, but he responds really well to it.  He also did something different than what I’m used to. When he brings me to the ‘up’ curb, he puts his front paws up on the curb and then stops. I like that a lot; it helps me with my balance tremendously.”

Congratulations Rico’s raiser, Nicole Dorsey!

Eric poses with black lab guide dog Trent.

Graduate Team:  Eric and Trent
About the Team: Trent, a male black Lab, is Eric’s 4th Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown: Arlington, Virginia

Eric is the Executive Director of American Council of the Blind, a national membership organization that provides support for the blind and visually impaired, including advocating for the rights of legitimate guide dog teams. Eric has been with the organization for 13 years and in his current role oversees daily operations, as well as staff providing communications, advocacy and outreach. Eric and his wife Rebecca, also a guide dog user, are big sports fans, following College Football, the NFL and Major League Baseball, especially the Washington Nationals and the Chicago Cubs. However, originally from Iowa, he remains loyal to the UI Hawkeyes. Eric and his family also enjoy outside activities, like going for walks with their dogs. (Note: Shortly after Trent’s arrival into their home, the family not only cheered the Nationals to a World Series championship, but more importantly welcomed Noah, a baby brother for son Tyler.)

How would you describe your guide dog? “Trent is a sweetie and pretty athletic, too. He’s a quick study and only has to go through patterning a couple of times, even at some pretty complex destinations. I fly a great deal for work, and he performs beautifully in airports and big city settings. Trent’s taken a shine to my 5 year old and will lie down beside the bed until Tyler falls asleep at night, then come down to join me after.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I like the training and philosophy and I like the dogs. They’ve been phenomenal. Over the years, I’ve known a lot of the people working at Guiding Eyes; it’s familial like that. The ability to home train with a demanding job and young family was so helpful.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “My guide dogs have allowed a greater sense of independence and also empowerment in certain situations. You’re on offense, not defense; the dog is there to take you around stuff and get you to your destination as quickly as possible.”

Were there any training highlights? “Trent’s lack of dog distraction is pretty awesome. We live in a neighborhood with lots of dogs and I noticed right away that he does beautifully with focus. Overall, I really enjoyed the professional style of our trainer, Nikki and how this training was tailored to my needs; airports and the metro play a big role in the day to day life I lead. One really neat component of home training was being able to adjust Trent’s speed so my son can walk with me, holding my hand. Trent and I normally walk really fast, but Tyler is five and his little legs require a slower pace.”

Congratulations to Trent’s Puppy Raiser, Catherine Langston!A formal photo of Kevin with black and tan German Shepherd Hedy.

Graduate Team:  Robert (Kevin) and Hedy
About the Team: Hedy, a female German Shepherd, is Kevin’s 5th Guiding Eyes dog
Hometown: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Kevin hails from Canada and returns to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for his 5th guide dog and first German Shepherd, Hedy. He enjoys engaging in the pursuit of fitness, an interest renewed over the past few years. Kevin looks forward to all of the adventures ahead, that he and Hedy will safely enjoy together. 

How would you describe your guide dog? “My dog Hedy is intelligent, take charge, full speed ahead, playful, and spunky.  She is my fifth guide dog over the past 20 years and I’ve always been interested in having a German Shepherd. I’m really pleased to have Hedy now. She is an amazing dog.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “What inspired me to apply for my most recent Guiding Eyes dog, Hedy, is simply the fact that I have had a 20 year history with the school. I was confident in both their breeding and training practices.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “Having a guide dog has given me a renewed sense of freedom, inspired by a new confidence in knowing that when I step out my front door, I have someone beside me; watching over me. Having guide dogs has also inspired personal growth and self-improvement, as with the freedom comes responsibility. Embracing that has been an inspiration.”

Were there any training highlights? “The training highlight which most vividly stands out was working my new dog for the first time. As soon as I gave the forward command and we started moving for the first time, I felt her level of energy and just had a great big smile on my face.”

Congratulations to Hedy’s Puppy Raiser, Cassie Houghton!