June On-Campus Training
Graduate Team: Tonia and Sassy
About the Team: Sassy, a female black Lab, is Tonia’s 2nd Guide Dog
Hometown: Louisville, Kentucky
Guide Dog Mobility Instructor: Shannon McGee
Tonia is married and lives in Kentucky. Sassy is her second guide dog, but the first from Guiding Eyes. In her role as an Assistive Technology Specialist, she has been teaching for over 20 years with the Kentucky Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, and recently became the DeafBlind Services Coordinator. She is the liaison between the rehab counselor and the DeafBlind individuals. She helps them obtain financial assistance and write grants for assistive devices. These clients can have multiple and often complex issues, that may require the responding team to include a job coach, a community rehab provider, a Helen Keller rep, or an interpreter. Tonia is responsible for putting together a team to assure that the resources and services needed are provided to them.
How would you describe your guide dog? “Sassy loves to get refreshed from the summer heat in a kiddie pool we bought her or swim in my friends’ backyard pool. Sassy enjoys playing tug or in our fenced in yard with our other dogs. We have bonded well, and her high energy makes the perfect match since we both enjoy a brisk walk. In harness, Sassy is focused and responsive to my commands and praise. She loves ‘target work’ in response to the clicker. This is a good thing because we’re incorporating lots of targets in the 1.2 mile route we’re currently working on, to and from work. Sassy is learning this route and doing very well.”
What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I observed co-workers and friends who had guide dogs from Guiding Eyes. I watched the dogs’ behavior in and out of harness, and I decided to apply to Guiding Eyes for my second dog. The training style was focused more on positive reinforcement, which indicated to me the quality and diligence of the dogs’ raisers and trainers. At graduation I met raisers, heard stories, and saw photos.”
How has a guide dog impacted your life? “I had sight until age 10, but an unfortunate dog encounter resulted in fear of dogs, so I didn’t get a guide dog until age 39. When I met guide dogs, I found them gentle and calm; not jumping on you and barking. I was happy with how quickly Sassy and I were in tune with each other. I love the sense of freedom and having a guide dog has enhanced my independence.”
Were there any training highlights? “I really liked the smaller class. Sassy was quickly responding to me, and while walking, was keeping her head up and focused on work. Shannon, my instructor, was great and reinforced that, as well as the importance of play to have ‘down’ time. GDMI Susan is awesome and worked with me on the touch command. It refocuses Sassy. I also appreciate Guiding Eyes having Regional GDMIs who are available to visit and are so willing to help.”
Sassy is a beacon of joy for everyone she interacts with and never leaves anyone without a smile. She is so full of energy and attitude, and truly lives up to her name. She works hard, plays hard, and naps harder. As a puppy, Sassy loved to go on hikes, runs, long walks, fun swims, and play dates with puppy friends. She also loved trips into Boston for work and loudly snoring during naps in the car or at my feet at any spare moment. What an amazing dog, and what an amazing team she makes with Tonia. I am so proud of how far Sassy has come to become the trusted and loving guide she is today. Best of luck to them both!
Rachel Larrivee, Puppy Raiser