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Virginia and Sama

Meet Graduate Virginia

Virginia sits with black Lab guide Sama in front of a Miami Lighthouse signGraduate Team: Virginia and Sama
About the Team: Sama, a female black Lab, is Virginia’s 5th Guiding Eyes guide dog
Location: Miami, Florida
Training: March 2024 Home Training

Virginia has been the President and Chief Executive Officer of Miami Lighthouse for the Blind since 2005. She is their first blind President and CEO. Her vision loss is due to a degenerative eye disease that led to her total loss of vision in the year 2000. Virginia was born in Racine, Wisconsin but has spent much of her life in Indiana. She worked as a financial executive at Purdue University, where she served for twenty-two years, including 12 years directing financial affairs for the President and Provost. She has been married to her husband, Robert, for fifty years. He is a tenured professor at Purdue University, teaching civil engineering. This accomplished couple has three adult children, two daughters, and a son, as well as six grandchildren. One daughter is Professor and  Chair of Health Informatics and Data Science and Co-Head of the Centre for Medical Informatics at the Usher Institute, The University of Edinburgh, and the other is Sr. Director of Oncology Clinical Development at Eli Lilly and Company. Their son is the Director of Digital Marketing for Lids, a national retailer of fan gear. Virginia’s extracurricular activities are devoted to helping blind children. She concurrently serves as President of the Miami Lighthouse Academy, as well as the Florida Heiken Children’s Vision Program. Her mission is to help financially disadvantaged school children have access to education, blindness prevention programs, and vision rehabilitation training. Sama is Virginia’s fifth guide dog from Guiding Eyes. Her previous guide dog, Eva, was retired after 10 years of service and is currently living with her husband in Indiana.

How would you describe your guide dog? “Sama is very calm and extremely well-trained. Her extensive training is evident, as she knows her commands without hesitation, and she is very attentive. She is able to not only guide me to and from the elevator in the high-rise where I live, but has also been trained to help with the up and down elevator buttons without me having to fuss. I never thought that would be possible.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes? “I was introduced to Guiding Eyes back in 2001 when I received my first guide dog. I was referred by the Miami Lighthouse mobility specialist when I was there for skills training after I lost my vision.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “When I received my first guide dog it transformed my life. I became independent and my mobility was regained. I observed early on that the quality of breeding and the training Guiding Eyes guide dogs receive was second to none.”

Were there any training highlights? “My field trainer was Dave Hagemann. Guiding Eyes sent him down to Miami, which I thought was beyond remarkable and accommodating. I must also add that it is very apparent that Sama’s puppy raisers did a remarkable job in preparing her for training to become a guide dog.”

Meet Guide Dog Sama

DOB:  10/23/2021
Litter ID: S-3G321
Color/Breed:  Black/Labrador
Gender: Female
Brood: Lark
Stud: Gerald
Littermates: Gretel, Garrett, Galahad, Gary, Grant, Greer, Gable
Region:  Montgomery
Regional Puppy Instructor: Jeanyne Gembarski
Puppy Raiser:  Jane Santy

From the Puppy Raiser…

Sama had a lot of “firsts”! Our first special name puppy, first group of puppies flown to raisers by Pilots to the Rescue, and our first puppy to become a guide. She is the 5th puppy we raised for GEB and our second “grand puppy” from Lark. This sweet, funny, cuddly pup taught us her own special language “The World According to Sama” with curiosity, grace, determination and persistence and filled our days with joy and laughter. She impressed us with her smarts, single-mindedness and her antics. She mastered every skill so quickly. She took on every challenge and conquered each in her own time frame. In true Sama fashion, she chose her own path and went into training where she climbed, conquered and reached the summit to become an official guide. Her paw print will always be on our hearts and we will be forever grateful for the 15 1/2 months and over 2800 miles we shared training, walking, talking and loving. We wish Virginia and Sama a fabulous and successful partnership and we know that Sama will be well loved, adored and a great ambassador for Guiding Eyes and Miami Lighthouse for the Blind. We can’t wait to follow their adventures and we can’t end without a very special thank you to the village of people in the Montgomery Region who guided, trained, played, walked, talked and loved Sama to become the awesome pup she was born and bred to be. ~ Jane Santy

Photos of the Team…

Special Recognition: Sama was special named by Sama, a company which seeks to contribute to more ethical AI, (Artificial Intelligence).