January 2018 Graduating Class

Posted January 26th, 2018

January 2018 Class-1


My wish for all of the graduates from the past, in the future, and those sitting here today is that with the new four legs that will now lead you, that the world becomes bigger, your feeling of independence soars, and that you find everything overflowing with beauty. You are all an inspiration! Congratulations and enjoy the paths you find yourselves discovering!     Nancy Kern

Guiding Eyes for the Blind gratefully remembers our friend and supporter, Alice H. Mathias. Alice had a lifelong passion for animals and greatly valued our dogs and mission. Her generous legacy has enriched lives by providing our graduates with the independence and companionship of a Guiding Eyes dog.

Congratulations Trey and Shatner and all the graduating teams of the Class of January 2018! We are proud to sponsor your graduation day and wish you all the best in your travels together.

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


Watch this month’s graduation live by clicking here.

Residential Graduates:
Ashlie & Addie
John & Thor
Mushad “Kalif” & Fitz
Pamela & Allie (S)
Shelby & Olana
Susan & Dottie
Trey & Shatner (S)

HOME Training
Bernard & Herman
Joy & Eden
Lynnette & Cici
Michael & Pete
Oliver & Irwin
Rania & Clyde
Richard & Jiffy
Sandra & Val

P: A Pathfinder Society Member—someone who has remembered Guiding Eyes in their estate plans and has received this dog’s progress reports and photos from puppyhood.

S:  The donors listed below made a special gift to personally name the following dogs:
•    Allie was Special Named in loving memory of Alice H. Mathias.
•    Shatner was Special Named in honor of Priceline.com.

Congratulations to our graduating class!

Many thanks to our Training Staff:
Class Supervisor: Shanon Walsh
Class Instructors: Lori Busse, Cara Ebeling
Apprentice Instructor: Katherine Russell
Instructor Assistant: Marybeth Heady
Running Guides Specialist: Nick Speranza

HOME Training:
Graham Buck, Assistant Director of Training
Chrissy Vetrano, Home Training Instructor
Megan Baker, Home Training Instructor
Susan Kroha, Special Needs Instructor
Jessy DiNapoli, Special Needs Instructor
Dave Hagemann, Field Representative
Maureen Mellett, Field Representative


Ashlie & AddieA. Garrett &  Addie

A hard-working college undergraduate, Ashlie has a perspective on guide dog training that might surprise many who have been through it and say it’s more like boot camp. “It feels like it’s been a vacation,” she says of working with Addie, a female black Labrador and her first guide dog. “I’ve always lived a fast-paced lifestyle. I take so many classes, and I’m constantly keeping busy. But at Guiding Eyes I’m in a city and state I’ve never been to, and I get to take this lovely dog home with me.”

A native Californian, Ashlie attends the College of the Desert, where she is studying studio art. Legally blind since birth due to congenital optic nerve hypoplasia, she lives with her best friend Melissa, a guide dog handler. It was Melissa who inspired Ashlie to give up her white cane and work with a guide dog. And because she is traveling more by bus and attending night classes, Ashlie knew the timing was right.

Already she feels herself walking more confidently with a dog. “As long as Addie and I are connecting, we pull through,” she says. “Addie is my fashionista. We were walking in Macy’s, and she wagged her tail the entire time!” The oldest of five (“I’m the oldest and the shortest”), Ashlie hopes one day to open her own craft shop.

Congratulations to Addie’s puppy raisers, Sara Kate Hill and Carol Buchanan!


John & ThorJ. Stuber & Thor

Obstacle is a word John understands well—so well, in fact, that it’s become a word he embraces. John lost some of his vision in 1982 while serving in the Army and is a disabled veteran. He has been legally blind since 1986 when his retinitis pigmentosa grew worse.

His post-military career took him to the U.S. postal service, where he worked in building and vehicle repair until retirement. Now this father of four—with three stepchildren and six granddaughters—spends his time overcoming obstacles of his own making. He actually built an obstacle course on his Kentucky property with his wife Robin, a physical therapist assistant and fellow endurance racer. In their free time, John and Robin travel the country participating in Spartan and Tough Mudder obstacle course races. Last October John completed his first Ultra Beast Spartan race:  a 29.4 mile run with 65 obstacles throughout the course.

It’s not surprising, then, that John chose our Running Guides program and is thrilled to be partnered with Thor, a male black-and-tan German Shepherd, his first guide dog.  Running with Thor will mean John no longer has to rely on human guides to alert him to objects in his path. “Thor is definitely an athlete,” says John. “I think he can run an eight-minute mile.” Although John is used to training, training with a canine partner has been a different experience altogether.  “You have to come in with an open mind,” John explains. “I tend to think ahead of myself, and the trainers keep telling me to sit back and let them do the training.” As for Guiding Eyes, “The VA coordinator said I was going to love it here, and I do. They know when you’re having a down day, and they constantly make you feel like you’re family.”

Congratulations to Thor’s puppy raisers, David & Julie Albany!


Mushad “Kalif” & FitzM. Kalif Corley & Fitz

“When I first went blind,” says Kalif, “I didn’t have a support network of people like me. I knew I didn’t want to be that person who is isolated and closed off from the world. I wanted a place where people could feel safe and talk to each other.” While he’s describing Hands-On Club, a volunteer group for people with disabilities he co-founded in 2016, Kalif might as well be describing his experience with Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

Kalif (whose given name is Mushad) has had glaucoma since childhood and was declared legally blind in 2007 after a car accident resulted in detached retinas. The father of eight-year-old Danni’elle, Kalif is a DJ who lives in his native Brooklyn with his daughter, girlfriend Candice, and her Shih Tzu.

Kalif worked at a grocery store until 2015, three years after leukemia took the life of his wife and the mother of Danni’elle. He plans to begin a new job at Goodwill Industries in Manhattan this year. For now, working as a DJ at private parties and raising his daughter commands much of his time. He remains dedicated to growing the Hands-On Club, which currently has 14 members and meets two to three times per month. “I want to give back and help others,” Kalif says. “Anybody can learn Braille, but if you don’t have anywhere to go or anyone to talk to, what are you going to do?”  As for Fitz, a male black Labrador, Kalif is certain he can sense his emotions (“Fitz gets me,” he says simply). Fitz will be his second Guiding Eyes guide—and the first dog at the Club.  “Like a mascot,” says Kalif.

Congratulations to Fitz’s puppy raisers, Susan & Roger L’Hommedieu!


Pamela & AllieP. Cintron & Allie

For years, Pam dreamed of the day she would be paired with a guide dog, but she wasn’t sure that day would ever come.  “My eye doctor told me I didn’t need a guide dog because I had too much vision,” she says. “But today I’m legally blind, not totally blind. After approaching a number of guide dog programs, the Connecticut resident is particularly grateful to be working with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, and for more reasons than one might expect.  “Other schools just seem more structured and ‘business-y.’  Guiding Eyes feels more personal and homey.”  Most important, Guiding Eyes has also brought Allie, a female yellow Labrador, into her life.

A pari mutuel teller at Mohegan Sun casino, Pam was born with albinism. She lived the first eight years of her life in Puerto Rico, then moved to the U.S.  Until recently she was a student at Western Connecticut State University. Pam hopes to return to school to earn a degree in graphic design.  When she’s not working, she loves art, drawing, and digital design.” She describes her new canine partner as “calm, very affectionate, and just the right amount of playful.”  She adds, “Having Allie around is going to be like having an extra friend around, not just a tool that helps me do my day-to-day things.  If you’re walking down the street with a white cane, people tend to avoid you.  Everybody sees the cane and thinks you’re different. But with a dog, you’re more likely to have conversations. You’re more engaged with the world.”

Congratulations to Allie’s puppy raisers, Diane M. Gudaitis and Maureen Dinner!


Shelby & OlanaS. Kappler & Olana

Shelby has been legally blind due to Stargardt disease since 2003, and it’s quickly clear on meeting her that she has used her vision loss to motivate and help others. A student at the University of Wyoming, she is double majoring in international studies and Spanish and double minoring in anthropology and disability studies. Shelby is also a student representative on the school accessibility committee, and she is one of the founding members of Abilities, an on-campus group that provides support and advocacy to disabled students. It’s no surprise that she says she doesn’t have much time for hobbies (although she does admit to a fondness for Netflix).

The Washington State native lives with her boyfriend Garrett, with whom she studied abroad in the Netherlands last year. Olana, a female yellow Labrador and Shelby’s first guide dog, should prepare herself for travel, as Shelby loves to explore other cultures. “Going abroad was one of the reasons I decided a dog would be a good choice for me,” she says. “I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with my white cane. I felt like I was the center of attention and ignored, all at the same time.”

Regarding Olana, Shelby believes they are a natural pair:  both curious, both ready to go out and explore the world, and both a little bit goofy.  She’s looking forward to enjoying a new sense of security and the ability to relax when she navigates campus with Olana. While she considers herself an introvert, Shelby has traveled around the country, giving talks on disability rights advocacy, which is where she would like to focus her career after she graduates this year.

Congratulations to Olana’s puppy raisers, Sierra Bloomer and Katie LaBlue!


Susie & DottieS. Altaffer & Dottie

Although she has been legally blind due to type 1 diabetes since 1973, Susie has seen the world. Born in Paris to American parents, Susie lived in France until she was nine. After a brief stint in the U.S., she moved with her family—she is one of five children—to Sao Paulo, Brazil, where she lived for the next 25 years.  Having retired from a career as an ESL teacher, Susie moved to California in 1991 to be near one of her brothers and now lives in the same senior living community as her mother.

With Dottie, a female black Labrador, Susie welcomes her second guide dog and first from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. She describes her new partner as “beautiful, very mellow, and gentle.” When her previous dog retired in 2011, she says, “I had to relearn how to use my white cane. That’s because I had learned to trust my guide dog. I really hated my cane so I was dying to be partnered with a dog again. Dottie will give me my independence to just get up and go whenever I want to. We’re a team, so I won’t have to wait for someone to come and pick me up.”

Susie has experienced significant health challenges. She had a kidney and pancreas transplant, a stroke, and skin cancer. But she’s taken these setbacks in stride and stays active by walking, participating in three different book groups, and practicing yoga twice a week. “I was the first blind person in the class,” she says. “The teacher didn’t really know what to expect of me, and I didn’t exactly know what to expect of her.”  Now Dottie will accompany her partner to yoga, where she may even get her own yoga mat.

Congratulations to Dottie’s puppy raisers, The William B. Rector, III, Family!


Trey & ShatnerB. Trey Lewis & Shanter

Anyone familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality types will know exactly what Trey means when he says he is an “ESFJ.”  For those who don’t, here’s a translation:  extraversion, sensing, feeling, judging.  In other words, he’s a highly social creature. It makes perfect sense, then, that Trey’s days are happily filled with friends, work, and volunteering.  When he talks about Shatner, a male yellow Labrador and his first guide dog, Trey may as well be talking about himself:  “Shatner loves people,” he says. “He’s caring—a great dog.”

Although Trey has been blind since the age of five due to neurofibromatosis Type 1, he has always used a white cane, whether he was in school (first at the Oklahoma School for the Blind, then at the University of Central Oklahoma), or hanging out with friends. Now, however, he has just left home to move to a large Oklahoma city. He knows that having a dog will help him in his travels as well as encourage others to approach him. “Shatner will open up my daily life more,” Trey explains.  “And he and I can hang out together.”

An only child who comes from a tight-knit family, Trey works in the telemarketing department of Tulsa World newspaper. A year ago he used his undergraduate degree in applied technology to start his own music publishing company, 12th Gate Publishing. In his free time, Trey loves to hang out with friends in coffee shops, at the movies, waterskiing on a nearby lake—or rooting for his favorite sports teams. Although Trey is a lifelong Oklahoman, his favorite professional teams are in…Boston!

Congratulations to Shatner’s puppy raisers, Alyssa Cornelius and Shannon Reddy!