MEET GUIDE DOG CLASS 294
We’re so excited to say, “Well done, Class 294!” Our recent guide dog class worked hard and overcame obstacles—both physical and invisible—to reach this achievement and graduate! These students came from Florida, Georgia, New York, and South Carolina with one shared goal: to enjoy life with new hope, new independence, and new guide dogs by their sides.
To our graduates, we say…
Whatever adventures await, we know that your smart, loving, loyal, and determined companions will never let you down. As Dr. Suess says, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose!” Well now, you have the perfect dog to navigate with through life. Bon voyage!
Meet the Class
Class 294 consists of students who lived and trained on our beautiful campus and those who were trained in their home and communities. We enthusiastically welcome the newest members of the Southeastern Guide Dogs family!
Aliese “Allie” Hummel can’t imagine life without music. She started playing trumpet at age 12 and became captain of her three high school bands. She never let vision loss from Stargardt disease get in the way of pursuing her passion. Now she’s been matched with a bubbly, cuddly yellow Lab named Lady and couldn’t be happier. Allie plans to attend the University of North Florida next semester to study music education, with Lady keeping tempo. “I’m going to have a friend wherever I go,” she says. “I’ll never be alone.”
Arnold O’Neal loved his 25 years as a sound engineer in the Nashville music industry, until retinitis pigmentosa ended that career. Now, he’s met his third guide dog, Lee, and feels excited and blessed to be paired with this sweet yellow Lab. Arnold and his wife recently sold their spa business, and now with Lee, he looks forward to taking trips, offering financial coaching, pastoring at his church, and telling everyone possible how much he appreciates Southeastern Guide Dogs!
Christine O’Brien was born with retinopathy of prematurity, an eye disorder that can affect premature babies. She’s had two guide dogs, but it’s been more than 20 years since her last, Walker, retired and then passed on. Now that Christine and her husband live in a pedestrian-friendly retirement community, she felt it was time for another guide dog. Enter Sammy, a lovable yellow Lab with a wiggly tail and a big heart. Christine will walk with Sammy to the grocery store, the post office, and most of all, the pool where she likes to do laps. Sammy will give her the independence she’s been missing.
Two years ago, James “Jay” Brown was cutting a shelving unit for a new backyard shed and didn’t realize there was gunpowder close to his tools. The resulting explosion blew him out the door and into another reality: blindness. He could no longer work as a correctional officer for the state of New York, but Jay did not despair. Now, he says he can do even more, thanks to his new guide dog, Nanc, a laid-back black goldador. “She fits me excellently,” Jay says. “She keeps in contact with me all the time when we are working together, and the confidence is phenomenal.”
At 17, McKenzie Hanlon suffered from terrible migraine headaches. Doctors discovered a massive brain aneurysm and operated to relieve pressure on her skull. McKenzie survived two nearly fatal strokes, but awoke from an induced coma paralyzed on the right side and with her vision damaged. Now 22, she has met CJ, a playful, happy yellow Lab who loves snuggles, and McKenzie sees a social work degree on the horizon. “It’s truly wonderful and fascinating,” she says. “Instead of tripping, falling, and crashing into obstacles as I did with a cane, CJ especially knows what’s coming and what to maneuver me around.”
Sheryl Hedrick compares each of her guide dogs to a vehicle. Her first guide, Luke, was a Cadillac, followed by Houston, a Porsche. Now, she has another Luke, a good-sized yellow Lab who she compares to a premium pickup truck. Life will never be dull with this team! Luke and Sheryl will swim together and walk rural trails in the state park near her home. They live on a working farm with a menagerie of animals. Sheryl teaches Sunday school, and—despite her retinitis pigmentosa—is the top female darts shooter in town. She loves to hear competitors complain, “I got beat by the blind woman!”
At birth, Taylor Howard had a stroke that caused homonymous hemianopia, a condition where she sees only one side of each eye’s visual field. She has used a cane since she was young, but after struggling with pavement cracks and low-hanging branches, she decided she was ready for a guide dog. She was matched with a cuddly, affectionate guide named Ralph, who she says, “knows when it’s time to work and when it’s time to rest.” With Ralph by her side, Taylor plans to attend Georgia Southern University to study nuclear medicine. “Ralph is going to change my life,” she states.
In her 50’s, Talibah Adisa welcomed her first guide dog after her sudden vision loss that followed surgery to remove a pituitary tumor. Talibah had enjoyed a career with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, working in air quality, then with the Miami Dade County Department of Environmental Resources in environmental education. After her eyesight was compromised, she retired to focus on family, friends, volunteering, and travel adventures. Over the years, guide dogs Kayde, Koenig, Lucian, and Celia helped Talibah enjoy her freedom. Now, she’s been paired with a golden retriever named Quirt, who will be very busy once they start traveling. “He’s pretty close to perfect,” Talibah says.
Isaac Lidsky believes that you can lose your sight yet magnify your vision. At 13, he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa and was blind by age 25. After earning degrees in math and computer science at 19, Isaac started and sold an internet innovation company, gained a law degree from Harvard, and became the first blind clerk for the U.S. Supreme Court. He is also an author, motivational speaker, serial entrepreneur, and the father of 10-year-old triplets and a baby girl. Enter Snowy, a trustworthy yellow Lab who is fun while quite serious. Isaac says of his first guide dog, “She has already changed my life for the better, by teaching me a tremendous amount about myself and how to take care of myself.”
Congratulations, Class 294 and welcome to the Southeastern Guide Dogs family! And thank you to our sponsors, donors, puppy raisers, volunteers, and staff for making this day possible!
Guide dogs are a lifeline to freedom and hope. They are best friends and secret keepers. They are givers of hugs and endless affection. They help people find the confidence they need to live their best life now. These dogs are family.
The waiting list for one of our dogs is growing, and your support today will change the world for someone who is hoping for a dog of their own. You can make a difference—donate now.