Meet Guide Dog Class 295
Congratulations, Guide Dog Class 295
When our students first arrived on our campus, whether as first-timers or experienced guide dog handlers, they shared the same excitement and concerns. Would their dog be the right match? Would they be able to learn everything required, everything their exceptionally well-trained dogs already knew? Three weeks later, all are filled with the light and love that comes with living and learning alongside their warm, furry superheroes. Worries and self-doubts have been replaced by renewed confidence, courage, and a sense of possibilities ahead. With their dogs by their sides, the future is full of hope!
Meet the Class
Welcome Class #295 to the Southeastern Guide Dogs family. Congratulations on your hard work and accomplishments!
In 2004, Simon Bovinett suffered a sudden loss of blood supply to the optic nerve in one eye, a condition called non-arteritic ischemic optic neuropathy. Ten years later, the same thing happened to his other eye. Now, it’s as though Simon sees the world through a tightly woven screen door. Simon’s first guide, Rosie, retired in July, and now he’s been matched with Bob, a playful and affectionate yellow Lab. Bob will accompany Simon on walks, workouts at the YMCA, the grocery, and church. “A guide dog is really independence,” Simon notes.
Andi, a bubbly, friendly, and loving yellow Lab, is Bob Smallwood’s fourth guide from Southeastern Guide Dogs since the mid-90s. He’s sure that each dog was better than the last and says, “My fourth one is now the smartest one I’ve ever gotten, from the get-go!” Stargardt disease began affecting Bob’s vision when he was a child. He eventually lost most of the vision in his left eye and all but peripheral vision in the right. “Looking back on my life, the moment I felt unsafe or insecure walking down the street with a cane or traveling with a sighted guide, I decided that I needed something more,” he says. “And more just happened to be Southeastern Guide Dogs.”
Chris Holbrook’s vision loss began at birth with a nerve disorder called neurotrophic keratitis that causes an ongoing breakdown of the cornea. Three years ago, she suffered a detached retina in her left eye, which was replaced with a prosthesis. Her right eye is now legally blind. After having to retire from her 29-year career at Kroger, Chris decided it was time to get a guide dog. When I have B-Mac’s harness handle in my hand, it just feels like I’m coasting along,” Chris says of her new furry friend. “He is truly a blessing to me. I’m going to be happier, more relaxed, and calm. B-Mac is going to be my superhero.”
At 25, Steven Burns developed a thyroid disorder, and about 10 years later, the onset of Graves Disease required radiation and surgery. But the treatment resulted in radiation retinopathy, a slowly advancing disease that damaged his retinas and left him with progressively blurrier vision. Isolated and homebound, Steven felt nervous about getting his first guide dog. But now that anxiety has disappeared, thanks to a friendly and affectionate yellow Lab named Banks. “Banks is like a cross between an Olympic athlete and Albert Einstein,” Steven says, “because he’s super smart, super powerful, and athletic at the same time, and very thoughtful. He’s a companion that I’ll love, and he’s also kind of a protector that will get me out and about and keep me safe.”
On a normal workday three years ago, Ron Biegay’s life suddenly changed. He suffered a stroke that affected his optic nerves, and 24 hours later was totally blind. Now he’s been matched with Nelson, a fun-loving, carefree yellow Lab whose joy is contagious. “He loves to get out there, meet the community, lick hands, say hello, and then he likes to work,” says Ron. They are a great match! Ron praises Nelson for making him feel safe, and Nelson helps him break out of his shell of isolation. With his dog by his side, he’s ready to “get up and start again” and looks forward to a better tomorrow.
Daisie, a warm and cuddly black Lab, is Troy Miles’ third guide dog and just might turn out to be the best. “She is very calm, serene, and patient,” Troy says. Troy lost his vision at birth due to retinopathy of prematurity, which can affect infants born before their due date. “With Daisie, I feel protected and safe,” he says. “It’s more security and comforting with a dog.” Troy’s mother, Sheila, sees a “beautiful friendship and a bond building” between the pair, and notes, “Troy will have a lot more freedom!”
When Greg McLaughlin was only 3, a severe allergic response to an antibiotic resulted in Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a rare reaction that destroyed the sight in his right eye. In 2011, he lost vision in his left eye, which was later removed. Greg’s second guide, Neely, has recently joined the family, and this yellow Lab has brought vitality and youth into the house. “Neely is very happy and energetic,” Greg says. Together they plan to get out more, which helps Greg both physically and mentally. “There’s no telling what’s next,” he adds. “The renewed pace and energy coming up through that leash is good for me!”
Congratulations, Class 295 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.