Meet Class #284

Class 284 poses on a side walk with their guide dogs.

Pictured left to right: Richie Jacobs and guide Debbie, trainer Karen Mersereau, Angie Lopez and guide Sága, trainer Gabrielle Brown, Kris Gillespie and guide Giovanni, trainer Tony True, Bob Drury and guide Nelson, trainer Lynn Benus, Bailey Locklear and guide Mallee, Walter Daniel and guide Arthur

Congratulations Class #284!

We’re so proud to announce the official graduation of Guide Dog Class #284. You did it! You faced your fears, met your matches, overcame your obstacles, conquered the commands, were taught by your trainers, and now you’re an official part of the Southeastern Guide Dogs family. Well done! Thank you for trusting us for the past three weeks. Congratulations on your commencement, and enjoy your new best friends.

And to the rest of the family—our community of volunteers, donors, and friends—meet the crew that makes up Guide Dog Class #284.

Meet the class!

Until age 49, Richie Jacobs had no idea that he had Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON) which would cause blindness within a few months. But Richie’s optimism shines. “It wasn’t as bad as you would think, all things considered,” he says. “I had a lot of family and friends around me to keep me focused and busy.” Now he’s been matched with a “love bug” of a guide dog, a smart and affectionate black goldador named Debbie. “Debbie is amazing,” he says. “She’s going to help me through it and make me more independent; I know she will.”

Angie Lopez’s lifelong vision loss stems from her premature birth. Now she’s been matched with a beautiful yellow Lab named Sága. “I have a guide dog because I believe that I should be able to be free,” Angie says. “Free to go out, meet people, and have a good time with my life instead of sitting at home feeling sorry for myself. Life is too short…life is too beautiful…I want to enjoy it while I can. A dog makes you feel happy; it makes you feel young!”

It was 25 years ago that Kris Gillespie’s ophthalmologist diagnosed Kris with ocular histoplasmosis and multifocal choroiditis. She recalls how, when using her cane, people scurried out of her way. “With a guide dog, they admire the dog, and they speak to me,” she says. “I get to meet new people.” Kris returned to us for her third guide dog, and she couldn’t be happier with her friendly, well-mannered yellow Labrador, Giovanni. “He’s my 24-7 eyes,” she says. “He’s quite strong, but he also loves to snuggle.”

When Navy veteran Bob Drury woke up blind from optic nerve damage stemming from infections from service-related knee injuries, he became almost like a hermit for a few months. “I didn’t see anyone, didn’t talk to anyone, and if someone came up behind me…my PTSD kicked in.” Now he’s been paired with Nelson, a fun-loving black Lab who helps him navigate and also helps with his PTSD. “He’s made me more relaxed,” Bob says. “And he’s giving me back my personal freedom. I lost all my independence, but I was always a go-getter and I don’t give up.”

“Vision loss makes me who I am,” explains Bailey Locklear, who was born legally blind from optic nerve hypoplasia. “Every mountain I’ve gotten thrown at me, I’ve learned to overcome and be the best that I can be for myself—I push through, no matter what.” With her cheerful, can-do attitude, this recent high school graduate has a new best friend to guide her, a laid-back, happy yellow Lab named Mallee.

Walter Daniel was brokenhearted when he said goodbye to his first guide dog, Duchess Hannah. But this retired elementary school teacher, who was born with no sight in his left eye and legally blind in his right, dusted himself off and returned for his second guide. Walter was matched with Arthur, a sweet yellow Lab that shares his name with one of Walter’s beloved grandfathers. “Arthur seems to have the wisdom of an old man,” Walter says. “He’s an old soul like me, and he’s just what I wanted.”

Class #284, we congratulate each of you on all of your hard work and welcome you to the Southeastern Guide Dogs family!

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Did you miss our live stream of today’s graduation? Don’t worry! You can still view it here. Congratulations Class #283 on your hard work and we can’t wait to see your progress.

Posted on November 14, 2019 | Category: Blog, Graduates, Our Dogs