Meet Guide Dog Class 298
Congratulations, Guide Dog Class #298!
Six unique students overcame significant obstacles to become part of the graduating class that recently completed their training. Four met with their first-ever guide dogs, while two returning students matched with successor dogs. All were thrilled with the tight bonds they formed during three weeks of training. Now, they look forward to a bright future beside their new best friends.
Meet the Class
Lisa Kemp is a lifelong learner with four college degrees in education, business, and human resources training and development. Work took Lisa all over the country until 2010, when she lost her vision and her job due to retinopathy. At first, she didn’t think she was blind enough to take a guide dog away from someone else. Then her neighbor brought her to Southeastern Guide Dogs for a tour and a glimpse of what could be. Lisa is now paired with a friendly, gentle giant named Charlie, a loving, laid-back Lab who is intuitive about her moods and can keep up with her active lifestyle. “Life will be better,” she says. “With friends now, I always rely on them physically. I hold onto an arm or a shoulder. They don’t mind. But with Charlie, I know that I will feel more independent.”
Bob Newport has a rare genetic disorder called pseudoxanthoma elasticum (PXE), which causes serious damage to the retinas. He lost his vision gradually and was in his 60s when he realized he could no longer drive safely. Bob was a vet tech in the Air Force in the 1960s and got very attached to his canine patients. Now, he and his new best friend, a yellow Lab named Igor III, are two peas in a pod who like their downtime. An exception to their quiet lifestyle happens when Igor rises with Bob each day before daylight for one of several long walks. “I won’t be tripping over things and running into people,” Bob explains. “And Igor will be great company.”
Mike Moaba was born with juvenile macular degeneration that causes severe myopia. His orientation and mobility (O&M) specialist recommended a guide dog, and in 2012 Mike was matched with a big, lovable black Lab named Mac. Mac passed away on a Friday in September 2020, and by Monday, Mike had applied for a successor dog. Now his new guide, Clara, “has filled a void that was there for several months,” Mike says.
This sweet, petite yellow Lab is a calm cuddler who is eager to please. Formerly, Mike was afraid of running into people with his cane or having them run into him. “But people tend to move out of the way for you when you have a dog,” he notes. And from the start, he could tell that Clara’s pace was perfect for a fast walker.
A humorous storyteller who loves people, Lynn Puckett has always wanted others to be successful, never realizing that she’d have to inspire herself one day. But after losing vision in her left eye due to a failed surgery, she woke up two years ago to find the vision in her right eye was gone, as well. After isolating herself at home and depending on her husband and teenage daughter, Lynn decided to embrace life and seek a better version of herself. Now she’s found her soulmate in a personable, inquisitive goldador named AJ, her first guide dog. “We both like to be on the go,” Lynn states. “I used to enjoy watching people and observing people, and now I do that through AJ, through the harness and the leash.” Before AJ, Lynn feared being labeled as “the blind lady.” But now she quips, “His leash is my American Express card, and I’ll never leave home without it!”
Jessica Woods was born legally blind due to coloboma, which caused optic nerve damage and retina deformity. The world gradually went dark, and by age 17, Jessica had lost all of her sight. At 19, after using a cane for 12 years, she decided that a guide dog would give her independence and confidence. Now Rubi, a sweet, calm, and gentle Lab, is Jessica’s fourth guide dog—and her first girl. They connected from the moment they met, and Jessica can’t wait to get back to the life she had with her previous guide dogs. “Before Rubi, I was lost,” she says. “I didn’t have the freedom to go out in the world by myself. I had to wait on others to guide me. Now with Rubi by my side, I can do it on my own.”
Sanford Steinberg has loved eight dogs over his lifetime, and his only wish for his first guide dog was that he or she be a “dog”—all business when in harness and playful and spirited when not. He got just what he wanted in Alfie, a “high energy, very smart, and very agile” female Lab who is his perfect match. Sanford served as an airplane hydraulics mechanic on a Navy aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean during the Vietnam War. Then he had a long, rewarding career as an audio engineer in the music business. Alfie’s high energy will serve him well on their seven-mile fitness walks around Mt. Dora each day. “Things are constantly changing, and I have to go with the change,” Sanford says. “That’s where Alfie can help me because she can see all the changes that are going on and know what to do. And I think that’s going to be a big thing in my life.”
We’re happy to welcome Class #298 to the Southeastern Guide Dogs family.
To all our newest alumni, well done!
New! View Class 298’s commencement program here, including full bios and photos.