Meet Class #269

Class 269 commencement

Pictured left to right: Mary Bell and guide Dallas, trainer Chrissy Placido, Michael Hartley and guide Braxton, Barry Hyde and guide Bravo, trainer Christine Fulton, John Merchant and guide J.C., Mary Ellen Ottman and guide Nevaeh, trainer Alice Ryskamp, Sarika Chacon and guide Amos, Cody Davis and guide Clark, trainer Jonathan Bjaland, Lacey Coward and guide Dinty

Southeastern Guide Dogs celebrates a joyous occasion today—the commencement of Class #269. Our graduates worked tirelessly to become proficient handlers of their guide dogs, and now they head home to enjoy a greater sense of independence. One graduating student said during his first few days on campus, “I’m not sure what my greater purpose is for being here, but I know I’m very blessed.” Welcome to the Southeastern Guide Dogs family, Class #269.

Continue reading below to find out more about the spirited and determined individuals of Class #269.

  • Things are looking up, not down, for Mary Bell as she starts her journey with her first guide dog, Dallas. This smart and loving black Lab is also her first dog. “All my life, I’ve watched the ground, trying not to trip,” she says. “Now I can look up!”
  • Despite how hard it was to say goodbye to Charlie, his beloved first guide dog, Michael Hartley knew he needed a second guide. Matched with Braxton, an attentive yellow Lab, Michael looks forward to continuing volunteering as a nursing home chaplain. With Braxton by his side, he’ll be the most popular chaplain around!
  • Twenty years ago, Dr. Barry Hyde survived a plane crash that should have ended his life. Though he suffered greatly—losing his eyesight among many other complications—Barry never lost his love of aviation. He’s now an expert aviation safety analyst and a national authority on flight safety. Barry’s new guide dog, Bravo, is already making a difference with his exceptional skills and beaming personality. Their first flight together is already on the horizon!
  • When John Merchant’s 5-year-old granddaughter’s tiny shrieks of, “Stop, stop, stop,” saved him from walking into a wall, and his 3-year-old granddaughter chided him for accidentally tapping her feet with his cane, John knew he needed extra help. Now his gentle, intelligent new guide dog, J.C., gives him the freedom to keep up with his granddaughters.
  • Mary Ellen Ottman’s fourth guide dog is a match made in heaven. Named Nevaeh—which is heaven spelled backwards—this exceptional, lovable yellow Lab is a heavenly addition to Mary Ellen’s life and will help her get around town once again.
  • Sarika Chacon doesn’t back down from a challenge. Knowing that her eyesight continues to worsen, she took a leap of faith and now has a yellow Lab guide dog named Amos. When Sarika used a cane and relied on others to help her, she stayed home more than she went out. Now with Amos by her side, she’s ready for more adventures.
  • To graduate from law school, Cody Davis persevered no matter how difficult or exhausting it became. With his second guide dog, Clark, helping him navigate, Cody is now focused on finding his first job in the legal field. This energetic yellow Lab is ready to guide Cody wherever life takes him.
  • For Lacey Coward, coming back for a second guide dog meant retaining her independence. Her new guide, Dinty, a spirited black Lab, brings a balance to Lacey’s life. When they are not working, Dinty plays hard, but when they are navigating together, Dinty’s skills give Lacey confidence and freedom.


Did you miss our live stream of today’s graduation? Don’t worry! You can still view it here. Congratulations Class #269 on your hard work and we can’t wait to see your progress.

Posted on August 16, 2018 | Category: Blog, Graduates, Our Dogs