Perfect Addition

Families share stories about the difference a guide dog makes in their loved one’s life

For many of our students, stepping away from their day-to-day life for 28 days to train with a new guide dog and live on the Guide Dogs of America campus also means leaving behind loved ones during that time. Like the students, their loved ones are filled with anticipation of what life will hold for the new team when they return home. This is especially true of graduates and their family members who are experiencing, for the first time, the newfound freedom, independence, mobility and confidence that having a guide dog adds to the life of a blind person.

For the past two years, first-time graduates Paula Castro, Sean Landgraf and Tina Sutton have been building their bonds with their new guide dogs and living life in ways they could not have imagined. Watching them with pride are their loved ones — a husband, a father and a daughter — who have graciously shared the difference they have seen in their graduate since he/she has returned from GDA.

There is nothing she can’t do
Louis and Paula Castro with Guide Dog JeanieWhen the doctor delivered the news to Paula and Louis Castro that she would lose what vision she had left, the couple could do nothing but prepare for the loss. They just thought they would have a little more time. Eight days, four laser surgeries and two injections later, Paula Castro’s vision was gone.

“When Paula lost her sight, I no longer left on overnight trips for work. I worried about her and her safety,” said Castro. “Even though she knew how to get around using her cane, she wasn’t comfortable going out alone. It was her idea to get a guide dog and what a change it has made for her, for me and for us. There is nothing she can’t do.”

As Paula Castro suspected, there were times she was sure her husband was following her on a route. That has changed with her guide dog Jeanie in the picture.

“Watching Paula and Jeanie work together and seeing how Jeanie thinks and anticipates situations and obstacles has given me so much peace of mind,” said Castro. “Having Jeanie has given Paula the confidence to push far outside her comfort zone. Before, Paula would not have taken the city bus or metro. Now she’ll take the Greyhound and travel to Las Vegas to see our kids and grandkids.”

Paula and Jeanie keep a busy schedule. They staff the front desk for volunteer services at an area hospital and they visit patients. Paula also represents the blind community as a competitive rower on a dragon boat traveling team. Next year, they will compete in Australia.

“Paula wouldn’t do what she is doing now without Jeanie. Her self-confidence has improved tremendously,” said Castro. “We are doing more and more things together. Life, while changed forever, is getting back to normal.”

It’s phenomenal
John Landgraf had certainly seen a lot of changes in his son Sean since he graduated with his guide dog Lexy. When the father and son ran into an old family friend he knew others were seeing a difference, too.

John and Sean Landgraf with Guide Dog Lexy“My friend couldn’t believe it was Sean,” said Landgraf. “He remembered him as a shy and unhappy teen. Now he was seeing a confident, smiling young man. He kept saying to Sean, ‘I am so proud of you.’”

But no one could be more proud of Sean than his father.

“It’s phenomenal,” said Landgraf. “The day he and Lexy came home from school, Sean wanted to go to the store and to take the bus. As a visually impaired teen, he didn’t get to experience the freedom of being able to drive and go places on his own. Lexy has given him that freedom he was missing.”

Since graduating from GDA with Lexy in 2013, Sean also graduated from music production school. Sean’s dedication and advancement through the program was recognized by the school, which presented him with its first-ever student award.

“The school had never given out a student achievement award. Sean was the first to receive such an honor and he is the reason the school has a formal awards program today,” said Landgraf. “Sean always had the ability and talent, but having Lexy has given him the focus, confidence and purpose that helped him to realize his potential.”

Landgraf has observed many positive changes in his son. “Having a guide dog has made Sean’s life easier in many ways, but it also comes with a huge responsibility,” said Landgraf. “He is as much responsible for her well-being as she is for his. He has matured a lot these past two years and I know that caring for Lexy has been a big part of that. It sounds cliché, but it’s not. A guide dog does change the life of their partner. It is incredible to see the positive changes having Lexy has made in my son’s life.”

Thanks, but I don’t need your help!
Tina Sutton and Guide Dog BashaEven though Tina Sutton had been using a cane since childhood, she never felt comfortable using it and often chose not to. When she started to fall more frequently, her family told her it was time to do something different. Sutton decided it was time to get a guide dog.

“She would walk my daughter to school but I was getting very concerned because she would trip and fall a lot,” said Sutton’s daughter, Jessyica Curiel. “When I heard she was going to get a guide dog I was very excited. Since having Basha her guide dog, she hasn’t fallen.”

Another worry the family no longer has is Sutton being stuck waiting for one of them to come home and take her places.

“With Basha, she goes everywhere she needs or wants to go and on her schedule,” said Curiel. “It’s freed her from having to ask the family. In fact, she’ll say to me, ‘Thanks, but I don’t need your help, I can do this on my own with Basha.’”

And Sutton and Basha stay busy.

“Everyone knows mom and Basha,” said Curiel. “They were even asked to cut the ribbon at the grand opening of a national pet store in our community.”

But they don’t keep all of their activities local. Sutton rides in tandem bike races, and she and her sighted partner will be traveling to international competitions later this year. And there are vacations for her and Basha.

“She’s taken Basha on a cruise, and to Mexico and Hawaii,” said Curiel. “I think Basha has gone on more vacations with her than I have.”

Basha has fit right into Sutton’s multi-generational household, which includes three family dogs.

“Basha is a big part of a family now. I couldn’t imagine my mom not having her,” said Curiel. “She is a perfect addition.”

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