The Seeing Eye Guide

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The Seeing Eye Guide

A Magazine for Friends of The Seeing Eye

Summer 2012

Volume 78, Number 1

The cover photo is Seeing Eye graduate Cliff Aaron. He is wearing a dark suit with a light blue shirt and a tie with alternating stripes of dark and light shades of blue. He is walking on a New York City sidewalk with Alto, his yellow Labrador retriever/golden retriever cross. He is holding the harness in his right hand and walking straight toward the camera. The caption reads: A formidable legal team – in and out of the courtroom.

Table of Contents

Letters to The Seeing Eye

Thanks to our Volunteers

Law Partners: Cliff Aaron and Alto

Donor Profile: Barbara Backer

News Highlights

A Seeing Eye Perspective

This story has a photo of Seeing Eye President & CEO Jim Kutsch, wearing a blue blazer, white shirt and dark gray pants. He is squatting on a sidewalk next to his Seeing Eye dog, Colby, with his left hand on Colby’s back and Colby’s leash in his right hand. Colby, a yellow Labrador retriever, is in harness. Behind them is a lawn of green grass with several trees in the distance.

It’s never an easy decision to pick just one person as our Volunteer of the Year. We have about 215 on-campus volunteers, and we appreciate each one of them for their commitment, devotion, and support. We could not do all we do without them.

Many – maybe even all! – of our volunteers love dogs. But not all of them work with dogs. In addition to the many volunteers who assist us in the kennels, the clinic, and at the breeding station – as well as dog walkers and puppy drivers – we have many other opportunities for volunteers here as well, from front desk receptionists to photographers. We also have volunteers who do grocery shopping for students while they are on campus, help raise funds through our Pennies for Puppies® and Dollars for Dogs® programs, or maintain our vast archive of historic documents from the birth of the guide dog movement.

But of course, all our volunteers have plenty of opportunities to satisfy their “doggie fix,” whether it’s patting a dog in training or getting a lick from a puppy. Maybe that’s why our volunteers stick with us for so long! This year, we recognized 40 volunteers with service awards – including 16 who have volunteered for at least five years. Why do so many volunteers stay with us for so long? I believe it’s because The Seeing Eye is a happy place. Every month, our volunteers get to see that magical moment as a person who is blind takes hold of a harness and is soon striding at full speed across our campus. The enthusiasm and esprit de corps of our students is infectious – especially during the summer, when we get a number of teenagers getting their first Seeing Eye® dog before heading off to college. You can’t help but feel younger around so much energy. It’s our version of the Fountain of Youth!

Thank you again for making all of this possible. Your generous support, whether you’re a volunteer or a donor, is what makes these miracles happen.


James A. Kutsch, Jr.

President & CEO

The Seeing Eye

Letters to The Seeing Eye

Dear Seeing Eye:

I just wanted to share the following story about my wonderful Seeing Eye dog, Emerald. When she is in harness, she is a smart, hard-working guide dog. But when she’s out of harness, she’s a dog. And she has fun!

One day I was home alone with Emerald when I heard her chasing something in the living room. I could hear her growling, banging into furniture, and her nails sliding across the hard floor as she ran and turned. It was obvious she was chasing something fast, and was extremely serious about catching it! I pretty much came unglued because we’d had a bat in the house recently, and I thought it was back. I hid in the bathroom with Emerald and called my husband on my cell phone. My husband, being the wonderful husband that he is, came immediately. After finding a “weapon” – a pink feather duster on a long pole – he searched the house for the intruder, but found nothing. Emerald was calm again, so we thought perhaps she had seen a squirrel outside and had run from window to window trying to keep it in her sights.

Well, a few days later, I was having coffee at the kitchen table with a friend when Emerald starts it all again. Oh no, was it back in the house? I asked my friend to peek into the living room and see what was going on.

My friend started laughing hysterically. When she was finally able to answer, she told me that Emerald was chasing… her own tail!

Emerald works hard and plays just as hard. And best of all she loves me and she’s not shy about showing it. It’s quite a feeling to have some around who thinks you hung the moon. She’s got me, hook, line and sinker.

Tracey Melchiorre

Seeing Eye graduate

Dear Seeing Eye:

Please accept this donation in honor of instructor Brian McKenna. We are friends with [Seeing Eye graduate] Tim Fallon, and are so happy to know how hard Brian worked to partner him with Orson.

The bond created between Tim and Orson is absolutely amazing. To see Tim trot down the street and walk around without a cane is truly remarkable. Watching Tim and Orson is a miracle.

Nancy and Edward San George

Dear Seeing Eye:

I will always have a place in my heart for my first Seeing Eye dogs, but Maple has moved in and took right over. She is smart, cute, quiet, well-mannered, loving, and kind. I could not have asked for a better match for me. This speaks well of her puppy raiser and the hard work that went in to raising Maple, although I have the feeling that raising Maple wasn’t hard at all. Then, there is the training she did with her instructor, Kaelin Coughlin. What an awesome job she did with Maple!

One thing I just love about Maple is her ability to know when she can say hi to people she knows at work, and when to ignore that urge. When she is working, her mind is totally on her work. And, just the same, her social skills are impressive. She loves it when I stop and talk to people. She’ll sit by me and then lie down if I get a little too long winded. She sits to be petted and wags not just her tail but her entire body. She is such a happy yellow Lab.

In March we celebrated our first anniversary as a team, and I’m glad to say it will be the first of many more to come.

Debra Jock

Seeing Eye graduate

Thanks to our Volunteers

A Volunteer Who Does It All

This story has a photo of Joyce Novak, a volunteer at The Seeing Eye. She is wearing a beige shirt and slacks, and has a happy but somewhat embarrassed smile as she holds up a frame containing a portrait of a German shepherd at Fortunate Fields and her Volunteer of the Year Award. She is joined by her sister, Nancy Bradley; her husband, Steve Novak; and Dr. Lewis M. Chakrin, chairman of The Seeing Eye’s Board of Trustees.

Joyce Novak has volunteered at The Seeing Eye for nearly 10 years – but that doesn’t mean she’s been in one place all that time.

“Yes, I’ve worn quite a few hats here,” laughed Novak, who has done everything from walking dogs to stuffing envelopes. She’s primarily been the smiling face behind the front desk in the main building on the Washington Valley campus, greeting students, visitors, and staff as they enter the building. Once a month, she also volunteers at The Seeing Eye Jane H. Booker Student Center in Downtown Morristown.

“I love it here. It’s a wonderful experience,” said Novak, who was recognized for her dedication as The Seeing Eye’s Volunteer of the Year at the Volunteer Recognition Reception, held Feb. 23 at the Washington Valley campus.

In addition to Novak, 40 volunteers were recognized at the event for their dedication to the organization with Volunteer Service Awards.

“Joyce’s dedication to The Seeing Eye is inspiring,” said James A. Kutsch, Jr., President and CEO of The Seeing Eye. “We are thankful for the contributions made by Joyce. She and all our volunteers play a vital role in fulfilling our mission.”

The Bernardsville resident is even a member of Paws 4 a Cause, a puppy raiser club for Morris, Somerset, and Union counties – even though she isn’t raising a puppy. But she frequently serves as a “puppy sitter,” caring for a Seeing Eye puppy when the family will be out of town, and also participates in “puppy relays,” driving a 7- or 8-week-old puppy to an area coordinator, who will then drive it to the puppy raiser family.

Novak has taken pictures of all the puppies she’s taken care of, filling a large photo album. “And I still have a slew of photos that haven’t made it into the album yet,” she said. She credits her husband of 28 years, Steve, for his help with the puppies.

“I couldn’t do it without him,” she said.

Novak said she became interested in volunteering after getting laid off from her job at a pharmaceutical company in 2002. Her niece, who had a friend who had raised a Seeing Eye puppy, convinced her to give The Seeing Eye a call. She hasn’t left since.

She said she had no idea she would receive this year’s award.

“Steve kept it under wraps. I was more than surprised,” she said. “I was really flattered and touched. My feet still haven’t touched the ground.”

And in 2009, Novak took on one more challenge: She adopted Gentry, a retired Seeing Eye dog. The Labrador retriever-golden retriever cross turns 9 in September.

Volunteer Service Awards

The following is a list of names of people who are celebrating anniversaries of becoming volunteers at The Seeing Eye. The list is accompanied by two photos: A photo of Seeing Eye volunteers Sheila Wolfensohn, Barry Wolfensohn, and Barbara Landmann, who are sitting on a bench chatting during the Volunteer Recognition Reception. The second photo shows Seeing Eye graduate and volunteer tour guide Toula McEllen and her husband Tom McEllen as they chat with Lukas Franck, The Seeing Eye’s Senior Consultant, New Initiatives.

15 Years

Geoffrey Dobson

Debbie Snyder

Roger Woodhour

Sheila Woodhour

10 Years

Janet Keeler

Rob Steidlitz

5 Years

Patricia Cefalu

Marilyn Cuykendall

Barbara Fuchs

Lynn Geczi

Joseph “Mac” Hinshaw

Virginia Kelcec

Ginger Kutsch

Martin Nusbaum

Linda Thailer

Kathleen Uber

1 Year

Chris Atherton

Marilyn Ciancotta

Marianne Dougher

Sarah Glazar

Katha Griswold

Peggy Grow

Susan Humphrey

Michael Karnish

Wendy Kern

Herbert Klein

Crystal Mencia

Pam Mettam

Fala Meyers

Ralph Meyers

Robin Patric

David Perry

Marge Romano

Ellen Silverman

Tom Tapen

Steve Vogel

Alan Wallenstein

Catherine Walters

David Wechsler

Madeline Weisgal

Law Partners

Cliff Aaron and Alto are a formidable team, in and out of the courtroom

This story has two photos. The first shows Cliff Aaron seated at his desk inside his law office. He is smiling as he scratches Alto’s snout. The second photo shows Cliff outside on a wide pedestrian plaza in New York City with Alto, in harness. Cliff is holding Alto’s handle as they walk across the plaza.

Cliff Aaron was born with a genetic eye condition that can lead to complete blindness. But for the first 32 years of his life, he didn’t know.

“I played sports, I met my wife, I started my career, we had a daughter – maybe it was better, not knowing about it,” Aaron said. “I didn’t know it was coming, so I didn’t worry about it. It was never on my mind.”

Aaron, who had been a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s office in the Bronx, New York,had joined a Wall Street law firm and his wife, Karen, was expecting their second daughter when he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa.

“I started losing my peripheral vision, but no one could figure out why. I went from doctor to doctor. Finally, I found one who diagnosed me with RP. I said, ‘RP? What does that mean?’ And he said, ‘It means that in six years, you’ll be blind.’”

It would actually take nine years before Aaron, who has been a partner at New York law firm London Fischer for 12 years, began using a white cane. Two years after that, in 2006, he got his first dog from The Seeing Eye – a Lab/golden cross named Alto.

At The Seeing Eye, Aaron shared stories with others who lost their sight as adults, but the most memorable conversation he had was with a teenager who had been blind since birth.

“This young man said, ‘I really feel sorry for you.’ And I said, ‘You feel sorry for me? That’s ridiculous! I know what my wife looks like, I know what my kids look like, I know what the color red looks like – I can even still see a little bit. How can you say you feel sorry for me?’ And he said, ‘Because you know what you’ve lost.’ And as I’m losing more sight, I realize he was right. I know what I’m losing, and how much I want to keep what sight I have left. That’s painful,” he said. “I know the cliff is there – it’s coming, but I can’t stop. And I know the day is going to come when I go over.”

But Aaron, who frequently speaks with youth groups and other organizations as a national trustee of the Foundation Fighting Blindness, said blindness is “life altering, but not life threatening.”

“I don’t mean to minimize blindness, in any way,” Aaron said. “But I lost a good friend to cancer. OK, I can’t see. She could, but she was staring down the barrel of a gun every day. I really do believe God only gives us the challenges we can handle, and I can handle this.”

He also said it’s important to keep a sense of humor.

“My daughter asked me if I know what I look like. Sure I do – I look exactly the same as I did 20 years ago, at least in my mind. I’ll never see my wife get gray hair. And I think I’m actually better at golf now – I don’t lift my head up any more to see where the ball went.”

Aaron said he fell in love with the law as a teenager. “When I was in high school, I got to watch a couple of trials, and I just thought it was great,” he said. “It was like playing chess, but with words. Thinking on your feet, anticipating your opponent’s next move and the move after that. I just loved it.

“When you think about all the professions I could have gone into, there are a lot I wouldn’t be able to do now,” Aaron said. “But I’m lucky because I’ll be able to try cases for the rest of my life.”

And while Alto doesn’t help much inside the courtroom – “I’m still trying to teach him how to read a jury,” Aaron jokes – he’s a huge help outside it.

“I was always unsure of myself when I was using a cane in New York City,” he said. “Not so much because of the cars, which I can hear, but because of the bike messengers. They go so fast and they make no sound. Try finding them with a cane!

“One of the first days I had Alto, he stopped me in the middle of Church Street (in Manhattan). He stopped, so I stopped. And not two seconds later, a bike raced past me, maybe three feet in front of us,” Aaron said.

“For some people, a cane works. It didn’t work for me. Each sends a message. The cane repels, the dog attracts. When you have a Seeing Eye dog, people want to talk to you. When you have a cane, they just want to get out of your way.”

But Aaron does recall at least one occasion when Alto helped him win a case. During a lunch break, Aaron was talking with his opponent when a juror asked if it was OK to pet Alto.

“I said, ‘If it’s OK with the other attorney, it’s OK with me.’ Now if he says no, he’s the bad guy. So of course he says it’s fine. So that juror pets Alto – and then every juror stops and pets Alto. After seeing the way they all fawned over Alto, my adversary sighed and said, ‘We have to settle this case.’”

Aaron said his four weeks at The Seeing Eye ranks behind only his wedding and the births of his children as one of the best experiences of his life. “I learned so much, from so many people. They were four of the most interesting and inspiring weeks of my life, and I wouldn’t change a minute of it. When I said good-bye to my trainer, I said, ‘Thank you for changing my life.’ And she said. ‘I didn’t change your life, Cliff – you did.’”

A commitment to caring

This story has a photo of Barbara Backer, who is wearing a silver jacket over a black blouse and black skirt, and Seeing Eye graduate Lloyd Burlingame, wearing a blue blazer, blue tie, white shirt, and gray slacks. Lloyd is holding the leash to his Seeing Eye dog, Kemp, who is sitting calmly in front of them.

Barbara Backer knows a lot about compassion. As a registered nurse and a retired professor in the Division of Nursing at Lehman College, City University of New York, Backer has been involved with many organizations that seek to help people. But The Seeing Eye has a special place in her heart.

“I was just so impressed, from the first time I was on the campus, with the spirit of the students there,” she said. “They were there to work. I think the dogs sense it, too. There’s a real sense of purpose, of camaraderie. I found it very inspiring.”

In addition to being a frequent donor to The Seeing Eye, Backer also is a member of the Heritage Society, as she has named the school as a beneficiary in her will.

Backer learned about The Seeing Eye through a chance encounter with Lloyd Burlingame, a Seeing Eye graduate and noted Broadway set designer who last month was recognized with the prestigious Robert L.B. Tobin Award for Sustained Excellence in Theatrical Design.

“I was training for a marathon, and one of my training runs was around Washington Square Park. It’s a half mile around the park, so I would run 12 or 15 times around the park in the early morning. And almost every morning I would see this gentleman with a yellow Lab. I knew it was a guide dog, because of the harness. And I would see them moving at a very fast pace, keeping up with all the other walkers and smoothly avoiding all the runners, and I was just fascinated.

“After a while, I started saying good morning, and the gentleman would reply good morning, but he just kept up his brisk pace doing his exercise. Finally I was a little more forward and said, ‘That’s quite a handsome dog you’ve got there!’ And that’s how I became friends with Hickory. Lloyd was just incidental.”

In truth, Backer and Burlingame would go on to become the closest of friends and now share their walks together, first with Hickory, who retired in 2006, and now with Kemp.

“I just think The Seeing Eye is one of the most wonderful places in the world,” she said. “And I’m impressed with the fact that all of the donations go to helping the dogs and the students. I look at charities very carefully before I decide to donate, and I was very impressed with the way finances are handled and distributed at The Seeing Eye. It’s really been a life-changing experience for me to get involved with such a wonderful group of people.”

For more information about the Heritage Society, call (973) 539-4425, ext. 1735, or email

Walk, run, or ride for The Seeing Eye!

Gran Fondo NJ Weekend 2012

This story has a photo of a golden retriever named Becket sitting on the grass in a back yard. Becket has a green and white bandana around his neck that reads: Run 4 The Seeing Eye, and has a logo of a trotting dog in harness.

Last year, six graduates of The Seeing Eye rode tandem bikes in the first-ever Gran Fondo New Jersey, a bike tour through the New Jersey Highlands. This year, even more graduates are expected to participate, as there’s also going to be a four-mile run and a one-mile walk!

The walk and run will be held on Saturday, Sept. 8, and the bike tour – with four different routes, ranging from the 18-mile Breve Fondo to the 103-mile Gran Fondo – will be held on Sunday, Sept. 9. The events are fundraisers for The Seeing Eye, with donations going directly to supporting The Seeing Eye’s mission of breeding, raising, and training dogs to guide people who are blind.

Even if you can’t be in New Jersey, you can help by sponsoring one of our Seeing Eye teams – or by participating remotely! We’re asking our supporters across the United States and Canada to ask their friends and neighbors to sponsor them as they walk, run, or ride for us in their own communities.

This year’s events have a combined fundraising goal of $100,000 – enough money to provide a year’s worth of food for the hundreds of dogs in The Seeing Eye program! To register to participate (in New Jersey or remotely), to sign up as a sponsor, or for more information, go to

From Z(iggie) to A(ggie)

Future teacher sings the praises of her Seeing Eye dogs

This story has a photo of Jess Cummings, a young woman in a blue and white blouse, standing next to her Seeing Eye dog, a golden retriever named Aggie. The photo was taken while she was in class with Aggie last year.

Jess Cummings is focused on one goal: becoming a music teacher.

It’s not without its challenges for a young woman who lost her sight as an infant. Some have even advised her to pick another career.

“People have given me the ‘you need to be realistic’ speech, but I’m a very, very stubborn person,” said Cummings, a senior at Washington State University. “I have to do certain things a little differently than a sighted teacher. But that doesn’t mean I can’t succeed.”

Cummings, whose first Seeing Eye dog was a golden retriever named Ziggie, returned last summer for her second Seeing Eye dog, also a golden retriever, named Aggie.

“Aggie goes everywhere with me. She’s just a really good dog,” Cummings said. “She allows me to walk as fast as I can and cross streets with a lot more confidence.”

She had made a couple visits to another guide dog school, but decided to come to The Seeing Eye after meeting a representative from the school at a youth mobility conference. “I was just so impressed by the respect factor,” she said. “You weren’t treated like you were borrowing something. When you get a dog from The Seeing Eye, it is your dog. That is so important to me. I spoke with the representative, I walked with a Seeing Eye dog, and then I went home and I filled out my application. That was it.”

Cummings is now earning valuable experience as a student teacher, having worked with babies to middle schoolers. Having Aggie in the classroom is always viewed as a plus by her students, she said.

“Everyone likes Aggie, and there’s always one or two who just love her,” she said.

Aggie often spends class time in her crate, Cummings said – “especially when we’re doing food activities.”

Cummings, herself a classically trained singer, sometimes will bring Aggie on stage.

“Usually she waits backstage, but if I’m only singing one or two arias, she’ll go on stage with me. She just lies down at my feet and enjoys my singing – I hope!”


Across the top of the page is an advertisement acknowledging the support of our corporate partner, Bodei Contracting, Inc. The ad shows an adult yellow Labrador retriever, in harness, sitting on the grass with a pair of young puppies: a German shepherd and a golden retriever. The golden retriever is inside a harness that is much too big for his tiny body. The text reads: Bodei Contracting, Inc., is a proud supporter of The Seeing Eye and its mission to enhance the independence of people who are blind through the use of Seeing Eye dogs. Below the photo are three pictures: a gloved hand hammering a nail at a construction site; blueprints of a project; and the wooden frames of a house under construction. The text reads: Bodei Contracting, Inc. 1-888-782-6334. 45 South Park Place, Suite 273. Morristown, New Jersey 07960.

Across the bottom half of the page is a half-page ad acknowledging the support of our corporate partner, Alcatel-Lucent Foundation. The ad shows a map of the world in light gray. The text reads: Alcatel-Lucent is proud to support The Seeing Eye and their mission to enhance the independence, dignity and self-confidence of blind people. Alcatel-Lucent Foundation: At the speed of ideas.


Across the top of the page is an advertisement acknowledging the support of our corporate partner, Bausch & Lomb. The ad shows The Seeing Eye’s logo with our tag line, Independence & Dignity Since 1929. The text of the ad reads: Thanks for leading the way. Bausch & Lomb shares The Seeing Eye’s commitment to helping the visually impaired. Bausch & Lomb: See Better, Live Better.

Across the bottom of the page are two quarter-page advertisements.

The first advertisement acknowledges Bayer Heathcare’s support of The Seeing Eye through our corporate partnership program. The advertisement shows the Bayer logo and the text reads: Bayer Healthcare is Proud to Support The Seeing Eye.

The second advertisement is for The Seeing Eye’s corporate partnership program. The ad shows The Seeing Eye logo, a person walking forward while holding the handle of a German shepherd in harness. The text reads: The Seeing Eye is proud to recognize our corporate partners who have made a significant commitment to providing independence for people who are blind or visually impaired through Seeing Eye dogs. If your company would like to get involved, please visit for more information.

Back Cover

The photo is of a young woman in a white baseball cap with the New Jersey Devils logo on it. She is smiling as a young German shepherd licks her face.

The New Jersey Devils held Seeing Eye Night on March 11, 2012, one of several events with the National Hockey League team that raised more than $15,000 for The Seeing Eye this year! At the game, against the Philadelphia Flyers, Seeing Eye puppies and dogs in training gave demonstrations on the concourse. Seeing Eye puppy raisers, instructors, volunteers, employees, and graduates were on hand to answer questions from the public. And of course, lots of people got kisses from our puppies!

Photo by David Shapiro

The Seeing Eye

President & CEO

James A. Kutsch, Jr.



Craig Garretson, Communications Manager
Visit our website:


Phone: 973-539-4425

Fax: 973-539-0922

In Canada:

c/o TH1017, P.O. Box 4283, Station A

Toronto, Ontario M5W 5W6

Registered Canadian Charity Number 89100 8690 RR 0001

ISSN 0037-0819

Publication number 488580

The Seeing Eye produces the Guide® magazine in audio and print versions, in addition to this electronic version. Copies are available by request. This issue and past issues also are available on our website. Permission to reprint may be obtained by contacting The Seeing Eye.

Seeing Eye® is a registered trademark for guide dogs of The Seeing Eye, Inc., and is its registered service mark for training dogs as guides and instructing visually impaired individuals in their use and care. The Seeing Eye admits and offers students of any race, color, religion, nationality, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation or ancestry all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, nationality, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation or ancestry in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and other school-administered programs.

The Seeing Eye follows the guidelines recommended by the Council of U.S. Dog Guide Schools for the humane care and training of dogs to be guides, and the instruction and graduate services offered to people who are blind or visually impaired.

The Seeing Eye is an accredited member of the International Guide Dog Federation. The mission of The Seeing Eye is to enhance the independence, dignity and self-confidence of people who are blind, through the use of specially trained Seeing Eye dogs.


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