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YORKTOWN â€”Â An optic glioma brain tumor cost 22-year-old Eric Holland his sight and forced him to drop out of college.
But Saturday, the Edmond, Okla., man took part in a graduation nonetheless. He and his new guide dog, Trooper, were part the first class of the year at Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Yorktown Heights.
“I have made not only friends, but family, new family members,” the 22-year-old told the audience. “And I’m lucky enough to be able to take one of them home.”
Holland was one of 11 graduates, nine of whom had trained at the Yorktown Heights headquarters over the past month. They came from across the United States and as far as Sao Paulo, Brazil, to which Rodrigo Galvao, a 32-year-old lawyer, will return with one of only 60 guide dogs in that country. He has already had several canes broken in the bustle of Sao Paulo, he said.
What will Trooper mean to Holland’s life?
“It’s amazing to get a first dog,” said Michael Moore, a lawyer from Oakland, Calif., who was back for a new dog. “It changes your life.”
A former Broadway designer, Moore, 44, had recently lost his vision and was living in Manhattan when he was paired with his first dog in 2000. He was tired of finding cracks in New York with a cane, he said.
How is it life-changing?
“It’s the difference between riding a bike and flying,” he said. “The cane is like a bicycle. You feel every bump. And with a dog you don’t feel that. I also tell people with a cane, you have to find the obstacle, figure out what it is. And with a dog, you just avoid the obstacle entirely.”
Like other graduations, this one featured well-wishers and speeches and whoops and cheers. But these graduates came paired with their dogs, whose noses stuck out from under the seats. And in the audience were the volunteers who had raised and trained the dogs as puppies, couples such as Mike and Raina Napolitano of West Warwick, R.I., who had taken in Moore’s Orion.
“This is our first dog, and our first attempt at anything so wonderful,” said Raina Napolitano, who had been encouraged by her granddaughter, Willow Keel of Monroe, N.Y., to participate. “All I wished for was a good home and he’s got one.”
Was it hard to give up Orion? Her tears were her answer.
Founded nearly 55 years ago, Guiding Eyes for the Blind is an internationally accredited, nonprofit guide dog school, the third-largest in the country. It prides itself on its small classes, never larger than 14, said Lisa Deutsch, a vice president. Its $17 million budget comes solely from contributions.