Photo by John Vecchiolla
A man is holding a puppy, and not just any puppy. This is a guide dog professionally trained by Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a nonprofit that provides and trains, free of charge, exceptional guide dogs to people with vision loss, as well as service dogs to aid children on the autism spectrum. And holding the dog is not just any man—it’s Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
Manning, now in his eighth year of affiliation with the charity, was joined by staff, sponsors, and puppies at the Guiding Eyes for the Blind Spring Tee-Off at Mulino’s of Westchester. This event was the sponsor-recognition party in preparation for the 38th Annual Guiding Eyes for the Blind Golf Classic. Occurring between June 7 and 8 at the Mount Kisco Country Club and the Fairview Country Club, the event features fourteen top international blind golfers who will compete for the Corcoran Cup. Over the years, the Classic has raised more than $10 million for the nonprofit.
The evening started with a moving story from Emilie Gossiaux, who began losing her hearing at five. Just a few months after receiving a cochlear implant to improve her hearing, she was struck by an 18-wheeler semi while riding her bicycle, and lost her vision. She turned to Guiding Eyes for a guide dog to help her live the independent life she leads today. “I think it’s important to raise awareness for people who are blind [to show] that we live normal lives just like everyone else,” said Gossiaux. London, Gossiaux’s guide dog, has made a substantial difference in her life. “She is extremely alert and gives me more confidence. Since the accident, I wear a brace on my left leg, which is one-fourth inch shorter than my right leg,” explained Gossiaux. “With London, I can walk faster and more comfortably. She is also a great companion.”
Guiding Eyes depends on its dedicated volunteers and trainers to provide Gossiaux and about 150 other people annually with guide dogs. Volunteer puppy raisers start the training process early—the puppies are usually 8 weeks old when their training begins. They learn basic house manners and are given home socialization. As they grown and learn, puppies undergo more socialization in different contexts and are sent to work with a professional trainer for four to six months. “We start with very small steps, just teaching the puppies that food is a good thing, getting them used to a clicker response, teaching them how to find a curb,” said Stephanie Koret, one of Guiding Eye’s professional dog trainers. “All of that leads to [the dogs] walking with a harness, and that leads to doing actual work in town which eventually translates to guiding safely on the sidewalk, avoiding pedestrians, traffic, crossing streets, and generally keeping their owner safe.”
At the Guiding Eyes for the Blind Spring Tee-Off, incredible puppies, trainers, and volunteers were given support and recognition. Manning was there the whole time—front and center—surrounded by a slew of adorable golden retriever puppies. “They help more people get around…These guys are saving lives and helping people live a fulfilled life,” Manning said. And although his work with puppies and football players may seem like they belong to two completely different worlds, to Manning the connection is obvious: “We both need training.”