Grant the Guide Dog

Before moving to San Antonio, I had spent countless hours volunteering my time at a guide dog school in Florida. Guide dog schools are non-profit organizations that typically breed, raise, and train guide dogs to increase mobility and independence to legally blind individuals. So, it would make sense that when I had accepted a seat in RSO’s class of 2020, my next thought was to locate the closest guide dog school to San Antonio. To my pleasure and surprise, I found one, not only in Texas but headquartered right here, in San Antonio.

Prior to leaving my home state I had all paper work filled out, all training quizzes complete, and became an approved volunteer with Guide Dogs of Texas. I was not only excited about starting optometry school but also having the opportunity to give back, to my soon to be neighborhood and community. After several months as a weekend guide dog boarder and getting a handle on my first semester of graduate school, I felt it was time to take the next step.

With approval from RSO administration I signed up to become a full-time guide dog raiser, one who boards a dog long-term. On January 10th, my life changed as soon as I met Grant, my guide dog in training. With his big floppy ears and grinning smile, he instantly stole my heart.

As a guide dog raiser, I oversaw exposing Grant to all the sights and sounds he could potentially experience one day while with a client. When I received Grant, I had only lived in San Antonio for six months and was still exploring for myself. What better way to learn a new city than with a puppy by my side?

The very first place I went with Grant was the iconic Riverwalk! With water features, ducks, lots of people, and narrow sidewalks it was a great place to begin working on our bond and his training.

One week after getting Grant, the spring semester began, which meant all new sights and sounds for him, and for my peers. Many classmates had the urge to pet Grant, given his cunning looks, but they understood the damaging effects that occur when a guide dog is distracted from work. Grant quickly discovered his favorite teachers (they were the ones with treats) and would readily interact with them while in the hallways. When I would stay late studying for exams, he would easily cheer me up with a puppy lick or a goofy play session.

On June 5th, the big day arrived. After six months of training, he went in for his assessment to see if he could continue as a guide dog. It was a nerve-racking experience, but I knew I had given it my all, and after a few days I found out…HE PASSED! Grant would officially become a guide dog for a legally blind individual. After passing his assessment he had lots of “free runs” at the dog park and maybe a few extra treats.

On July 15th, Grant attended his doggy graduation where he traded in his blue “In-Training” vest for his official harness. He will continue in advanced training for six more months and will then be matched with a client. After roughly ten years of working, he will then enjoy the good life of retirement.

This whole experience has been so rewarding to me, through the ability to train Grant and help potential visually impaired patients. I highly encourage everyone to find a hobby or organization that you are passionate about and donate your time to it while in school.

Pictured below is an example of a guide dog and client team. Guide dog Finn with his client Steven. (Fun fact: Finn is Grant’s uncle.)

Visit www.guidedogsoftexas.org to learn more, donate, or become a volunteer.

Janelle Sventek

Janelle is a second year student attending UIWRSO, working as a blog writer to share personal experiences about her time in optometry school.

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Low Vision with a Twist

As an officer for the LVR (Low Vision and Rehabilitation) Club at RSO, I am very excited to share my experience with a recent event that we held as a fundraiser. Most people have heard about “Painting with a Twist,” which involves a teacher showing you step-by-step how to finish a painting, all while indulging in a BYOB atmosphere. LVR Club wanted to do something similar, but do it with a low vision twist. This was the first time an event like this has ever been held at UIWRSO, so we were very eager to have it go off with a bang!

For our event, we had a teacher (our very own third year and LVR officer Minati Desai) show us how to paint a picture, but with the added difficulty of wearing low vision simulator glasses. Our third year class made these glasses, and they simulated all kinds of low vision diseases such as cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and glaucoma, among others. Participants were encouraged to use the glasses and see a small glimpse into the life of someone with one of these eye diseases. I used a pair of cataract glasses and I have to admit that it got difficult when I was trying to use my central vision! Luckily, I was still able to come up with a decent painting.

One of the great things about this event is that more than just RSO students attended. Some pharmacy students from UIW attended, as well as friends of the professors here at UIWRSO. One thing that is very difficult about being an officer in a club is sometimes worrying about the turnout of events. We were very pleased that we had a full turnout with all 30 spots filled. We were also able to have wine service at the school for this specific event. The event was sponsored by Mattingly Low Vision.

Everyone at the event really enjoyed it. Many people told me it was one of the best events we’ve ever had at RSO, which myself and the other officers of the club are very proud of. We were even mentioned in the UIW newsletter! I hope that this event continues next year and even after we graduate. I think it is a great way to educate students who have no prior exposure to low vision and also people who aren’t involved in optometry. I am very proud of what our club has done this year, so what a great event to finish off my third year of optometry school!

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LVR Club Celebrates Valentine’s Day

I am a firm believer that students that enroll in an optometry program should also be active outside the classroom. I am lucky enough to be an officer for our school’s Low Vision and Rehabilitation (LVR) club. Every month I send out information about low vision diseases and our role, as optometrists, in treatment and management of the diseases. We also host many events, including trips to the San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind, 5k walks, etc. This month, in honor of Low Vision Awareness Month, LVR Club decided to help out our library in making Valentine’s Day Cards for employees of the San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind.

At the beginning of the meeting, our club’s president, Candice Jones, explained the upcoming events that LVR will have. This includes (and make sure you watch out for the blogs about these!): Volunteer events such as vision screenings, San Antonio Low Vision Club monthly meetings, Low Vision Expo, as well as “Low Vision with a Twist.” Coordinating events such as these is a great way to network and learn a lot more about optometry, even outside of school. Food for this meeting was graciously donated by one of the RSO faculty, Dr. Matt Valdes.

Then the fun making the Valentine’s Day cards began! Because many of the employees of the San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind are visually impaired, students, faculty, and staff used tactile stickers, glitter glue, beads, felt, and dark markers so it is easier for them to read the cards once they receive them. You don’t really know how much you take for granted until you realize little things like this: that people need things like tactile words/stickers in order to “see” what you wrote. It was very humbling.

During the meeting, we were able to make a lot of cards! Our school library is actually keeping the card station open so that all students can get involved whenever they have time. I am excited to hear about these employees opening their cards. I hope that reading something like this will brighten their day, even if it is just a little bit. I am grateful to have the opportunity to make a difference in someone else’s life, and I wouldn’t have known about it unless I joined UIWRSO’s LVR Club!

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COVD Annual Golf Tournament

On Saturday, October 17th, UIWRSO’s student chapter of COVD (College of Optometrists in Vision Development) held their annual Golf Tournament at the beautiful Silverhorn Golf Club. This event is held to raise awareness and fundraise money to offer scholarships to children who are in need of vision therapy or comprehensive binocular vision evaluations. Even though I occasionally play golf, I have never participated in this event before, but decided this was the year I attempted an 18-hole course with my classmates!

The event started early with lunch and free balls to use at the range until the actual tournament started. Every team had a group of four, and every two people were supplied with a golf cart. Everyone also received bags that included balls, tees, a towel, among other goodies to help us through the day. Once we had warmed up on the range, the tournament was ready to start! All teams were sent to different holes, so that everyone would continuously play and finish around the same time. In addition to having prizes for first, second, and third place, there were also two other prizes up for grabs: one for the player with the closest to the pin, and another for the player with the longest drive, which our teammate happened to receive! The rules for this game of golf included a “scramble” which means everyone takes a shot, but the team starts playing from the best or furthest ball on each stroke. Teams wrote down their scores and then met at the end of the day to see who won! The winner’s of this year tournament included Kyle Thaxton, Sarah Flanagan, Scott Gorton, and Dr. Mervyn Bloom with 52 strokes throughout the 18-hole course.

Besides raising money through the golf tournament itself, COVD also raised money by raffling off prizes that included everything from a TV to gift cards, to hotel rooms. I, actually won a prize this year and got a month’s membership to a gym! This raffle is one of the biggest of the year throughout our school, so it was a great time to see who won all the prizes. I have to admit that this was one of the best school events I have ever gone to. It was great having a sun-filled day with my classmates while contributing to the UIW Eye Institute Vision Therapy Clinic.

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Dining in the Dark

“Dining in the Dark” is an annual event that UIWRSO’s student chapter of SVOSH (Student Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity) hosts in order to fundraise for the World Sight Day Challenge. This is a global campaign run by Optometry Giving Sight, a charity who hopes to help the more than 600 million people worldwide who are blind or vision impaired because they do not have access to an eye exam or glasses. 100 percent of the proceeds that came from this event went directly to this campaign, which is why it is such an important event for UIWRSO.

The room was beautifully decorated, and at each table there was a little blindfold in front of each plate, which we used to cover our eyes to simulate eating as a visually impaired or blind person. Everyone found their seats and volunteers to the event served drinks and bread. Nicole Fee, president of the RSO SVOSH chapter, gave a presentation about what World Sight Day is and how Dining in the Dark helps to benefit Optometry Giving Sight.

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There were also two guest speakers, Ricky Ruzicka, and Jose Martinez from Lighthouse for the Blind. Both of these speakers talked about their experience with their visual impairment. Ricky has Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, which he was not diagnosed with until his early twenties, and Jose has a form of Retinitis Pigmentosa, something he was born with. Both of these speakers gave us great insight to what it is like to have a visual impairment, whether you are born with it or develop it later in life. They gave us great information about what kind of devices and services are available to people with blindness. They also answered several questions about their daily lives, such as what kind of programs are available for them in school or how they learned how to ride the bus.

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Next, the eating began! The food was catered by Carraba’s Italian Grill. Eating pasta and salad might be easy when you have sight, but when that is taken away, it is definitely a challenge! Everyone was instructed to put on their blindfolds and eat their meal as they normally would. The lights were also turned off at this point. I definitely had to rely on my other senses, especially touch, to find what I was looking for. It was much more difficult than I thought it would be! After taking off the blindfold, I could see a lot of food around my plate; I guess I am not the best at this!

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At the same time, a silent auction was happening close-by, which was also used to raise money for Optometry Giving Sight. Some of the items up for auction (which were generously donated) included a LASIK procedure provided by Dr. Parkhurst and Nuvision, a new iPad Air, designer sunglasses, and vouchers for our own UIWRSO optical. SVOSH also raised money by having a raffle, giving away items such as a Keurig and gift cards.

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This was a fantastic event to attend. Not only did SVOSH raise a huge amount of money for this wonderful charity, I also got to see students, faculty, and friends coming together to participate and have fun in something they believe in, helping others through the gift of sight.