“These are love dogs,” said Vicky Cox as she peered at her ambassador dog, Keni.
Southeastern Guide Dogs held its Tails of Hope Luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Dec. 2. This intimate luncheon brought together a special community that included furry tails.
More than 250 people attended Tails of Hope to have a moment to share the ways their companions gifted them hope.
“As an ambassador dog, we are asked to attend functions like this; we are to educate people, talk to people,” said Cox. “Personally, I have bad vision. It speaks to me about helping others that are visually impaired.”
Tails of Hope was an opportunity for guide dog recipients to reflect on how their dogs changed their lives. This event unified the people who had a hand in training and raising the guide dogs with the graduates whose lives have been affected.
“Seeing a graduate come back to the Southeastern Guide Dogs independent, proud and living a fulfilling life is an incredible feeling and a beautiful moment to reflect on our mission,” said Southeastern Guide Dogs Media Relations Manager Ashlie Handy.
Three guest speakers from different backgrounds shared their stories to inspire others like them and spread awareness of the type of services this organization provides to people free of charge.
Marine veteran Bob MacPherson was one of the three speakers to share his story on how receiving his service dog, Blue, changed his life.
MacPherson was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, a result of a set of circumstances as a Marine Corps officer and 20 years of humanitarian work.
“If a little 10-minute speech does something for somebody else–If I can wake one person up who is at the end of their ropes–to grab somebody with PTSD and give them some hope and say hope never dies–it’s out there. Just speak up,” said MacPherson.
Junie Fiaschetti, 6, is blind. When his mother, Destiny Fiaschetti, first received the call to foster 2-year-old Junie, they warned her that he was nonverbal and considered aggressive. Destiny took Junie in with no hesitation. She later adopted Junie in 2020 and applied for Southeastern Guide Dogs Kids Companion Program.
The Kids Companion Program was created for visually impaired kids to have a gentle and skilled companion dog at no cost. This helps children gain confidence by learning how to care for a dog and have a sense of ownership, responsibility and maturity before transitioning to a guide dog.
“We just wanted to spread our message on how southeastern guide dogs have given me hope for Junie’s future as a blind child and the potential for him having a guide dog in the future to have his independence as an adult,” said Destiny Fiaschetti. “We want the world to recognize that blindness is beautiful, too.”
Merlot is Junie’s companion dog. Now, Junie is giggly, likes to sing and is confidently social.
Standup comedian Kenneth E. Hughes was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder that causes vision loss, in his 20s and left him almost completely blind by the late 2000s.
“Ever since I received Buddy, I wanted to play my part and everything I can to bring awareness to the organization. When I was invited here to speak of my story, what my life was like before I lost my vision, how losing my vision affected me and the difference getting a guide dog has made in my life,” said Hughes.
Dariela is the Sarasota community reporter for the Observer. After graduating from Florida State University with degrees in English and education, she’s been a writer and an editor for publications in Tallahassee and Sarasota. In her free time she gives violin lessons.