September is National Guide Dog Month, and three Bay Area graduates of Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael are shining examples of the transformative power of the human-canine connection for people who are blind or visually impaired.
San Francisco graphic illustrator JR Quevedo and his guide dog, Griff, make a beautiful team, but their pairing also helps Quevedo deliver beautiful art to the Bay Area.
Quevedo’s mother had been infected with the Rubella virus while pregnant with him, causing his left eye to be totally blind at birth. With minimal vision, he attended a regular public school, but wasn’t able to see the chalkboard, so he started sketching on paper, pretending to be taking notes to keep from standing out.
Quevedo eventually attended art school in San Francisco, where he majored in graphic design
“I might be visually impaired, but my imagination and storytelling is very much alive,” he said. “I draw on paper, with my eye inches away from my artwork, and since I’m a digital artist, almost anything can be zoomed in on using a computer.”
While being an artist was a cathartic outlet for Quevedo, he was always searching for ways to improve his mobility and independence. He didn’t like the stigma he felt using a cane. He believes Griff helps people get to know him and not see him only for his disability. Quevedo also credits Griff with drastically improving his efficiency with traveling.
“I live in a townhouse where all the doors are the same, so Griff easily finds our correct door when I give the command ‘let’s go home,’” said Quevedo. “Griff never fails me, which makes me want to share with everyone just how wonderful he is.”
Richmond resident Ayaka Isono, a concert pianist who received her master’s degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, lost her vision at age 29 in 2001 from a rare retinal disorder.
Isono was very involved in the Bay Area music world when her vision loss occurred, having worked and performed with the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
After losing her vision, Isono experienced depression over the thought of abandoning music and teaching. She decided to learn to read Braille sheet music. Her Braille teacher, who was also blind, had a guide dog and was a mother, which gave Isono hope of having a family and becoming more independent.
Coincidentally, when Isono went to Guide Dogs for the Blind to receive her guide dog training, she met her husband, Zach, an instructor for GDB at the time. They married three years later and now have a 9-year-old son, Koren.
Isono is now on her second guide dog, Lewis. She credits Lewis with helping her to be an active mom, which includes walking her son to and from school. Lewis also restored her independence to teach and play music again.
“Having a guide dog not only changed my life romantically, but it’s allowed me to reconnect with the world in a way I never could have imagined,” said Isono.
Elizabeth Greenberg is a 79-year-old widow and retired high school English teacher who lives in San Francisco. She feels that her guide dog Anna has made the world a friendlier and more welcoming place for her.
The pair is greeted warmly at retailers, restaurants, and on Muni in San Francisco. Many employees at the Whole Foods across the street from her apartment know Anna by name.
Greenberg also recently embarked on her first long plane trip with Anna to Boston, which she was initially a bit nervous about. But both she and Anna handled the trip with aplomb, and it gave Greenberg more confidence for future travels.
“Having Anna alongside me makes me more confident and willing to ask people for what I need,” said Greenberg.
But traveling and navigating around San Francisco is not the only thing she enjoys about having a guide dog.
“I absolutely adore the warmth of Anna’s fur against my bare feet in the evenings,” she said.
That’s the power of a successful guide dog partnership.
How to Support Guide Dogs
Guide Dogs for the Blind prepares highly-qualified guide dogs to serve and empower individuals who are blind or have low vision. All of its services are provided free of charge. GDB receives no government funding.
Bay Area dog lovers can support GDB by purchasing tickets to its Canine Heroes Auction, a diamond jubilee celebration to celebrate the organization’s 75th anniversary, on Oct. 14, at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit GuideDogs.com/events.
Karen Woon is vice president of marketing for Guide Dogs for the Blind and brings a wealth of marketing experience to GDB. having served as director of marketing for Prophet Brand Strategy, a worldwide strategic brand and marketing consultancy, as well as key positions with McCann-Erickson, one of the world’s largest advertising agencies and J. Walter Thompson, a renowned marketing/communications agency with offices in more than 90 countries. She holds an MBA in marketing from the Haas School of Business, University of California at Berkeley. Her interests include architecture and design, stand-up paddleboarding, tropical islands, and watching her kids compete in soccer and karate.
Main article photo by: Photo of Elizabeth Greenberg and Anna courtesy of Guide Dogs for the Blind