From Peer Leader to Guiding Eyes Club President

%E2%80%9CThe+most+spectacular+moment+that+has+ever+happened+to+me+throughout+this+journey+with+this+organization+is+watching+Ocala%2C+my+first+pup%2C+graduate+with+her+handler+from+the+program+and+officially+become+a+guide+dog%2C%E2%80%9D+Samantha+Epstein+said.+

“The most spectacular moment that has ever happened to me throughout this journey with this organization is watching Ocala, my first pup, graduate with her handler from the program and officially become a guide dog,” Samantha Epstein said.

Sarah Hale, Hills Happenings Editor

Samantha Sepstein, who graduated in 2016, is now a student at Ithaca College. However, her days are filled with more than lectures and homework; they’re filled with puppies!

Sepstein is not only a member, but the President of the Guiding Eyes for the Blind chapter at Ithaca College. Through this club, it is her and the other student’s job to raise these pups until they are old enough to start training with professionals to become service dogs.

“Think puppy college,” Sepstein says in regards to the program.

Having been a part of this program since the summer after her freshman year, Sepstein is working with her second dog, Elaine, “who will go back to take her big test to see if she is ready to be a guide dog in the summertime.”

The first dog she raised, Ocala, has already graduated her training and became a guide dog.

Sepstin said she is “endlessly thankful to be able to still be able to keep in touch with Ocala and now have a wonderful relationship with her handler as well.”

She is currently studying public health communications and hopes to work in Food Policy, which is part of the reason she started raising dogs.

“I have always been a huge animal person throughout my entire life, Sepstein said, “and when I decided that veterinary studies were not the right choice for me, I knew that I needed to find a place for animals in my life.

The program itself is based in Yorktown Height, NY and was founded in 1954.

“Since our founding by Donald Kauth we’ve graduated over 7,000 guide dog teams,” said the Guiding Eye for the Blind website.

The program through Ithaca College has become an important part of their institution. A college campus is a great place for a puppy to become social.

“Elaine comes to the grocery store with me, comes to class with me, comes to work with me, and anything else that I think would be a successful situation for her to learn,” said Sepstein.

It is no surprise that Sepstein has always been a leader. As a student at Warren Hills, she was a part of Peer Leadership, which have become some of her “favorite experiences.”

“It is a very special feeling to be recognized for all of your hard work and be able to implement programs you think are important, as well as be a resource for those who may be looking up to you at one point or another,” Sepstein said. “I learned so much from my fellow peer leaders as well as the lovely Mrs. Giamoni.”

Even though she is obviously headed towards bigger and better things, it is unlikely that Sepstein will ever forget her roots.

“—at times Warren County may feel small, but it is truly a special place where I will always call home and look back on fondly.”

It is hard to think of a school program that is quite as rewarding as Ithaca’s Guiding Eye for the Blind puppy training; nor one as cute!