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Guiding Across the Pond: Sarah & Elana

Sarah stands in a black graduation gown with her yellow Lab/golden cross Seeing Eye dog, Elana, sitting by her side in front of the Trinity College Chapel at the University of Cambridge.

The Seeing Eye is not the only school Sarah recently graduated from. She received her bachelor's degree at the University of Pennsylvania this past May and now lives a long way from home at the University of Cambridge where she is working on her Ph.D. in Astronomy. With her Seeing Eye dog Elana, a yellow Lab/golden retriever cross, Sarah says she is excited about this new adventure.

Sarah has had stable low vision all her life and has worked hard to have strong cane and mobility skills. It was not until college that the idea of applying for a guide dog crossed Sarah’s mind due to Sarah finding herself “playing pinball off of people's ankles” when trying to navigate with her cane around campus. Then there were the close calls with cars.

It just so happens that two other Seeing Eye graduates were attending UPenn at the same time as Sarah. One graduate named Kay never expressed the same frustrations that Sarah felt at the time. Kay's perspective as a guide dog user ultimately convinced Sarah it was time to apply for a Seeing Eye dog.

Today, Sarah and Elana are an unstoppable pair. Sarah explains, “I always know what she’s thinking” when referring to each of Elana’s movements. Elana is also very good at reading Sarah’s emotions and will slow her pace when Sarah is tired. Out of harness, Elana is always ready to curl up in Sarah’s lap whether Sarah is happy or needs some cheering up. This adorable trait does not just go for Sarah. Elana often curls up on Sarah’s friends when she is not in harness and working.

With Elana, Sarah says she has “the confidence to go to not just routine places but new places.” Before, Sarah relied heavily on Google Maps and often felt embarrassed and anxious if she ever became lost or was unsure where to go. Now, Sarah’s mind is at ease when navigating new places, especially with Elana’s ability to bring Sarah directly to door handles. Sarah no longer has to feel around buildings, hoping she will find the correct entrance.

Working around the 814-year-old Cambridge University campus has come with its unique challenges for the team, including a lack of braille, uneven steps, and “lots and lots of cobblestones”, but Sarah and Elana work through them the same as they would any other challenges they may face. Sarah is grateful to have Elana by her side and does not believe she would have ever felt brave enough to pursue this education if it were not for Elana and The Seeing Eye.

“It would have changed the course of my life if I didn’t have Elana.”