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Voice of the Leader Dog Community: Helaine

Helaine and her current Leader Dog, Zara. They are sitting on a bench and Helaine has her left arm around Zara’s shoulders. Helaine is wearing black slacks, a purple long-sleeve shirt and a brightly patterned yellow, tan and red scarf; she has a large smile on her face. Zara is a yellow golden retriever/Labrador retriever cross. She has dark eyes and a dark nose. She is leaning into Helaine and is wearing a brown leather Leader Dog harness.

Hello. I’m Helaine and my Leader Dog #2 is Zara; we were matched in April of this year. I waited a very long time for Zara due to Covid and the brutal Texas heat! It was very hard to be without my first Leader Dog, Chapman, and meeting Zara at the Leader Dog campus and having Linda [Fisher] as my instructor again after 14 years was a gift like no other!

A woman and a dog are in a mall. The woman is squatting next to the dog, a yellow golden retriever/Labrador retriever cross, that is sitting on the tile floor. The woman is wearing jeans and a long sleeve shirt, she has long hair which is pushed back from her face with a pair of glasses used like a headband. The dog is wearing a brown leather Leader Dog harness and is looking off to one side. Behind the pair is a textured glass wall with the word “Zara” in all caps and lighted behind the glass.

I lost most of my vision in 2003 when I had a stroke. The blood clot hit my occipital nerve and the rest, as they say, is history.

After working in commercial real estate for many years, I had to redefine and rearrange my life. I tried returning to work, but I wasn’t able to make that happen. I tried to finish my master’s degree; again, it wasn’t meant to be.

I was playing with some crafting projects when I met a well-known mosaic artist online. We became fast friends and with her encouragement, I entered the art world and I’ve never looked back.

Photo description: A square mosaic on a wrought iron stand. From the middle of the artwork to the outside: a glass circle with a white flower and a light blue coloring around the edge surrounded by small rectangular, multicolored pieces of plates. Next are two circles of white oval glass beads, in the outer circle there are also several dark blue round glass pieces and several white and light blue round glass pieces. The next circle is comprised of light blue-green rectangular glass pieces and round blue-green pieces. From here four leafy metal stems project from the circle to the four corners of the square. The remaining area is covered with glass pieces forming a solid background – the pieces vary in size, are all square or rectangular, have a metallic shine and range in color from light blue to dark blue.

After five years, my doctor suggested I get a dog and he recommended Leader Dogs. My life began to change once Chapman and I met and became a team. Having such a special partner changed my life even more.

A rectangular mosaic in red and white tones. From the middle of the artwork to the outside: A round white ball surrounded by red/white rectangular glass pieces with four round white glass pieces at the top, bottom, left and right. The next two circles are small round red pieces surrounded by a circle of round white glass interspersed with oval red/black glass. Moving outward is a large circle of red/white glass pieces with a swirl pattern surrounded by a row of round white glass. The next row are long rectangular pieces in solid colors of white, black, light green and maroon. Finishing the artwork are four red roses pieces in the corners.With newfound confidence and mobility, I continued to explore art. Susan, my mosaic mentor and now dear friend, helped change my life even more. I had been told by another art teacher that my low vision would forever limit my creative abilities. I shared this story with Susan, and she was incensed! She made it her mission to help me learn modern mosaicking with my unique challenges being a gift rather than a deterrent. With her patient ways, she helped me find my creative voice and I became addicted to the process of creating and I never looked back.

After a medical incident left me legally blind, I was forced to give up my career in commercial real estate. This left me in search of something that would bring the same sense of accomplishment that my career had provided for me. I made a decoupage guitar for a friend and then decided to move onto mosaics. I found it extremely challenging and fulfilling. After meeting a well-known artist, I began to find my voice through a mixed media format called pique assiette. In this style of mosaic, the artist incorporates pieces of broken ceramics – plates, dishes, cups, tiles – and other objects like jewelry, seashells, and fused glass into the design. The appeal and expressiveness of pique assiette lies in the ideas of lateral thinking, humor, recycling and the significance of the other objects.

The first photo is of Helaine and her first Leader Dog, Chapman. They are sitting on a bench and Helaine has her left arm around Chapman’s shoulders and is holding his brown leather leash in her right hand. Helaine is wearing black slacks, a red shirt and a tan blouse, she has a large smile on her face. Chapman is a yellow Labrador retriever/golden retriever cross. He has dark eyes and a dark nose and is wearing a brown leather Leader Dog harness.
Helaine and Chapman

I reside in Houston, Texas where my guide dog, Chapman, is with me in my garage studio while I work. I have focused on tranquility and expression through my mosaics. I hope you find them to be inviting and inspirational.

Below the photo are the following quotes: “He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.” – St. Francis of Assisi

“Art is not in the eye of the beholder. It’s in the soul of the artist.” – Seth Godin

Now I am part of a fabulous online community of artists. I sell my art online when I can. Zara keeps me company while I create. Her presence is comforting, and she keeps her eyes on me in a protective way.

As with Chapman, Zara will eventually attend a mosaic workshop which I try to do every few years. Having a dog allows me to travel without anxiety and traveling to be with sighted artists is a wonderful adventure I’m glad I can enjoy with complete independence.

There will always be a special place in my heart for Leader Dogs for the Blind and where I am now in my life.

Helaine and Leader Dog Zara are pictured at the top.

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