Southeastern Guide Dogs Open Campus



Mock bus stops, training kennels and countless adorable puppies will be on display at the open house for Southeastern Guide Dogs expanded 35-acre campus in Palmetto this weekend. Whether winning over the hundreds of expected visitors with such active demonstrations as a blindfold walk or just by batting puppy-dog eyes, the human and canine staff look forward to explaining the mission of the organization and its countless successes.

“This transforms people’s lives,” said Suzy Wilburn, director of admissions and graduate services for the organization. She knows; Wilburn became legally blind in 2005, then got guide dog Carson in 2011 and had such lost elements of life as going out after dark restored. Now she helps with the programs for tomorrow's guide dogs.

The training at the Palmetto campus, located on 77th Street East, involves raising animals from pups, then after 14 months putting them through four to six months of harness training. Only about 40 percent of the dogs make it through the entire program to become a guide dog for the blind or to be used for veteran services offered by Southeastern Guide Dogs. “Some tell us they don’t want to go be guide dogs, and some tell us that’s exactly what they want to do,” Wilburn said. Those ones who are apt for the job go through a 26-day course with blind owners, learning to guide through the mock streets filled with curbs, railroad crossings and other obstacles. The dogs learn to walk atop 17 different textures of roads and how to indicate dangers that may harm their owners. 

The events at the Open House begin at 9:15 on Saturday with a "Creation of a Guide Dog" presentation, with other various events scheduled through 12:30pm. Information will be available for any prospective students, volunteers, breeders or program graduates.

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