Meet Guide Dog Class #303
Pictured left to right: Apprentice Courtney Fouts, Butch and guide dog Butters, Senior Instructor Lynn Benus, Jennifer and guide dog Riley, Apprentice Sam Revelas, Jeanne and guide dog Dotty, Alan and guide dog Chloe, Instructor Stefanie Spence, Valerie and guide dog Mitchell, and Manager, Guide Dog Program Marisa Blanco
Welcome Class #303
Join us in welcoming Guide Dog Class 303 to the Southeastern Guide Dogs family. These inspiring individuals have met their new guides, trained together on campus and in nearby cities, and have now graduated with their new best friends. Congratulations to our newest alumni!
Meet the Class
About 15 years ago, macular degeneration began to affect Jeanne Pandolfo’s sight, forcing her to give up driving. Over time, her condition worsened and she can no longer do the activities she loves. A puppy raiser friend told Jeanne about Southeastern Guide Dogs. Now, she’s been paired with a beautiful black Lab named Dotty, who is affectionate, sweet, smart, and never leaves her handler’s side. “She’s always up against me,” says Jeanne. “And it’s just a wonderful, warm feeling. She’s like my best friend.”
For the last 11 years, a service dog named Mr. Marley has been by Butch Kurfee’s side. Back in Vietnam, the Army aviation veteran lost his left eye and spent 18 months in the hospital. Then six years ago, he began struggling with the vision in his right eye and subsequently lost his remaining sight. Now, a loving, intelligent, and affectionate yellow Lab named Butters has given Butch a new lease on life. Butch can imagine traveling, swimming, and being active again. “We try to walk five miles a day,” he notes. Best of all, Mr. Marley and Butters are already fast friends.
There’s nothing funny about retinitis pigmentosa, but Alan Frost can laugh about the time he walked right off the seawall in Bay Island Park and landed in the water. Luckily, he wasn’t hurt, but that incident made the retired telecommunications expert realize that—as his eyesight deteriorated—he needed a guide dog for protection from injury. Alan has been a dog lover all his life, and now he’s falling in love with Chloe, “an exceptionally bright dog with a very, very good nature.” He and Chloe will be taking daily walks and meeting lots of new friends.
Valerie Nunez-Pizarro is a saxophone player and music teacher in Pinellas County elementary schools. In 2016, when she was a college student, she lost most of her vision due to excess cerebral spinal fluid creating pressure and swelling in her optic nerve. After three surgeries, her condition stabilized, but she is legally blind. Valerie and her new guide, Mitchell, have matching energy levels and the ability to move slowly or say, “Let’s go!” “Mitchell can be reserved,” she says. “But when he’s in the right place, he’s got a lot of energy, and he knows how to use his energy appropriately.”
In 2010, Jennifer Wildfong was in the hospital giving birth to her daughter, Bailey, when she noticed issues with her eyes. Follow-up testing led to a diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa. At a low spot in her life, Jennifer had to “reboot” to figure out how to continue being active and decided she needed a guide dog. Her match with Riley was meant to be! On June 28—Match Day AND their shared birthdays—Jennifer and Riley were joined as a team in a burst of happy excitement. Jennifer can’t wait to see how Riley likes the woods, kayaking, and camping, and she looks forward to introducing him to snow. This team is ready for adventure!
Christina was born with congenital cataracts, which can cause a rare form of glaucoma and eventual blindness. Her daughter Sloane, 3, was born with the same condition and began her first of many surgeries at just four weeks of age. Christina, a lawyer, learned about Kids Companion Dogs through a case at work, and now she is thrilled to welcome Hannah to their home. A patient and loving friend, Hannah sits by Sloane’s side while her eye pressures are measured regularly, which is never fun. No one knows what the future holds for Sloane’s vision or if she will one day need a guide dog, but for now, Christina says, “Hannah is the perfect addition to our family.”
Jayden struggled with his vision from an early age. Two years ago, he was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called blue cone monochromacy. He was introduced to the idea of a guide dog in kindergarten and hasn’t stopped wishing for one of his own. Jayden wrote a letter to Operation Santa asking for a guide dog. A postal worker shared a video about his letter, which went viral on TikTok. Jayden received his Christmas wish when a Kids Companion dog named Jazzy, a sweet and loveable yellow Lab, joined the family. “With Jazzy, you can see Jayden becoming more independent day by day,” says his mom.
Hilton, a 10th grader, has been blind since birth due to septo-optic dysplasia and underdevelopment of the optic nerves. Since preschool, he’s attended the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, where his family learned about Southeastern Guide Dogs. Now, Hilton has been paired with Kids Companion Dog Rose, a playful, lovable yellow Lab and his new best friend. Hilton’s dad, two sisters, and mom, Britt, couldn’t be more delighted with their new family member. “Rose has been a great addition to our family,” Britt says. “She’s really cool,” adds Hilton.
Read more about these courageous individuals and the dogs by their sides in our commencement program, below. Welcome to the Southeastern Guide Dogs family!