Dog Camp

Dillon Tarn, left, and a dog trainer at the Leader Dog Camp visit about working a Leader Dog like Darby.

Imagine if you will, going to a summer camp where you are going to meet several new friends, play kickball, climb a 40-foot rock wall and zipline back to the ground.

Now does the scene in your imagination change if you are blind?

That experience is exactly what Abilene senior Dillon Tarn had this past summer. After completing an intense application process, Tarn was selected as one of 18 campers, ages 16 and 17, to attend Leader Dogs Camp in Rochester, Mich.

“This was insanely awesome,” Tarn said recently about his experience. “It was a really big application process and there were three of us from Kansas.”

Tarn indicated that the name of the camp might have been misleading to him at first because in actuality he only got to experience one day with the leader dog. The Leader Dog Camp’s purpose was to give blind young people the experience of working with a leader dog and realizing the independence the dog will provide a sightless individual in everyday life.

“I realized by the end of the camp that the dogs have been trained and they are ready to be matched and paired with a blind person,” Tarn said. “They (the Camp) didn’t want the dogs getting too attached to us and then have us leave.”

It’s been about 15 months since a tragic accident took Tarn’s eyesight and left him totally blind. This active high school senior has been able to adapt well and is coping with his situation.

“I was doing horrible in school,” Tarn said of his past. “I didn’t know what I was doing with my life. Wasn’t making the best decisions. Now I know what I want to do with my life. I know where I am going. I just feel like I have my life on track now.”

Experiencing the activities at the Leader Dog Camp was an amazing opportunity for Tarn. He and his fellow Kansas campers flew to Michigan from Kansas City to attend the weeklong camp.

The campers were treated to many activities such as riding on a tandem bike, being lifted up in the air 100 feet inside a fire truck bucket lift, climbing a rock wall and playing a form of kickball called Beeper Ball.

Besides these activities, Tarn spent a day with a two-year-old female Golden Retriever named Darby.

“She was just the fluffiest sweetheart,” Tarn said.

The trainers worked with the campers on what to say to the dog and what to do when using a Leader Dog.

“You don’t use your cane with the dog,” Tarn said. “We went downtown, walking around buildings, crossing streets, etc. relying on the dog.”

He said Darby led him around potholes, benches, tree limbs on the ground, low overhanging tree limbs, bushes and other obstacles to get to the destination safely. The dog is trained to stop at street corners and to only cross when it is safe.

Tarn said he definitely wants to fulfill the application process to get a Leader Dog.

“This will be another intense process,” he said. “Not only do they evaluate you as a person, but they come look at your living environment and project your ability to take care of the dog.”

Tarn wants to finish off his senior year at AHS in style. While not making the grades earlier in life, the former baseball middle infielder has his life focus centered and has recorded two straight semesters of a 4.0 GPA. He was recently honored in the awards assembly held at the high school.

He credits his mother and father, Richie Tarn and Stephanie Tarn, and a multitude of friends that are constantly there for him. From picking him up and driving him to school to encouraging him in his classroom activities.

Tarn has the partnership of para Erik Graefe to assist him on a daily basis while in school. Graefe not only assists him getting to and from classes but helps him with classroom materials.

“My whole family was awestruck when we learned that Mr. Graefe was going to be with me the entire year,” Tarn said. “Everything just goes so smoothly between me and him.”

Tarn also has his life after AHS planned out in his mind. He wants to do a transition year at the Kansas School of the Blind.

“I want to get my basics and general classes out of the way and I’ll be learning independent living skills, orientation mobility and more Braille classes,” he said.

A new technological device that Tarn was given at the summer camp is a Victor Reader Tech GPS that is totally auditable. He uses this device as a walking aide as it gives him directions to desired locations and lets him know of impending streets that he may need to cross.

While the device knows the way, the Leader Dog in his future would be the stabilizing factor by letting him know when it was safe to cross the street and to find the front door of a building.

After getting his requirements out of the way, Tarn wants to attend Kansas State University to obtain a degree in Agricultural Business. His dad is a K-State alum.

Tarn believes his life is on the right path to accomplish his goals and has adapted a motto for his situation.

“It took me becoming blind to see how bright my future is,” he concluded with an impactful smile and a knowing nod.

Contact Ron Preston at

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