Susan Souder

Through Their Eyes

My name is Burke, and I have been living on Hilton Head with Susan and Raymond Souder. There was a great party for me today, as Susan is taking me back to my school in Palmetto, FL to finish my training. I got a bite of the cupcakes with my picture on them! Yum! I'll miss my family here, but I have such work ahead of me, there will be no time to be sad. I'm going to be someone's eyes, to lead and help them about their home and places they want to go. They need me to show them the way, and I'm so happy to do this! As their guide dog, my work is the most difficult of any working dog, but gee, I don't mind, cause it's in my blood.

Burke and I met only briefly the day before she was returning to finish her schooling. I gave her a good luck hug as she snuggled next to her trainer. Many gathered that afternoon to shower her in love and send her off with blessings. Burke called up childhood memories for me, when I'd close my eyes and fumble about my bedroom, trying to imagine how difficult blindness would be. This was prompted by a wonderful blind couple, who were our good friends, and I was always puzzled how they managed. After unsuccessfully locating things with my eyes squeezed shut, I quickly decided, if blindness should befall me, a guide dog would be the answer. Saving all our dog food can wrappers, I sent them to the manufacturer to help provide guide dogs for the blind, never having a clue how much it cost to train these amazing animals.

Susan Souder and husband Raymond are among the gracious volunteers who undertake the training, care and love required to start a puppy off toward its ultimate goal of becoming a blind person's eyes.
"A chance conversation on the tennis courts, with another trainer, stimulated my interest," declared Susan, who just completed Burke's training. "She will ultimately be carefully matched with a blind applicant, and begin her career for which she was bred," Susan smiled proudly. After ten years of training six dogs, Susan is taking a break. A full-time accountant for Burke's Pharmacy (guess where Burke got her name), Susan, a Maryland native, says "I am so grateful to the owners for allowing me to bring our dogs to work with me, as it is an important part of their socialization and training process. The 35-acre Southeastern Guide Dog School is one of twelve US schools having been accredited in Reading, England, and has provided services for nearly three decades. Amazingly, it receives no government grants, and is solely dependent on donations and fundraising. Students are never charged a penny for the guide dog services or the life-time follow up the school provides." The Souders are "puppy raisers," the volunteer program which places puppies in homes for approximately one year, where they learn basic training, and some of the more than 40 commands they will ultimately know. Puppy raisers donate over 600,000 hours a year and untold dollars in the care and training of their puppy. "The puppies then return to school, where they are given roommates, complete harness training, and even learn 'intelligent disobedience,' which is when to disobey their handler for safety and obstacle avoidance," Susan noted.

"From birth, the three breeds-Labradors, Golden Retrievers and Goldadors (lab and golden mix)-are snuggled, cuddled and coddled. At two weeks, a collar and leash are put on them, and they begin potty training!" explained Jennifer Bement, Media Relations Manager for the school. "Core volunteers at the school number 500, and it's the only one which allows volunteers in to hug, socialize and play with the dogs," she said. "After harness training is completed and comfort level established, the key factor is matching the guide dog with a compatible personality. Applicants, once chosen, spend 26 days on campus, where student and dog learn about each other."  Records show the cost of one dog is $60,000. And the reward.over 2,700 matches! "If it's determined a dog is not exactly cut out for guiding, then a career change occurs. The dog is then paired with visually impaired children, becomes a therapy dog for veterans, works search and rescue, or becomes an ambassador dog, who provides outreach to hospitals, nursing homes and schools. We love our puppies so much, but parting with them is not so difficult when we consider these extraordinary dogs will improve and transform the quality of someone's life for years to come," smiled Susan.


Southeastern Guide Dogs
Mission:To create and nurture a partnership between a visually impaired individual and a guide dog, facilitating life's journey with mobility, independence and dignity.
Fun Facts:
. Southeastern Guide Dogs, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
. Our school has provided guide dogs to people with visual impairments for more than 30 years (since 1982).
. Number of active guide dog partnerships: approximately 500
. Number of guide dog teams since inception: more than 2,700
Services: Paws for Independence- This program matches highly trained guide dogs with visually impaired individuals, providing the gift of an independent lifestyle.
How you can help: Visit the website for more info-