Sue Martin’s first book, Out of the Whirlpool, is a deeply honest and moving account of the rebuilding of her life after a suicide attempt in her youth ended in traumatic blindness. Since that day, she has greeted the world with her trademark determination and humor, accepting the challenges placed before her as she adjusted to being blind. In this interview with Thomas Logan, CEO of Equal Entry, Martin talks about her new book, In Dog We Trust.
Thomas Logan: Hello, I’m Thomas Logan from Equal Entry, and I’m here today with author Sue Martin.
What caused you to write “In Dog We Trust”?
Sue Martin: My husband. He wanted me to write a book about my dogs.
Thomas Logan: How long had you been blind before you went to get a guide dog?
Sue Martin: About two and a half years. It took me about a year to trust my cane travel. At that point I think the Seeing Eye probably would have accepted me. But I put it off for another year and a half because I just felt that it was really important to have good solid cane skills that I had used over a long enough period of time that I wouldn’t freak out if I suddenly had to go back to the cane.
Thomas Logan: What did you think it was going to be like, having a guide dog?
Sue Martin: Well, it was it was kind of a an easy decision for me because I grew up with dogs and horses. I was around hunting dogs and I road dressage as a child. It was just a very natural fit for me. I almost knew what it was going to be like before I even walked in the door [laughs]. I mean in my dreams that’s what it was going to be like, and by golly it is [laughs].
Thomas Logan: Do you think other people have a different experience when they get a guide dog for the first time?
Sue Martin: It probably is [different for other people], because it’s unnatural to walk really fast if you can’t see where you’re going. I think a lot of times, especially [for] people who have a little bit of usable vision, it’s really hard for them to put that level of trust in an animal. Because, I mean, a well-trained dog handled the way we’re taught to handle our dogs… I fly. It takes a lot of trust you know, it really does!
Thomas Logan: How long before you had established trust with your dog?
Sue Martin: Not very long at all. I would say in training, with all four of them, now five of them. Seeing Eye provides absolutely wonderful instruction, and they provide the same instruction to every student. So we’re all taught similar ways to handle our dogs throughout the dog’s working life. But we are also human beings with our own instincts and sometimes we’re going to follow those instincts regardless of what the school said.
Thomas Logan: You have a lot of great stories in your book. Could you share one with us?
Sue Martin: It’s the chapter when I bring my first dog Sadie home, and I’m describing arriving at the Birmingham airport. My instructor had told me to leave the plane with a flight attendant and just walk Sadie at heel. And this little imp that’s been riding around on my shoulder all my life speaks with a mocking tone and is sometimes a little sarcastic. And he said, “Oh, go ahead and work her, it’ll be so much more impressive.” And so I did, and it was perfectly fine.
I think I have been extremely lucky since becoming blind in a lot of ways. I had incredible teachers, I had a very supportive family and community. And then I met Jim [laughs]. Jim has always encouraged me. Jim taught me to ski during our internships and he’s always encouraged me to push the envelope and never be afraid to go for my dreams.
I mean Jim and I hiked together in the Appalachian mountains before I even had a dog. It was just a different kind of experience. Because with a dog, you’re working with another living being. You’re taking in the world around you. You know the forest, the smells, the sounds; you also have this living being taking responsibility for your safety, and so you have that sensory experience as well as all the rest of it.
Thomas Logan: Over the years of having your five dogs, was there ever a time you didn’t have a dog?
Sue Martin: I unexpectedly had to retire my first dog and I went without a dog for about two and a half months. And then when Kismet died I went back to the cane for a month.
Thomas Logan: What are some ways it affected you when you didn’t have a dog?
Sue Martin: Well, I didn’t especially slow down, and it was in the winter, and it was in Maine, and I can remember a car passing me on the wrong side. I thought I was on the left shoulder of the road and a car passed me on the left. [laughs] “Ooh, I think something is wrong with my orientation here.” I did kind of slow down after that happened [laughs]. Once a dog came into my life, I’d just as soon have a dog, thank you.
Thomas Logan: Ever have any problems with people who question your guide dog?
Sue Martin: When I go in a store, I just assume that I’m not going to have any problem. Actually, I was challenged in DC last week. I went down to a grocery store. When I walked in the door a man challenged me, and I said, “She’s a seeing eye dog.” And he challenged me again, and he was very angry, and the man who was helping me used the current correct term — which is service animal — and then the guy was okay. Who is going to challenge me now? I mean, a hundred and twelve pound girl with a seventy pound shepherd?
Thomas Logan: Could you talk about the path to independence at Seeing Eye?
Sue Martin: Sure, it’s really a cool concept. The path to independence was started in maybe 2011, and the school communicated to supporters that they had started this path and you can buy different sized bricks, and have them etched and engraved. So the first brick that I had put in said, “Thank you,” and listed all four of my dogs.
Then last spring after I completed my application to go back and retrain when Kismet retired. Right after I completed the application I bought another brick. And so Kismet’s brick says “Kismet: Beloved, impish, brilliant.” That’s just who Kismet was. She was so lovable and so goofy and yet such a fabulous worker. I mean, she combined those three characteristics like perfectly.
Thomas Logan: So how do people get in touch with you?
Sue Martin: My email address is real easy, it’s Sue.Martin@windstream.net. Or you can go to either of my websites, outofthewhirlpool.com or suewmartin.com, and there are contact forms on both of those sites.