Summertime and the Living Is Easy

Sue Martin in a hat with her guide dog
Sue with guide dog

So a song by the American artist, Ella Fitzgerald, begins. I grew up in the American south. As a child the heat never really bothered me. We spent the summers outside, usually at summer camp. When not at camp, we were outside riding our ponies or playing physically demanding games.

It’s quite different now! My "day job" is with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. I spend my days before a computer. It’s a fun job, and I enjoy my team and the work we do. But it’s a pretty sedentary job.

Last February, I trained with my fifth Seeing Eye dog, Quan. We’re right at our six-month anniversary. The first six months with a new dog pretty much set the stage for the next eight to ten years. We’re charged with working our new dogs every day. Quan is a German shepherd. Shepherds are goal-oriented dogs, and it’s important that they have a destination to work towards every day.

This has been a particularly hot summer. I’ve tried to walk every day and, while some of the walks haven’t been long, Quan and I have gone somewhere each day.

Stay Hydrated

Sometimes it seems simply walking out the door causes me to break into a sweat. And when I go for a long walk, I arrive home with sweat streaming down my face. It’s important to stay hydrated when it’s hot outside. I try to drink several glasses of water every day and limit my intake of beverages and foods such as coffee, chocolate, and other items that can cause me to lose fluids. Same with our three dogs! All three of our dogs are big dogs, and they can drink a lot of water. I refill their water bowls three or four times a day. Even if the bowl isn’t empty the water is tepid after a few hours and cold water is always better. There’s no set amount of water a dog should drink each day. I just have to remember to make sure they all have free access to full water bowls several times a day.

Protect Your Skin

My husband is a low vision therapist. He’s been after me to wear glasses practically since we were married. Last year I finally got glasses I can wear all the time. They’re lightweight and comfortable, and I almost never notice I have them on.

If you can’t see why wear glasses? Simply for protection. Sun and wind can be damaging. Prolonged exposure to bright sunlight can cause cataracts. If you have blue or green eyes, which I do, prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause macular degeneration. Both sun and wind can cause damage to your skin. So I dutifully wear my glasses when I go for a walk. I also wear a Tilley hat when I remember it. The hat keeps me dry when I have to walk in the rain and shades my face and shoulders from the bright hot sun.

Guide dog Zoe sitting down on the sidewalk with boots on to protect her feet
Dog sitting with boots on

What About Feet in the Heat?

As a child I spent half my time running around barefoot. It was never a problem in the yard, but I recall dancing around on the hot pavement many times! Gone are those carefree days of childhood. Two of my Seeing Eye dogs pulled hard in harness. When a guide dog exerts a strong pull the handler takes the impact of the pull with their right leg. I’ve twisted my right ankle more times than I can remember. As a result, I’m careful with footwear. In the winter I usually wear hiking boots or snow sneakers depending on where I’m going to be walking. In the summer I wear sneakers with a wide heel base. This stabilizes my foot when it impacts the pavement, and I haven’t badly sprained an ankle for several years now — a huge improvement.

What about my dog? Quan walks pretty fast and, as long as he’s going at a good clip, the heat of the pavement or sidewalk doesn’t bother him. It’s different when we’re working in town though.

Because I trained with Quan in the winter, he had to get used to his boots. Seeing Eye issues boots to every student. We use them in the winter to protect our dogs’ paws from the caustic salt mixture used to keep sidewalks and roads free of snow and ice. We use them in the summer to prevent our dogs from burning their paws. Quan has pretty sensitive feet. If we encountered unexpected salt on a route when we were in training, he quickly let me know of his discomfort by limping and even whining once.

Guide dog Zoe standing up on the sidewalk with boots on to protect her feet
Dog standing with boots on

I’ve noticed Quan dancing around on the sidewalk a few times this summer much as I did as a child when I ran around barefoot. So far I haven’t had to use his boots in town. But next week I’ll be traveling for my job, so I’ll definitely pack his boots — just to be sure.

Keep Moving

It takes preparation to maintain a healthy lifestyle. My sixtieth birthday came along a few days after Quan and I returned from Seeing Eye. I feel great! And I’m thankful that Seeing Eye and the dogs they’ve bred and trained have allowed me to stay healthy and active.

Caring for Yourself and Your Dog Guide

Leading an Active Lifestyle

Be Active, Be Safe: A Few Basic Guidelines

Dog Guides for People with Vision Loss

It Takes a Village to Raise a Dog Guide for a Person Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired. Are You Curious About the Process?

Sue Martin Pens a New Memoir "In Dog We Trust"