Sue Eldred Evans - A new meaning to the term "Blind Retrieve"

With her kind permission, I would like to share with you an insight into the life of Dove Valley member, Sue Eldred-Evans and her 3-year-old yellow Labrador, Bertie.

Sue is an incredibly inspirational lady who has been registered blind for over 20 years.

She had poor vision as a child and suffered from a detached retina at just 21 years old. Sue has lost 96% of her sight, with no vision at all in her right eye and only around 4% in her left eye; she gives a whole new meaning to the term “blind retrieve”.

Sue and Bertie have been attending our summer training classes and when he’s not retrieving dummies or hunting for tennis balls, Bertie is working hard to keep Sue safe, as her assistance dog.

Sue's dog, Bertie, is not a registered guide dog, but an assistance dog, who in addition to performing a lot of the tasks of a guide dog, is more versatile and meets the needs of  Sue's outgoing lifestyle. Specifically, he stops her bumping into objects, he assists her to cross roads by stopping at all the kerbs, and gives Sue the confidence to walk safely in the street. There isn’t any form of public transport he hasn’t been on, taking travelling on planes, boats, and trains in his stride, especially the underground and helping Sue negotiate the busy streets of London. The residents of Ashbourne, Derbyshire, love to see him in all the town shops. And he even enjoys a trip to the theatre and art galleries. However, he is still working on his technique when it comes to revolving doors with respect to his tail.

 Sue is, and always has been very active, and telling her she cannot do something is like a red rag to a bull. She has easily proven this by her love for riding horses, skiing, scuba diving, hiking up mountains such as Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike and also passing her CBT bike test, although for some reason she is not allowed on the roads. She came out of retirement to continue her love for teaching, and now regularly conducts online Maths and English lessons for children in the UK, Dubai and New Delhi. She has always had a love for dogs, and watching them at game fairs as a child has encouraged her to attend gundog training with Bertie.

 Sue is a strong believer that the best gift that can be given to anyone is to enable them to do something, which is why she is extremely grateful to Dove Valley Working Gundog Club for allowing her to attend the classes, and to long term Dove Valley trainer, Ian Glover, who on occasion uses white dummies for some of Bertie’s retrieves, to provide them with the best chance of success and for Sue and Bertie to see them easier with the 4% vision she has.

There are schemes, such as “Access to Work”, which can assist with travel to their workplace for visually impaired people.  However, there is no such scheme for access to hobbies and pastimes, and especially not in the countryside, or at weekends. This causes Sue a particular problem as the vast majority of Working Tests are held on Sundays - in the countryside.  She has asked me to convey her special thanks to Phil Harrison of Dove Valley, who has assisted with transport to the training classes for her and Bertie, enabling her to continue to do what she loves.

She would also like to give a special mention to John and Kate Mee, who have provided her with both practical and personal support, which has enabled her to take part in working tests and get so much pleasure from working Bertie. Her weekly lessons with John and Kate are the highlight of her week, which she looks forward to every Friday.

She is often met with health and safety excuses as to why she cannot do something, but by her own admission the most dangerous task she must undertake at a working test is making a cup of tea with boiling water! She does however enjoy it when a judge asks her if she can see the blind retrieve area.

I asked Sue what she finds most difficult about gundog training. She said she struggles to distinguish between people, as we all wear green, and we forget to announce ourselves with our name (which is another excuse for me to buy a brightly coloured hoody, which is how she identifies me!).

 I think we can all agree that Sue is a very determined, and inspirational lady who hasn’t let losing her sight get in the way of enjoying her dog and meeting like-minded people, proving that you're only as blind as you want to be. They are both excelling in the training classes, and the trust Sue has in Bertie, to mark, hunt and retrieve dummies is obvious to see.

 I thought this brief article might be a little bit of motivation for those who may be struggling with certain aspects of their training, or don’t seem to know what to do next, but have the drive not to give up.

Remember, the only thing worse than being blind, is having sight, but no vision!