Guide Dogs for the Blind was founded in 1942 to aid blinded servicemen returning from World War II. The first veteran to graduate from the program was Sgt. Leonard Foulk, who was paired with a Guide Dog named Blondie. We recently caught up with Sgt. Foulk’s niece, Bonnie Cursey, and great niece, Holly Searcy (who considers Sgt. Foulk to be her grandfather and refers to him as "Papa"). We shared some of their memories of Sgt. Foulk in the latest issue of Guide Dog News, but they had many other stories to tell. Here are some more wonderful anecdotes about the man and the dog that have become the face of GDB's founding era.
"Blondie was ready at any moment to do the job that she was trained for, and Leonard was eternally grateful for her service and her friendship," said Bonnie. "She was ALWAYS there for him."
Bonnie relates that there was a defining moment when Leonard really developed his 'blind' trust for Blondie. It came as they were walking in a familiar place in San Francisco, and Leonard doubted one of Blondie's actions. "Blondie did something to indicate that Leonard should move over and he ignored her," Bonnie said. Urging her forward, Blondie once again tried to signal Leonard to move over. "He ignored her yet again, and as they moved forward at his insistence, Leonard ran right into a light pole, striking his head." Bonnie said that was the one and only time he ignored Blondie's signals.
"Without Blondie," Bonnie said, "I am not sure what he would have done in those first few years of blindness. Adjusting to being blind was difficult, but having Blondie as his constant, loyal companion - taking Leonard wherever he wanted to go - allowed him full independence that he would not have had otherwise. This was truly a wonderful gift and a blessing. Leonard traveled with her, ate with her, slept by her ... Blondie was his best friend. Blondie gave him something to care for, to get up for, and to start a new day even if he did not want to. She was his responsibility and he would not do anything that might be detrimental in caring for her. She probably saved his life, and he knew this as well as did our family. Although he did not work, he became an accomplished wood worker, learned to play the banjo, and spent many hours listening to books on tape. He lived a full rewarding life, enjoying his family, friends and hobbies thanks to Blondie and the Guide Dogs for the Blind."
As the years passed, Leonard didn't use Blondie quite as much for his mobility as he did in the beginning of their partnership. By the time Blondie was 9 or 10 years old she pretty much was just a wonderful companion and no longer a working Guide Dog. "She was getting old and was having difficulty getting up and down," said Bonnie. In her retirement, "Blondie got to enjoy being lazy and spoiled. In 1955 or 56, much to everyone's dismay, Blondie went outside and disappeared. For weeks we looked for her, the community joining in, but she was never located. It was very difficult for him to lose her as they had been through so much together and he was quite devastated for some time."
Bonnie also relates how Leonard met the next dog in his life, Fuzzy: "While sitting outside on the driveway one day, a beautiful sheep dog walked across the street and sat down beside him," she said. "From then on, Fuzzy would walk across the street each day, nuzzle Leonard's hand to let him know that he was there and then spend the day. Fuzzy would follow Leonard and never let him out of sight until his owner called him home at night. If ever there was an object on the ground, Fuzzy would pick it up and move it so Leonard wouldn't stumble (something Blondie had also done). The owner could not keep Fuzzy home and the following Christmas, Fuzzy's owner put a large red bow on him and sent him over as a Christmas present to Leonard. From that time on, Fuzzy became the new guardian, slept beside Leonard's bed and was his new Blondie. Leonard always said that Fuzzy was his reincarnated Blondie."
Bonnie and Holly both said that Leonard rarely talked about the war or the actual injury that he sustained that caused his blindness. His family learned many of the details from his book, "Still My World." Holly relates: "From what I have read in his book, I am sure his confidence and determination was developed when he began training with his Guide Dog, Blondie."
"One summer he built a drying rack for meat and fruit. For Christmas, everyone received jerky and peaches from his garden - a gift we looked forward to each year! When it was cool outside, he would sit by the shop's wood burning stove and play his banjo. I loved hearing him play and to this day when I hear or see a banjo, I think of him."
Holly isn't exactly sure when she realized that Leonard was blind (Blondie was gone by the time Holly was born). He was so accomplished in all that he did, the thought never occurred to her as a young child. "We would take walks to the mailbox located at the very far end of his gravel driveway," she said. "He would hold my hand like any other grandfather did, but I didn't realize I was his eyes, guiding him since there were no walls to trace. To me it was just taking a walk with Papa, something I loved to do."
Holly also is grateful for the many life lessons that she learned from Leonard. "My grandfather literally saved every spare penny that he had to pay for my college education, something he never had," Holly said. "He would take his change out of his pocket at the end of the day and walk to the coffee can that was stored in a cupboard and drop the coins in, telling me that someday I would use it for school. And I did. He inspired me to go to college and get my degree, something I wanted for myself and for him. He inspired me to never give up on something I really want."