Submitted by Cindy Van Winkle

Michelle Denzer and her guide dog Sooner (left) and Cindy Van Winkle with her guide dog Balsa (right)In 2005, Michelle moved into her own apartment. In 2006, she trained with her first guide dog, a female Black Labrador Retriever named Pacific. In 2009, she began working at The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc., conquering a two-plus hour commute each way between her home in Silverdale and work in Seattle. Today she is still making the long trek to work each day, but now her partner is Sooner, a handsome male Yellow Lab with soft ears, wagging tail, and gentle spirit.

Sooner and Michelle leave home each morning at 4:15 a.m., returning in the evening just before 6:00 p.m. Together they take a bus, ferry, and bus again, add in some walking between bus stops and work and ferry terminal, and you can no doubt understand why such a long commute.

When at work, Sooner spends most of his day in the kennel facility, a structure well maintained by the Lighthouse to ensure these special four-legged friends are safe and well. Only dog handlers at the Lighthouse have a key (besides other necessary staff of course), and the building is climate controlled — staying cool in the summer and warm in the winter. There are 25 individual kennels in this building; Sooner is in Kennel #22, where Michelle ensures he’s comfortable with a bed and chew toy.

Michelle works in our AbilityOne Production department here at the Lighthouse, doing assembly for products for the military. She loves her job and she loves traveling with a guide dog. She enthusiastically shares, “Sooner and the Lighthouse both provide me freedom and independence and I like that!”

Besides going to work, together these two go to church, shopping, restaurants, and to Michelle’s parents’ home where they can visit Pacific who is enjoying retirement there. Both Pacific and Sooner were trained for Michelle through Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, California. Pacific worked with her for eight-and-a-half years, and Sooner has now been with her for a little over two.

Michelle loves how well these two get along. She says, “It’s nice when we can visit my parents’ home and let Sooner and Pacific play together. That makes me happy.”