Home
Beth Finke

Beth Finke's book, Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound—about her bond with her Seeing Eye dog—won an ASPCA/Henry Bergh children's book award. Follow Hanni and Beth's travels on the Safe & Sound blog.

News: Guest Posts
Career Moves
Inspired by 9/11

Jim Kessler has worked at the Seeing Eye school in Morristown, New Jersey over a dozen years now, and when I was training with my Seeing Eye dog Whitney, I happened to ask if he’d had any other jobs before this one.

His answer was surprising. “I worked for Lehman Brothers until it imploded, and then I worked at the Federal Reserve,” he said. “And I can tell you the very last day I ever went to work in Manhattan: it was September 11, 2001.”

Jim had already been contemplating a career change at the time, and 911cemented the decision. He said a position at the Seeing Eye appealed to him because it combined his interest in teaching, working with dogs and helping people. His three-year apprenticeship program at the Seeing Eye started at the end of 2001, he became an instructor in 2004, and he was promoted to Senior Manager of Instruction and Training in 2011.

I learned all this during a drive with Jim to visit his daughters’classrooms. The last few days of training at the Seeing Eye are called “freelancing”—instructors expose us to some of the unique situations we’ll be facing once we’re home.

I’m a children’s book author, and I give a lot of presentations at schools. When I learned Jim and his wife Carrie have three daughters in school (in addition to a two-year-old son at home), I asked if I could spend my freelancing time visiting the students at Warren G. Harding Elementary School with Whitney.

Jim stayed at the school with us during the visit, and you didn’t have to be able to see to know he was beaming when we arrived. He was unabashedly delighted to be at school with his daughters, and they were proud to have their dad—and a Seeing Eye graduate with her working dog—at school with them that day, too.

A story in The North Jersey Record reports that salaries start in the $40,000 range for those in the Seeing Eye’s three-year apprentice training program, and that the salary for full instructors ranges from $50,000 to $85,000. Odds are that Jim Kessler took a significant paycut to work for the Seeing Eye, but he doesn’t talk about that. He talks instead about his respect for the instructors he works with, his pride in the remarkable work the dogs do, and how much he loves his family. And after what happened on September 11, 2001, he'll be the first to tell you that he considers himself a very lucky guy.

 

News: Guest Posts
Guide Dog Makes a Good Fitness Partner

Without being able to drive, I’ve always thought that blind people and our guide dogs—especially those of us who live in big cities—must walk more than the average person-and-dog team does.

A new wellness program at my workplace gave me a chance to prove it. I work part time at Easter Seals Headquarters in downtown Chicago, and in June they started a six-week “Walk For U, Go The Extra Mile” challenge. Every employee received a free pedometer to keep track of our progress for six weeks, and those of us who met the daily goal of 7,000 steps per day—a distance of 3.5 miles—throughout the entire six weeks would be entered into a drawing to win a six-month fitness club membership.

The human resources department realized I wouldn’t be able to read the number of steps I’d taken each day on my own, so they ordered a special talking pedometer for me—it said my results out loud. And so, I was on my way to prove my theory.

The list of requirements for people applying to train with a Seeing Eye dog says candidates need to be able to walk one or two miles a day. When you live in a city you can’t simply open a sliding glass patio door to let your guide dog out. When my Seeing Eye dog Whitney (a two-year-old Golden Retriever/Labrador Retriever cross) needs to “empty,” I take her down the street, around the corner and to her favorite tree. That’s 1,000 steps per trip, and that trip takes place at least four times a day. And for the rest of the day, well, running errands in a city is like using one big treadmill. Add the safety shortcuts Whitney and I take across busy city streets (rather than deal with traffic, we go down the subway stairs on one side of busy streets, traverse underneath,  then come up the stairs on the other side) well, every El station is a StairMaster.The first two weeks of our experiment included one week of 100-degree temperatures in Chicago. We stayed inside with our air conditioner on more than usual, but hey, a girls gotta go. Even in that hot weather Whitney and I averaged 9,871 steps a day, and our steps per day increased when temperatures cooled down the next week.

Just when I’d started planning which new equipment Whitney and I would try out when we won the free health club membership grand prize from the Go The Extra Mile challenge, I pressed the button to hear the number of steps I’d taken so far that day, and, nothing. My talking pedometer stopped talking. I shook the thing and pressed the button. Nothing. I turned it upside-down and rightside-up again. Nothing. I stuck it in a bag of rice for a day. Nothing.

And so, what happened with the challenge? Well, human resources offered to buy me a new talking pedometer, but I told them not to bother. I have a new theory now: blind people and our guide dogs—especially those of us who live in big cities—walk so many steps that a talking pedometer can’t keep up with us.

 

 

News: Guest Posts
What Colors Do Dogs See?
Explaining a Seeing Eye dog’s vision to children

Whitney and I visited a school on the North Side of Chicago recently, and for some reason the first and second graders seemed particularly interested in color blindness. When one of them asked me if it’s true that dogs can only see black and white, I explained that dogs do see some colors, but they can’t tell the difference between red and green.

“If we’re at an intersection with a stoplight, it’s my job to judge when it might be safe to cross.” I described the way I stand up straight, concentrate and listen for the rush of cars. When it sounds like the traffic is going the direction I want to go, I take a guess the light is green and command Whitney to go forward. Whitney’s ears perk up; she listens for traffic and looks left and right to confirm it’s safe before pulling me across.

The students seemed satisfied with that answer and went on with other questions. Are you blind all of the time? When you were at the Seeing Eye school, what was your teacher’s name? Does Whitney like to lick a lot? What do you and Whitney do to have fun? Their thoughts eventually returned to colors, though.

One girl told me that her school uniform is red. “But does Whitney think they’re green?” I gave that question some thought, and realized I couldn’t answer it. When I got home, I did some research.

Dogs see colors, but not the same way humans do. People can see variations of violet, blue, green, yellow, orange and red. Dogs can only see blue, violet, yellow and some shades of gray.

My source? An article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association called “Vision in Dogs,” written by P.E. Miller and C.J. Murphy. A credible source, but not sure it answers this sweet first grader’s question.

If dogs can’t see the color red, what do they see instead? Blue? Violet?

Yellow? If any of you blog followers have an answer, by all means leave a comment. I’m curious to know now, too!

News: Guest Posts
Guide Dog Puppies in the Classroom
It's never too early to learn about these great dogs

My Seeing Eye dog and I visit elementary schools to teach kids about disabilities, service dogs and teamwork. During my talks with the kids, I explain three rules to keep in mind if you happen to see a guide dog with a harness on:

  • Don’t pet the dog
  • Don’t feed the dog.
  • Don’t call out the dog’s name.

The students at the school I visited recently seem nonplussed by these rules. They’d already read my children’s book Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound, and, more importantly, one of their teachers is raising a puppy for Leader Dogs for the Blind. She brings black Labrador Retriever puppy Rory to school with her every day. At home, she and her husband and their four children all volunteer their time, money and efforts to raise puppies, and once the pups are a year old they return them to Leader Dogs headquarters in Rochester, Mich., to begin intense training to become a guide.

Rory was already at school when his puppy raiser and her youngest son met me and my Seeing Eye dog, Whitney, at the train station. The little boy in the back seat admitted he cried when he said goodbye to Mack, their first pup.

“We all did,” his mom added. “But we know it’s all for a good cause.”

Policies and practices vary in the different guide dog programs in North America. Leader Dogs allows puppy raisers to name the dog they take home. (Mack was named for Michigan’s Mackinac Island, where this family first learned about Leader Dogs.) The Seeing Eye, where I train with my dogs, opts for naming puppies at birth to help keep track of them all.

Another difference: Seeing Eye grads don’t meet the families who raise their dogs as puppies. Leader Dogs has an “open adoption” policy, which got mixed reviews from the family raising Rory now. The mom enjoys keeping up with the man in Baltimore who is partnered with Mack, but her young son lamented that attending the Leader Dog graduation meant “having to say goodbye to Mack all over again.”

At school, the puppy-raiser/teacher got a kick out of watching my Seeing Eye dog Whitney turn her head left and right, scanning the environment as she led me through the school. “They don’t do that when they’re puppies,” she observed. “It’s so fun to see the finished product!” She wondered if Whitney might like to meet Rory. Whitney would have *loved* that, but she is so new to her job that I thought it might be prudent to keep her on a, ahem, short leash.

The two dogs did catch each other’s eye when Rory went out to “empty” during a lunch break. Rory barked out a greeting, but Whitney did not respond in kind. She sat up and her ears perked, but she stayed quiet, setting an example. After all, Rory is still learning. He’s just a pup, not a professional. Not yet, at least.

News: Guest Posts
Beth Welcomes a New Seeing Eye Dog
And tackles the downside of a “smart bump”

You’d think having a new guide dog memorize routes and anticipate turns at corners would be the goal.

But it’s not.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work: I have the route memorized. I know how many streets we have to go forward before we turn left, then how many streets until we turn right again to get to our destination. Whitney, my new two-year-old Labrador/Golden Retriever cross, guides me through our apartment lobby, we get ourselves situated on the sidewalk in the direction I want us to go, I command, “forward!” and my spunky sprite guides me safely to the curb. When she stops, I stop. That’s how I know we’re at the intersection. That, and the sound of cars. Whitney waits as I listen for traffic, and when I deem it is safe, I command her to lead me right, left or forward.

Whitney has a smart bump. It shows. In our first week home in Chicago she had already started memorizing my route to the pool where I swim laps, the cultural center where I teach memoir-writing classes, and my cubicle at my part-time job in the Willis (formerly known as Sears) Tower.

These routes became so familiar to Whitney that she knew to make the turns without bothering to go all the way to the curb first or waiting for my command.

A near-miss in traffic with my last Seeing Eye dog, Harper, left him so afraid of traffic that he had to retire early. Our brush with that car, the months of work to encourage Harper past his fear, and the subsequent decision to retire him from guide work—it all shook me up, too.

Whitney’s decision to keep us away from the edge of the intersections, to just go ahead and make turns on her own, well, it meant I didn’t have to face the rush of traffic in front of us. I felt safe.

Until Whitney started crossing intersections diagonally, that is. Dang that smart bump! The girl is so clever that when she knew we’d be turning right or left once we crossed the street, she figured hey, why not save time? We’ll just go kitty-corner.<

Whitney had also taken to veering right and left long before our approach to any and all intersections, leaving us discombobulated as she anticipated a turn. And if there is one place you especially don’t want to feel discombobulated with a Seeing Eye dog, it’s the approach to an intersection.

As it so often goes with dog training, the problem was consistency. I expected Whitney to take me right to the edge of a curb if I wanted to keep going straight (or if we were on our way somewhere new and I needed to know we were at an intersection). But on a familiar route? I’d let her decide for herself.

The Seeing Eye to the rescue! A trainer flew to Chicago to give me tips on which commands to use to drive Whitney all the way to the edge of the curb—the way she’d been taught at The Seeing Eye school. He showed me how to use the leash to encourage her to the edge. “Heap on the praise when you get there,” he urged. “Then stay right there a little while before giving her the command. Make sure she knows that you want her to stop right there and wait for your command at every single intersection.”

And you know what? It’s working. It’s comforting to know exactly where we are before we cross a street. Since The Seeing Eye tune-up, we don’t veer right and left before intersections anymore. Whitney knows what I expect of her, and she’s determined to get us to the curb!

Things are much clearer when I’m in charge. Whitney seems to appreciate the consistency, too. The more we work together, the more we trust each other.

And best of all? She doesn’t cross intersections diagonally anymore!

News: Guest Posts
When a Seeing Eye Dog Gets Off Track
A near-accident and a broken foot lead to a career change for Harper

My third Seeing Eye dog is probably the smartest one I’ve ever worked with. Harper learned early on that drivers aren’t looking out for us. He knows we could get hurt out there. So he refuses to lead me far from home.

Harper wasn’t always this way. When we went out with our instructor during training last December, Seeing Eye staff were out and about in vehicles, intentionally cutting in front of us to simulate the behavior of drivers. Harper was excellent at these “traffic checks,” pulling me away from harm’s way, refusing to step into the street if he saw a vehicle coming towards us.

Back home last spring, one of Harper’s heroic traffic checks saved both our lives. He stopped at a busy intersection, I listened, heard the traffic going straight at our parallel, and commanded “forward!”

Harper was watching, though. He pulled us away from a turning vehicle with such force that I fell backward, cracking the back of my head on the concrete. The woman driving the vehicle told me later that she hadn't seen us.

After that, Harper started showing fear around traffic. A Seeing Eye instructor came out to give me tips on clicker training. Harper started to improve.

And then I broke my foot.

We held onto the hope that time off work might help Harper get his mojo back. That hope was lost after my foot healed. Before, a clicker and a treat would get him going, now Harper—a Labrador Retriever, mind you—is no longer motivated by treats.

The Seeing Eye sent a second instructor, and then a third. Together we determined city life has become too much for Harper. He’ll be moving in with friends in a leafy suburb of Chicago later this month, and then I’ll return to the Seeing Eye after Thanksgiving to be matched with a new partner.

I do not think of my gentle, sweet two-year-old yellow Lab as a failure. John Keane, manager of Instruction and Training at the Seeing Eye, agrees. “Look at it this way,” he told me. “Harper took a bullet for you, and for that, he gets an early retirement.”

News: Guest Posts
Thunder Dog [Update]
Famed Guide Dog of 9/11 remembered in new book

Ten years ago, Guide Dog Roselle, a three-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever, was sleeping under a desk on the 78th floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center. Her partner, Michael Hingson, was preparing for a routine training meeting when he heard the explosion.

The date: September 11, 2001.

Stairs were the only way out. So Michael Hingson, who is blind from birth, worked in tandem with Roselle, taking 1,463 steps down 78 floors to safety.

I met Michael Hingson five years after the September 11 tragedy. He and I were in Raleigh, N.C., with our guide dogs, both of us presenting at a 2006 conference for people who work in blind services. Michael’s speech about experiences with Roselle on 9/11 wowed the crowd.

“You have got to write a book!” I told him at the hotel bar after our presentations. Michael is a good talker. Roselle was already asleep when we arrived. After guiding me to a seat at the bar, my Seeing Eye dog, a Golden Retriever/Lab cross named Hanni, had the good sense to settle in with her co-worker under our bar stools.

Sipping a cocktail, Michael explained how he’d left a 27-year career in high-tech computer sales and management to accept a position at Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) as National Public Affairs director. In a country where 70 percent of people who are blind are unemployed, his career path is miraculous enough, not to mention surviving September 11 with Roselle. He was quick to point out he’d already hooked up with the publisher of AKC Gazette to write his book.

Michael and I kept up via email after the conference, and when I finally got my courage up and asked how the book was coming along, Michael responded that “it just never came together.”

Enter Susy Flory. After contacting Michael last year about including his 9/11 story in a book she was writing called Dog Tales, she asked if he had any interest in writing a book. “She told me she’d be willing to help me with it,” he said. “It just clicked.”

Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero by Michael Hingson with Susy Flory was published by Thomas Nelson Publishers last month. One instance in Thunder Dog that really sticks with me is when Michael and Roselle found themselves in a subway station on 911. Everyone there had smoke and dirt in their eyes—they were all, in fact, blind, and each one terribly frightened of falling into the tracks.  Poor Roselle, I don’t know how she could see or breathe, but she managed to guide all of them to safety.

Michael is traveling with his new guide, a yellow Lab named Africa, to promote the book for the ten-year anniversary of the tragedy. He says his Guide Dog’s spirit never diminished during their 78-story stairwell descent on September 11, 2011, and that spirit was evident during the six-and-a-half years the two of them spent together afterwards traveling hundreds of thousands of miles throughout the United States and the world to speak about trust and teamwork.

“If anything, Roselle’s spirit grew even stronger after 9/11,” says Hingson, who has left Guide Dogs for the Blind to start his own company, now speaking to corporations and organizations on behalf of the Michael Hingson Group. “I want people to understand that the real handicap of blindness is not a lack of eyesight, but a lack of proper education about blindness,” he says. And while Roselle is no longer with him physically, Hingson knows her spirit will always, always be with him. “She helps me be a better person today, and everyday.”

Here’s a video preview with Michael Hingson (and Africa) and Susy Flory:

News: Guest Posts
Beth and Harper Discover Height Matters
Seeing Eye dog and handler tackle new hurdles on the road to recovery

[Editor's note: Frequent Bark blogger Beth Finke recently broke her foot and has been keeping us posted about what it means for her and her Seeing Eye dog, Harper. Read installments I and II in what we’re unofficially calling the “broken foot chronicles” and her most recent update, below.]

I’m in orthopedic shoes now—a real relief after eight weeks in a cast! Harper seems relieved, too. No more worries about being stepped on by Big Foot.

Along with the wide shank for added stability, the soles of both of my new orthopedic shoes have extra padding. I put them on, and suddenly I’m six feet tall! I hold Harper’s harness from a higher elevation now. When I lift the harness and tell him to pull me forward, he has to adjust to a totally different angle.

The three breaks in my left foot aren’t totally healed yet, and these are the only shoes I’m allowed to wear until the end of the month. I’m not supposed to go barefoot, even in the house.

Our first venture outside with the new shoes was slightly disappointing. No blare of trumpets. Passersby did not burst into song. I commanded, “Harper, forward!” and instead of leading me down the sidewalk, Harper took me to a car parked in front of our building.

Poor little guy. For the past eight weeks all I’ve been doing is asking him to guide me to cabs! A verbal correction got Harper back on track, and we were on our way. First stop? Across the street to Harper’s favorite tree.

The bumps on the wheelchair ramp usually tip me off we’re at the street crossing. I can’t feel the bumps through the three-inch soles on my orthopedic shoes. “Harper, forward!” We cross the street safely. “Good boy, Harper!”

A dip in the sidewalk used to alert me that we’re crossing the entrance to a parking lot. A mound of dirt around Harper’s tree used to tell me I could take his harness off and give him permission to do his thing. With these thick-soled shoes on, I can’t feel much of anything underfoot. So I just say a quick prayer to the gods of pee and poop that I’m not allowing Harper to empty somewhere he shouldn’t, then lean down from my six-foot perch to unbuckle his harness. “Park time!”

Harper circles, and once he stops, I do my best to move my over-protected foot near his tail. I slip a plastic bag over my hand and lean waaaaaay down (gee, did I tell you I’m six feet tall now?!) to feel through the plastic for lumps near my foot. After picking the lumps up, I flip the clean part of the bag over my palm and throw the bag away. Success!

Harper and I have steadily increased the length of our trips since then—he brought me to a parked car again yesterday, but once I corrected him, we were on our way again—this time circling the entire block.

Today, he ignored the parked cars in front of our building altogether and responded correctly to every “right!” and “left!” on our two-block walk to the bank. “Good dog!” On the way home he waited patiently at the street crossing while I waved my arm to and fro in search of the walk button. It was lower than it used to be. Hey, did I tell you I’m six...?

Okay, never mind.

Once we got home, I did a joyful Tin Man dance in place. Harper circled around me, stuffed squeak toy in mouth, tail wagging. “Attaboy, Harper! We’re back!”

A trainer from the Seeing Eye is coming next week to visit some other graduates in the Chicago area. Eric will stop by to trail Harper and me en route—maybe he’ll have some pointers for the new, taller me.

Doctor’s orders are to continue wearing the clodhoppers until I return to the ortho clinic August 31. The Seeing Eye will send another trainer out if we need more help once I’m back on terra firma, and  I am very hopeful that at this next appointment the doc will give me the okay to wear my normal shoes again. And if that happens, trust me, I’ll be more than happy to step down from my six-foot pedestal!

News: Guest Posts
Beth Decides What to Do about her Sidelined Seeing Eye Dog
Part 2 of the “broken foot chronicles”

A post I wrote for the blog earlier this month, I'd been toying with sending my Seeing Eye dog back to Morristown while I recovered from my broken foot. I knew Harper would get regular workouts with Seeing Eye trainers in Morristown, but I also worried what a temporary move back to Seeing Eye School might do to Harper’s mental health. Not to mention mine.

A few days after that post was published, my husband Mike took Harper to a regularly scheduled vet visit. I’m the only one allowed to use my Seeing Eye dog on harness, so Mike walked Harper to the vet on leash, making him stop at every curb. I stayed home, slumped in front of my laptop with my cast up on the back of the couch.

Harper checked out fine. Except one thing. He’d gained five pounds. So it wasn’t just about our mental health anymore. Now my broken foot was affecting Harper’s physical health, too. I cut Harper’s food down from two cups to one-and-a-half cups a day and gave the Seeing Eye a call.

John Keane, Manager of Instruction & Training, said that, yes, I could send Harper back to the school for a while. “Our trainers could walk your dog every day, and, of course, Harper would perform for them,” he said. “But really, what would that get you, Beth?”

Not much, I admitted.

Just like cars that squeak or malfunction at home but perform perfectly at the mechanic’s, guide dogs are notorious for behaving well with instructors. It’s working at home that really matters.

While stuck at home together, I do a daily obedience routine with Harper. I’m the only one who feeds him. I give him his water. I groom him. I play with him. Mike takes Harper outside for walks, and when Mike is away, friends volunteer to help. But I’m always the one who calls Harper to the door, and I’m always the one who clips the leash to his collar before they head outside.

“We usually only have dogs come back for help if they’re having problems in traffic, problems that are so serious they can’t be solved at home,” John said. In that case, trainers might try to re-enact the traffic problem while the dog is there in Morristown, to see if they can remedy it, then bring the dog back and work with the team in the graduate’s home environment.

I’d been doing my best to get out with Harper a couple times a week, even with the boot cast. It’s a fine balance, and I hear my voice sounding a bit more stern when giving Harper commands—I can’t risk falling again. And you know, Harper responds!

“You never know,” I joked with John. “Maybe he’ll be even a better guide after getting all this time off!”

No joke, John said. “Harper wouldn’t be the first Seeing Eye dog we’ve worked with who improved after sitting out for a while.”

I told John I hadn’t noticed Harper having any problems with traffic on our few trips out together, and he was very happy to hear that. He assured me the Seeing Eye would send someone out to give us a refresher course once my foot is healed.

“Just be sure to let us know the minute you get any hint about when you might be out of the cast.” John is the guy in charge of scheduling home visits, and he wants to get mine on the calendar.

Me, too.

News: Guest Posts
What’s a Seeing Eye Dog Do When his Human Breaks her Foot?
Harper’s backup plan

What happens to a Seeing Eye dog if their human companion gets hurt, or sick? Do they lose their skills while waiting for the person to recover? That’s one question I hoped I’d never have to answer. But then last month I broke my foot.

I swim laps two or three times each week. Tapping the lane marker with every other stroke keeps me swimming straight, and limiting myself to the crawl stroke means I always have one arm in front of me, so my head never bangs the end of the pool. Swimming has always been a safe form of exercise for me. Until that ill-fated night in June, that is.

I finished my laps and was heading back to the desk to fetch Harper when I slipped and fell back into the pool. My left foot must have gotten caught in the gutter as I took the plunge. It broke. In three places.

*

The first call we made once we returned from the orthopedic clinic was to the Seeing Eye. The doctor had told me I ought to be able to avoid surgery if I stay off my foot as much as possible. We needed to talk with Seeing Eye trainers about what my husband Mike, who can see, could do to help keep Harper on track during my recovery.

Doug Bohl from the Seeing Eye encouraged Mike to take Harper on long walks for exercise. “But really, you all should focus on getting Beth’s foot back to normal rather than worry about how Harper will perform once she’s better,” he said, describing one Seeing Eye dog who had to quit working for four months when the person he guided got hurt. “That dog did fine after that. These dogs don't forget their jobs.”

*

Mike uses a leash on walks, and the two of them stop at each curb, just like I do when Harper is on harness. Mike follows other Seeing Eye rules, too: Dog lovers can’t pet Harper, and Mike doesn’t let Harper lunge or sniff at other dogs during walks, either.

Before the accident, I had agreed to sit on a panel for the Writer’s Division at the National Federation of the Blind convention in Orlando. “You can still go,” my doctor said. “Just promise me you’ll use a wheelchair in the airport.” I promised. Harper stayed at home with Mike.

*

My sister Marilee lives in Orlando. She got a special pass to meet me at the gate, and before you knew it, we were in a swarm of waving white wands and wagging tails at the convention hall. More than 3,000 people with visual impairments showed up for the convention this year: That’s a lot of white canes and guide dogs.

My panel went well, and we had time to check out the exhibit hall before heading back to the airport. Marilee took a deep breath before we headed in, readying herself to maneuver me through a sea of conventioneers. Considering my oversized cast, this was, ahem, no small feat.

We were heading for the exit when a man suddenly approached and grabbed me by both arms, “Are you an imposter?” he asked. “Where’s your dog?” I’d know that voice anywhere. It was Lukas Franck from the Seeing Eye. I lifted my pant leg to show him my cast. “Harper’s at home with Mike,” I told him, explaining how Mike was following all the Seeing Eye rules, insisting Harper stop at each curb, going on longer walks with Harper when possible.

*

Harper is two years old, and he’s only been in Chicago with me for seven months. He’d had some trouble adjusting to the snow at first, and a trainer from the Seeing Eye had come out when the snow melted in April to help us get back on track. Lukas asked if Harper’s work had improved any before I got hurt. “Yes,” I said. “It had.”

“Good,” he said. “We can send someone out to give you another refresher course once your foot is healed.” Lukas also suggested I consider sending Harper back to Morristown now, while I continue to heal. “We could have people here work him every day.” In that scenario, I might return to Morristown after my foot heals, meet up with Harper and work with him there for a while before hitting the streets of Chicago again. “Think about it,”

Lukas said. “You know, Mike could use a break.”

And so, we are. Thinking about it, I mean. Mike assures me that taking Harper out to empty all the time, and then doing the long walks, too, isn’t taking a toll on him. And while getting regular workouts with Seeing Eye trainers in Morristown would be great for Harper’s work ethic, we worry what a temporary move back to Seeing Eye School might do to Harper’s mental health. Not to mention … mine.

Pages