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Special Guest: Beth Finke

Welcome back to Off Leash, Bark’s Wednesday open thread, your chance to catch up with other Bark readers and our editors and contributors during a real-time chat. We’ve been enjoying the free-form exchange of ideas on the open thread, but we’re making one tweak. We’ve decided to invite a special guest to each open thread. Sometimes, we’ll feature a regular Bark contributor, so you can drill down on specific topics, such as training, behavior, rescue, activism, animal law and more. Other times, we’ll invite folks we admire to join the conversation.


This afternoon, regular Bark contributor Beth Finke will be dropping by. An NPR commentator, Beth Finke is an award-winning author, teacher and journalist. She also happens to be blind. Her memoir, Long Time, No See was named one of the ChicagoTribune’s favorite nonfiction books for 2003. Her memoir about her bond with her Seeing Eye Dog, Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound, won an ASPCA/Henry Bergh children’s book award. She writes about her experiences with a Seeing Eye dog and service dogs, in general, as well as issues around the Americans with Disabilities Act for the Bark and on the Safe & Sound blog. She’ll be checking in all afternoon to mingle and answer questions.


Housekeeping: This week we’ll be selecting one participant at random to receive a Dog Is My Co-Pilot bumpersticker, so be sure to include your email when you register to comment, so we can contact you if you win.


For newcomers, the open thread is a little like the dog park: Get out there and run, sniff around and play nice. Obscene, abusive, offensive or commercial comments will be taken down. We close the thread at 4 p.m. PST. 


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Submitted by SaraG | April 27 2011 |

I'd love a dog is my co-pilot bumper sticker (hint, hint). My dog goes everywhere with me. But my biggest problem is coming up with a really satisfactory seatbelt. He's big and often gets twisted up or seems uncomfortable. Also, they are usually a real pain to put off and on--which makes me delinquent in their use. I don't want to crate him in the car because I need space for stuff in the back. Anyone out their figure out a great harness system for a big boy?

Submitted by Marie at The Bark | April 27 2011 |

Hi Sara! I have two large dogs (50 & 60 lbs) and I swear by Bamboo's Quick Control seat belt. You can find them on Amazon. I keep it hooked into the back seat latch, then clip it onto the dogs harnesses when it's time for a car ride.

Submitted by Laurelin | April 27 2011 |

Great question! I work at a shelter where we received a pile of excellent leash/seat belts as a donation - they are very similar to the Bamboo product (http://www.amazon.com/Bamboo-Quick-Control-6-Foot-Orange/dp/B000F9PY3E) mentioned by Marie. I have used these plenty, and with a stationary dog, they work very well and can stay in the car to make use easy (Always use with a harness and not a collar!). However, with spinners/pacers/frantic window gazers (we all know one), they still get twisted. Another product I saw, which I have yet to find, is a strap that runs across the ceiling, installing on the handles above each door and cinching tight. A leash on a clip then attaches to that, and voila ... a dog-run styled leash set up. I saw this in use once, and no matter how the dog paced, it did not get tangled. I'm sure there are drawbacks to this style as well, but it looked like an inovative approach that bore further investigation. Best of luck on your hunt!

Submitted by Laurelin | April 27 2011 |

Ps ... found the other harness I was mentioning, can be viewed here: http://www.amazon.com/PETCO-Premium-Zipline-Seat-Belt/dp/B003T6J27Y

Submitted by Lorenzo | April 27 2011 |

I have two questions for Beth but I have to work this afternoon--so I hope she'll answer when she gets here. What happened to your old seeing eye dog? Do you miss him?

Submitted by Beth Finke | April 27 2011 |

Oh, I miss Hanni terribly. She is 11 years old and is living with friends about 150 miles away. The Seeing Eye gives us three options when it comes time to retire our dogs -- we can keep them as companion animals, we can bring them back to the Seeing Eye and the school will find a good home for them, or we can find friends who want to adopt them. I know myself well enough that if I'd kept Hanni as a companion animal I would have a harder time bonding with my new Seeing Eye dog, and bonding is *extremely* important in the first months/year at home with the new dog. I have gone with Harper, my new dog, to visit Hanni once -- such an interesting trip. Harper had to stay in his harnesss the whole time, and hanni was oh so curious about him wearing that thing. My guess is that once she didn't have to wear it anymore, she didn't think any other dogs would ever wear one, either!.

Submitted by anonymous | April 27 2011 |

I wonder if it's hard for Hanni to see you with another seeing eye dog.

Submitted by Beth Finke | April 27 2011 |

She seemed non-plussed. Well, I take that back. She was very curious about Harper and very sweet to him, lying on the floor in front of him and actually giving him kisses. But she didn't seem to miss her work life at all, she's a happy retiree. These days she takes long walks with her new human companions, she sniffs at whatever she pleases during walks and allows herself to be distracted, she lies on the couch when she wants to (not allowed when she was a working Seeing Eye dog) and has already gained weight thanks to all the all the visitors who have over-endulged her when stopping by to admire her and welcome her to her new home.

Submitted by SJ | April 27 2011 |

Is it easy to find a home for retired Seeing Eye dogs?

Submitted by anonymous | April 27 2011 |

It's great the dog-fighting game was pulled but why is there no effective outcry when PEOPLE are tortured and killed in games? I sometimes think people care more about dogs than their fellow human.

Submitted by Carolyn | April 27 2011 |

I'm no psychologist, but I think it is because some PEOPLE get off on seeing other PEOPLE tortured or in distress who also get off on it. Games or real life, it is sick, from my point of view, but I guess their rights are protected. Animals are innocent and do not like cruelty or torture visited upon them; therefore, I think people rally because it becomes a more clear-cut issue that we need to protect them.

Submitted by Carolyn | April 27 2011 |

"who also get off on it."

Actually, I meant to say MAY also get off on it. Did not mean to imply that there are no human victims. Clearly there are. But hard to make the argument with consenting adults no matter how depraved it may seem to the rest of us.

Submitted by Cally Florence | April 27 2011 |

I think a lot of the people involved in dog fighting aren't necessarily insane, abused or enjoy torturing animals. In a lot of groups and gangs, dog fighting is part of the normal "culture". These people don't see dogs as pets as you and me do.

It's unfortunate, sad, and I think more needs to be done in cities to deal with this problem. BSL clearly does not work!

Submitted by Jennifer B | April 27 2011 |

I hate to tell you this but it's back under a new name.
As for why there isn't an outcry about violent video games towards humans - I think it's because we all have voices and choices whereas an animal does not. We can choose not to buy our child or family member certain video games. We can choose to keep them out of our houses and lives and teach our children to respect life.
That said, I believe many parents play those video games in front of their children and it's easier for them to let them play those games so they can go off and do their own thing.
I could go so deep on this but I'm betting that all of this is the result of the breakdown of the nuclear family.

Submitted by Erica | April 27 2011 |

It's not necessarily about caring for one species more than the other, animal lovers just happen to be more vocal and effective in their solidarity for a cause. The cause of keeping games where torture and war is depicted on humans is so fragmented that not much can ever get done. And ultimately it all comes down to working together to achieve the common goal.

Submitted by Claudia Kawczynska | April 27 2011 |

I too have a question for Beth. I would love to know what she thinks of the newly revised ADA rules. Will this help her, and others like her? I know of many people who have "tweaked" the rules in the past, passing off their dogs as guide dogs, and they never seem to think this harms anyone. I would like to know what Beth feels about this.

Submitted by Elizabeth Hoffman | April 27 2011 |

I would love to hear your input on the new ADA laws as well.

Submitted by Beth Finke | April 27 2011 |

See my response to Claudia above --happy to respond more specifically if you are interested in my opinion on any certain aspect of the new regulations Thanks. for asking!

Submitted by Beth Finke | April 27 2011 |

A little history here for readers who are unaware of the new ADA guidelines – last March some ADA revisions went into affect. They were drawn up after some disability advocates asked the Department of Justice to crack down on people who were faking or exaggerating disabilities in order to get their companion animals into places of public accommodation. The changes mean that a service animal is defined as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.”

Notice the specific word dog in that sentence. Aside from one provision for miniature horses, other species of animals (whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained) are no longer deemed service animals.

It really does make it harder for the rest of us when an animal or his handler’s poor behavior causes people to think badly about service animals. I’ve heard stories about helper parrots pecking at shoppers in stores, a therapeutic rat that quelled anxiety in his owner but caused anxiety to others, and comfort pigs going crazy on airplanes. In my own life, however, the only negative service animal stories that have affected me personally have been about dogs.

The last time I went to a Cubs game, I was stopped while trying to get into Wrigley Field with my Seeing Eye dog. The man taking tickets said he didn’t know if the dog was allowed. I pointed to the harness, told him she was a Seeing Eye dog. He was skeptical.

Turns out that a week earlier someone had brought a puppy to Wrigley, claiming the dog was a service dog. The dog misbehaved, and fans sitting nearby complained. After that, the people working the gates were told to scrutinize anyone coming in with a service dog.

In addition to being despicable, faking a disability to gain privilege is fraud. It also results in increased scrutiny of people with legitimate disabilities. I’ve had this happen to me at Crate and Barrel on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. At a jazz club in the Loop. At a sandwich shop in our neighborhood. I was stopped at the door at each place. At the first two, the doorman checked with a supervisor before letting me through with my Seeing Eye dog. At Jimmy John’s, they just kicked us out. We haven’t been back.

As the very first school in the U.S. to train guide dogs for the blind, the Seeing Eye has worked for nearly a century to give guide dog’s public access. I didn’t really have a problem with having this access extended to qualified service animals of any type—helper pigs, parrots, monkeys, you name it, as long as they were qualified.

I wish the powers that be could have somehow revised the law to regulate the behavior of the animal rather than its species. And as long as we’re cracking down, why not start with the species that is most at fault here: humans.

Submitted by GC | April 27 2011 |

I think bark should post an article (or re-run an article) about signs of heatstroke and things that can be done to prevent/stop it. It's over 80 today and my dog came back from playing ball with the dog walkeroverheated. If you have a dog like I do who wont limit herself it could be very important info.

Submitted by Lisa Wogan | April 27 2011 |

Good idea. I'll see if we've tackled this subject, I can't remember. In the meantime, Sophia Yin talks about it a little in this story for the Bark blog at http://thebark.com/content/summer-health-tips-your-dog.

Submitted by Lisa Wogan | April 27 2011 |

GC, We have written at least two stories about how to avoid heatstroke. One way back in our fifth issue and another more recent piece, Too Hot to Trot: Help your pup pal avoid heatstroke, in our July/Aug issue. We'll get that posted sometime soon. Lisa

Submitted by Lizzi | April 27 2011 |

I am confused as to how this "real time chat" works? If I click on the "Open Thread" link on the website all I get is a blank page that says "Welcome to Bark’s open thread" at the top and then a big blank space...

Submitted by Lisa Wogan | April 27 2011 |

Hmmm. Maybe you're looking at the landing page for the Open Thread. Here's a link to the action: http://thebark.com/content/special-guest-beth-finke

Submitted by Lizzi K | April 27 2011 |

Thanks! I guess I was clicking on the wrong link.
(p.s. Hi Lisa! I don't know if you remember me but you interviewed me for your Dog Park Wisdom book :) )

Submitted by Lisa Wogan | April 27 2011 |

Hi Lizzi, Glad to see [?] you here. Remind me of your pups?

Submitted by Lizzi | April 27 2011 |

At the time, I had Ginger, my well-traveled Golden Retriever ( www.chicagocanine.com/ginger/ ) and Pooch, Rat Terrier mix. You interviewed us for some travel tips.

Submitted by Lisa Wogan | April 27 2011 |

I remember. Great site. We're working on our summer issue. We'd love to hear your thoughts on a great canine destination in the Chicago area. Maybe you'll make it into the magazine. Head over to: http://thebark.com/content/what%E2%80%99s-your-best-bet-summer-dog-fun


Submitted by Lizzi | April 27 2011 |

Thanks Lisa! I went over and submitted a comment on things to do in Chicago with dogs... It was impossible to pick just one so my comment ended up a bit long. We have so many fun summer activities!

Submitted by Jennifer B | April 27 2011 |

Beth, I'm not blind but I know several people that will be due to degenerative diseases of the eye. How hard was it to learn to trust your dog? I've worked as a care aide and done sensitivity training as if I were blind and it is hard to trust a human, that's why I'm asking. How long did it take you to really put yourself in her paws?

Submitted by Beth Finke | April 27 2011 |

With my very first Seeing Eye dog I think it took me about a year to trust her. The second dog it only took me three months. I have been with Harper, my third dog, for four months now and find I don't trust him *completely* yet, but I think that's b/c I am living in a very busy city now -- Chicago -- and traffic is more difficult here. So actually, I guess I *do* trust Harper, just don't trust the traffic!

Submitted by Lizzi | April 27 2011 |

I'd be interested to hear some more about your challenges in living in Chicago with a guide dog, as I live in Chicago and have a BIL with a guide dog.
And I agree, you should definitely NOT trust the traffic in Chicago. Especially cab drivers. Maybe they should teach guide dogs to recognize cabs and refuse to cross in front of them (only half joking here!)

Submitted by Beth Finke | April 27 2011 |

Can’t wait to read all the great dog spots you’ve chosen for Chicago dogs!

As for our own experience in Chicago, it’s been an adventure from the very day Harper came home with me last December. Bounding down the sidewalk on our very first walk around the block, Harper stopped suddenly. I did the same. A milli-second later I heard the “beep, beep, beep” of a truck backing into an alley. Harper saw it coming before I heard what was happening. “Good boy, Harper! Good boy!”
Seeing Eye trainers have to teach dogs how to judge when a car changes from a car that can be trusted to a car that cannot be trusted. When Harper is guiding me along a city sidewalk, he has to trust the traffic traveling on the streets around us. If he didn’t trust those cars, he’d be afraid of them And wouldn’t walk along the sidewalk.
The Seeing Eye asks dogs not to trust any vehicle moving towards them that is less than 20 feet away. They can’t ask dogs to be wary of anything farther away than 20 feet, because there are a lot of vehicles farther than 20 feet away that the dogs have to trust. A car pulling into a parking lot half a block ahead, for example. Harper has to trust that car. Otherwise we’d be stopping all the time!
Twenty feet is not very far. A car traveling 30 mph covers 20 feet in one-half of one second. In one-half a second, a dog that is paying attention (Harper), and a human who is paying attention (me), can avoid getting hit by a truck backing into an alley.
Back to our very first walk in Chicago. After the incident with the truck backing up, Harper brought me to the next corner, I commanded, “Harper, right!” We spun right. “Good boy, Harper,” I say. “We’re almost home!” We’re Clipping along at a good trot when Harper suddenly skidded to a stop. Again. I stop, too, following his lead. Again. This time, it’s a car bolting out of a parking garage. “Attaboy, Harper! Good boy, Harper! Good boy!”
Seeing Eye dogs are taught traffic work right from the beginning of their training process. At first they’re taught to avoid cars just like they’re taught to avoid other obstacles – garbage cans, trees, light poles, stuff like that. Then staff drivers come after the dog. They teach the dogs to run away from a car or back away from a car. And they teach the dogs to stop at a variety of distances from a moving car. After enough practice, the dog’s fear and concern about moving vehicles turns into confidence and awareness.
And thanks to Harper, and all the many, many, many people who have put their hearts and minds together to train Seeing eye dogs like him for the past 80+ years, any fears or concerns I had about facing traffic in Chicago with a new dog are also turning into awareness. And confidence. Attaboy, Harper.

Submitted by Lizzi | April 28 2011 |

That is very interesting about how the train them with vehicles! I always wondered about how they did the traffic training.

I posted a comment on the "summer fun" post about several fun Chicago things to do with dogs, check it out! :)

Submitted by Jonni Lynch | April 27 2011 |

Hi Beth--
I adopted a dog (from Kentucky) to a woman in West Chester Co, NY who happened to be involved with the NY State Puppies Behind Bars program, the inmate/dog training program. I really admire the prison system for implementing this program, giving both inmates and therapy and disability patients a regained sense of self respect and independence. Taking in shelter dogs for so many years often opens my heart to other folks who might not be given a 2nd chance.

Have you seen these programs at work? Do you believe that they DO work in rehabilitating people and providing a valued service to a disabled person?


Submitted by Beth Finke | April 27 2011 |

I have not had the privilege of seeing one of these programs firsthand, but I have heard many stories from sources I trust about how wonderful they are. I do believe that they DO work in rehabilitating people while providing a valued service to a person like me who has a disability.


Submitted by Lizzi | April 27 2011 |

Beth, I don't know if this is your area of expertise or not but I was trying to figure out if the ADA covers private (vacation) rentals or not and also what the "etiquette" would be in this type of situation when dealing with a homeowner renting a vacation property..
We are traveling this summer with a relative and his guide dog, trying to find a cottage to rent for a week and I've been running into restrictions, pet fees, etc...
The issue is complicated by the fact that I will also be bringing my pet dog, in addition to his having his guide dog-- but several places either have a per-dog fee and want to charge it for both dogs, or ask to see his "papers" (proof of being a guide dog) in order to waive the fee for the guide dog.

Submitted by Beth Finke | April 27 2011 |

I have run across this problem before -- we used to rent a house on the ocean in North Carolina in the summers. My memory is faulty, but I *think* I recall that the beach houses had to abide by ADA guidelines, they had to allow me to have my guide dog with me and couldn't charge extra. They also could not require me to show "papers." But let me do a little research on that to confirm and get back to you, it's been a while since we rented a beach house...

Submitted by Beth Finke | April 27 2011 |

Okay, had some time to think it through and get some links together. Please remember, though –I’m not a lawyer! From what Ihave researched, however,if an entity rents this residence out to the public itt is required to follow the same laws as other businesses, especially when it comes to ADA. **The ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability and allows individuals with certain types of disabilities the use of a service dog (or miniature horse) at all times.** The FHA specifies that service animals must be allowed in housing, as long as the animal is trained to perform a specific function and the individual is considered to be disabled under the FHA's definition. In general, landlords must allow service dogs anywhere they allow the tenant with a disability who uses the service dog. A landlord cannot turn away a potential tenant based on the fact that s/he uses a servicedog.

Submitted by Beth Finke | April 27 2011 |

Oh, forgot to add a link. I would start here...http://www.ada.gov/qasrvc.htm

It is my understanding that the owner of the rental is violating ADA regulations by requiring the person who uses the service dog to pay a special fee or show i.d. papers. The link I provided references a question similar to the one you've asked here. Happy vacation!

Submitted by Lizzi | April 27 2011 |

Thanks for the info and links! That helps a lot, I did search online but I was not clear from my searching whether the ADA covered that type of rental situation or not.

Submitted by Leslie | April 27 2011 |

One thing I'd like to get out there is that service dogs now come in all shapes and sizes, and their abilities stray (pun intended) past just providing service as seeing eye dogs.

My wife is bipolar, and our 3-year-old chihuahua is a psychiatric service dog for her. She provides a focus and helps to lift my wife's mood.

Unfortunately, we've dealt with a lot of skepticism and even discrimination when out in public with the dog, since people are not educated about what dogs (of all sizes) can do now in the human/service dog relationship.

Submitted by Deb | April 27 2011 |

"She provides a focus and helps to lift my wife's mood."

As you describe it, your wife's dog would be considered an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) and not a Service Animal. The updated ADA makes it very clear that ESAs do not have public access rights.

Submitted by Sue | April 27 2011 |

Beth, as a fellow assistance dog partner I'd love for you to share your experiences with folks distracting your working guides. Have you had any mishaps due to people trying to pet, baby talk or otherwise distract your dog?

Submitted by Beth Finke | April 27 2011 |

Knock on wood I have never had a mishap due to distractions from people, but that is due to luck. There are countless times the distractions have caused my guide to veer the wrong way and put us near, but we haven't been hurt do to distractions like that. Not yet, anyway. Like I said, I've been lucky. How about you? Have you suffered a mishap?

Submitted by maureen | April 27 2011 |

Hi Beth, I train service dogs for individuals w/physical disabilities. Right now we are working w/six new teams of dogs and their human partners. What advice might you have on the bonding process for new teams, particularily those who live w/other family members? Thanks!

Submitted by Beth Finke | April 27 2011 |

When it comes to the bonding process, I’d suggest you encourage the person with the disability to do each and every dog-related task s/he is capable of. Family members might think they are being kind when they offer to help take care of the dog, but the person with the disability should be encouraged (and even pushed, if necessary!) to do whatever tasks they are capable of doing with/for their dog. Even if they don’t do it gracefully, or it takes a longer time than having someone else do it for them, it is *very* important that the person with the disability do as much of the dog care as possible.
Example: you might not think a person who is blind capable of cleaning a dog’s ears, but those of us with guide dogs who are labs or goldens do it all the time, and we use our noses to sniff out potential ear infections. My husband is sighted, but at our house I am the only one who feeds my Seeing Eye dog, I’m the one who gives him water, I brush and comb him, and hey, I brush Harper’s teeth, too. I get him to the vet for his check-ups, you get the picture. The more tasks the service dog user is encouraged to do with their dog, the more the dog and human will bond.
Thanks for writing here, and keep up the good – and important -- work.

Submitted by Lizzi | April 27 2011 |

Hey Beth I just noticed in your blog that you volunteer with Sit Stay Read. My last dog (Ginger the Golden Retriever) and I volunteered with them too.
I was wondering if you had any memorable anecdotes or stories about your volunteering with them that you might like to share?

Submitted by Beth Finke | April 28 2011 |

We love volunteering for Sit Stay Read and happy to share a story. One time we visited Hendricks Elementary, the school is located near White Sox park. My children's book "Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound" has an illustration of my Seeing Eye dog and me watching a ballgame, and the kids had all sorts of questions about that. “What if you got hit by a ball?” I told them we try to sit under netting. “What if there’s a hole in the net?” I told them my husband Mike can see, and he usually comes with us to ballgames, so he warns me if a ball is coming. “What if he is going to get hot dogs so he isn’t there and the ball comes?” The ballgame questions went on and on. And it was really, really fun.

Submitted by Cally Florence | April 27 2011 |

Does Beth have an opinion on using rescue dogs as service animals? Just curious what her opinion is on adopting vs acquiring from a breeder?


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We’re Talking Rescue and More
Join the Conversation for a Chance to Win 3 Great Books
Special Guest: Behaviorist Sophia Yin
Special Guest: Veterinarian Nancy Kay
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