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

[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!

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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. bethfinke.wordpress.com

Photo by Mike Knezovich.

CommentsPost a Comment
Please note comments are moderated. After being approved your comment will appear below.
Submitted by Marie H. | August 24 2011 |

Never thought about how blind people pick up after their dogs. Thanks for explaining, I feel enlightened!

Submitted by Hanna at Dog Pr... | August 25 2011 |

First of all, I have to commend Beth for her beautiful writing style and the terrific sense of humor. I thoroughly enjoy reading about her outings with wonderfully dependable Harper. I am looking forward to reading her “Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound” book.

I also learned that while sighted individuals like myself take all kinds of things for granted, the visually impaired can’t afford to. It was a real eye opener for me, please forgive the pun.

Submitted by Beth Finke | September 7 2011 |

You are excused for the pun, *especially* after giving me so many compliments. Thanks, Hanna, and I hope you enjoy the book.

Submitted by Allison Nastoff | August 28 2011 |

I can totally empathize with you about wanting to get out of those shoes. As a guide dog handler myself, I also pay a lot of attention to the little things like the wheelchair cuts leading up to the street which sighted people take for granted. I hope the healing continues to go well.

Submitted by Beth Finke | August 29 2011 |

Thanks, Allison. Nice to hear from a fellow guide dog user!

Submitted by Benita | August 29 2011 |

OMG, Beth. I just realized that, in addition to the indignities of the Big Foot cast and now the ever-so-stunning orthopedic shoes---you've had to wear SOCKS all summer long!! WWAED?? (What Would Albert Einstein Do?)

Submitted by Beth Finke | September 7 2011 |

Oh, Benita, yuou (and Albert Einstein, who also never wore socks) are both geniuses. The first thing I did when they said I didn'nt have to wear those platform shoes anymore was to put on sandals. WITHOUT socks!

Submitted by Lisa | September 1 2011 |

This had me laughing out loud on the train home from work. A few stares from people around me! Thanks forthe chuckle and I hope the healing progresses as quickly as Harper!

Submitted by Charity | September 1 2011 |

Thank you for your post. I felt I could actually put myself in your shoes for a second. I love your style of writing. It sounds like you and Harper are a wonderful team! Now I'm going to have to look for your book Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound.

Submitted by Beth Finke | September 7 2011 |

Oh, please, if you are going to put yourself in my shoes, do *not* choose these platform orthopedic ones. Although, must say, platform shoes *did* come in handy at the Soul Train anniversary concert we attended last weekend...

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