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Beth Decides What to Do about her Sidelined Seeing Eye Dog
Part 2 of the “broken foot chronicles”
Where we last left Beth and Harper!

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.

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
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Submitted by Anonymous | July 28 2011 |

Great advice. A trainer can always come ut and work with you once your foot is healed. Harper is better off at home with you. The down time will not hurt his work at all.

Submitted by Beth Finke | July 30 2011 |

Thanks, I appreciate your confidence.

Submitted by Susan Helmink | July 28 2011 |

So glad to hear it worked out well for everyone, Beth! That's great that you are doing as much as you can with Harper and have Mike, The Seeing Eye and friends helping you through this challenge. I can't wait to hear how the refresher course goes.

Submitted by Beth Finke | July 30 2011 |

And I can't wait to be able to *tell* you how the refresher course goes, either! Thanks for the good wishes, Susan --

Submitted by Kelly Simon | July 29 2011 |

I can empathize with you, Beth. My husband is a quadriplegic and has been hospitalized twice since getting a service dog almost 2 years ago. Unfortunately the hospital environment is absolutely no place for a dog so our decision was easier to make. We are fortunate that the amazing man who trained Rufus lives ~20 miles from us and is willing to board/host Rufus when needed. Also, Charles' stay in the hospital each time was only about a week, which I suspect is much less time than you'll be in your boot.

Good luck with the rest of your healing process!

Submitted by Beth Finke | July 30 2011 |

Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment here, Kelly. I have never been hospitalized (knock wood) while working with a Seeing Eye dog but can imagine a hospital might not be an ideal environment for a service-dog-and-human team. How reassuring to have Rufus in good hands nearby while your husband recuperated. Thanks for the good wishes on my healing process –

Submitted by Rick | July 30 2011 |

I will comment that Harper likes to work and please you but had lost his way. Not working made him more eager to please you and your "NEW VOICE" may be the key to keeping his attention.


Submitted by Rick | July 30 2011 |

I will comment that Harper likes to work and please you but had lost his way. Not working made him more eager to please you and your "NEW VOICE" may be the key to keeping his attention.


Submitted by Beth Finke | July 31 2011 |

Thanks, Rick. I hope you're right, and Harper continues to respond to my new "stern" voice.

Submitted by Lolly Lijewski | July 31 2011 |

Beth, Recently, I had a similar conversation with a Seeing Eye instructor about how guide dogs react to their handlers experiencing a change in function. My vision has been changing fairly rapidly due to several surgeries over the past year, and my current dog, while somewhat flomuxed at first, has accommodated quite quickly. The instructor said that his observations over time are that dogs are more resilient than we give them credit for, and that their adaptability often can be traced back to dogs amazing observational skills. They observe their humans and take cues from us and are often able to figure out what we need by watching and trying things out. Learning in dogs, like humans, can take place in down time. They process things they learn when their not working and try them out the next time they're out working with us. So, maybe those doggy naps aren't all spent in dreams of chasing rabbits... Here's hoping for continued healing and a for you and Harper to return to the chicago streets soon!

Submitted by Beth Finke | July 31 2011 |

Thanks very much for the reassuring comment, Lolly. I hope Bark fans who like this post about Harper will link to the fine guest blog post you wrote for the Bark earlier this month:

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