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When a Seeing Eye Dog Gets Off Track
A near-accident and a broken foot lead to a career change for Harper
Beth enjoys her last days with 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.”

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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 Mary Ivory.

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Submitted by Carolyn | November 1 2011 |

“Harper took a bullet for you, and for that, he gets an early retirement.” Wow, what a great way to look at it. So glad Harper will go to friends. Good luck with your next match and will look forward to hearing all about it.

Submitted by Beth Finke | November 2 2011 |

time with me. Cheers to Harper and his well-deserved early retirement!

Submitted by Beth Finke | November 3 2011 |

Oops, that comment got cut off. What I meant to say is that the phrase the head of training at the Seeing Eye told me when it became obvious that Harper would have to retire early has helped me tremendously through our last days together. John Keane was so right: Harper has earned his early retirement, and what a joy to think of him sniffing around that big backyard. I mean *Harper* doing the sniffing, not John Keane!

Submitted by BillAnonymous | November 3 2011 |

Awww Beth, sorry to hear about Harper's early retirement, but remember John having reminded me of that similar advice at one point too. Best wishes to Harper on his retirement years, and warmest wishes to you as you transition to another dog and begin that adjustment and bonding process again. Only a couple of miles from TSE, would love to see you while you're nearby.

Bill

Submitted by Susan | November 1 2011 |

It's been quite a road for you both, Beth! First, I'm so glad you are both okay. It's sad that you and Harper will be parting ways so soon especially after all you have been through together. I hope he enjoys his new family and they him. Good luck with your upcoming trip!

Submitted by Anonymous | November 2 2011 |

GO HARPER!

Submitted by Jamie | November 3 2011 |

I'm so glad he gets to go to friends you trust. Would take him in a heartbeat. He did his job, period.

Submitted by Beth Finke | November 30 2011 |

Just checking in from the Seeing Eye, where I have been matched with a goldenRetriever/Yello Lab cross named Whitney, she is around 61 pounds and we are getting to know each other. One thing I've found out already: she loves to give kisses.

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