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Beth Decides What to Do about her Sidelined Seeing Eye Dog

Part 2 of the “broken foot chronicles”
By Beth Finke, July 2011, Updated June 2021

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?”


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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.

Photo by Mike Knezovich.

Beth Finke is the author of Safe & Sound, winner of the ASPCA’s Henry Bergh award for children’s literature. Her most recent book is Writing Out Loud: What a Blind Teacher Learned from Leading a Memoir Class for Seniors.