I Am Curious (Red)

Whitney and I visited Hendricks and St. Mary of the Lake Elementary schools in Chicago this week, and the kids at both schools had tons of terrific questions.

Whit and I had a great time at St. Mary of the Lake (pictured here) and Hendricks.

For some reason the first and second graders at St. Mary’s seemed particularly interested in color blindness. When one of them asked me if it’s true that dogs can only see black and white, I explained that dogs do see some colors, but they can’t tell the difference between red and green. “If we’re at an intersection with a stoplight, it’s my job to judge when it might be safe to cross.” I described the way I stand up straight, concentrate, and listen for the rush of cars. When it sounds like the traffic is going the direction I want to go, I take a guess the light is green and command Whitney to go forward. Whitney’s ears perk up, she listens for traffic and looks left and right to confirm it’s safe before pulling me across.

The students seemed satisfied with that answer and went on with other questions. Are you blind all of the time? When you were at the Seeing Eye school, what was your teacher’s name? Does Whitney like to lick a lot? What do you and Whitney do to have fun? Their thoughts eventually returned to colors, though.

“Do you just see the color black?” one girl asked. “Or do you just see the color white?” Another girl told me that the school uniforms they wear are red. “But does Whitney think they’re green? I gave that question some thought, and realized I couldn’t answer it. I remember writing a story for Dog Fancy magazine years ago about dogs and vision, so when I got home I looked it up:

Dogs see colors, but not the same way humans do. People can see variations of violet, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red. Dogs can only see blue, violet, yellow, and some shades of gray.

I checked my source list, and the information for that Dog Fancy story came from an article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association called Vision in Dogs, written by P.E. Miller and C.J. Murphy. A credible source, but not sure it answers this sweet first grader’s question. If dogs can’t see the color red, what do they see instead? Blue? Violet? Yellow? If any of you blog followers have an answer, by all means leave a comment. I’m curious to know now, too!

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9 Responses to “I Am Curious (Red)”


  1. 1 Kathy March 24, 2012 at 8:24 am

    If the kids you visit are always this cute, I see why you like going to schools so much!

  2. 2 Kim March 24, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Hey, I didn’t know that dogs can see some colors. I thought a dog’s world looks like a black and white TV. Speaking of black and white, I’m curious. What color DO you see? I guess the better question is what color does your brain “think” it’s seeing? (Sorry if that’s a nosy question.)

    After your “30 Million Words” post, my yard-sale-friend and I bought several boxes of children’s books. We donated them to a pre-K program for kids from low socio-economic families. We asked that the books be given to the kids to take home. That statistic really hit me in the heart!

  3. 3 bethfinke March 24, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    Kim, this is absolutely wonderful news, it makes my heart sing to think that by reading my blog post you, along with your friend, were motivated to send these books along to pre-schoolers. Who knows how many words could be added to their vocabulary because of your generosity?
    When I started volunteering for Sit, Stay Read my children’s book publisher Blue Marlin Publications donated hundreds of copies of “Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound” to give away to the students I meet. When I am in class I read a bit to them from a Braille version of the book, then their teachers read the print version (with those beautiful illustrations). I don’t have to be able to see to feel the children beam when they find out they are going to get a copy of their very own to bring home.
    AND SPEAKING OF BEMAING WHILE READING BOOKS, I AM re-reading “State of Wonder,” written, of course, by your fellow Nashvillian (is that a word?!) Ann Patchett . We’re discussing it at my book club next Sunday, and today I started looking up interviews Ann Patchett did about what motivated her to write it. Seeing as you are married to a doctor who lunches with AnnPatchett’s husband, Kim, you might appreciate that in one interview I read, AP said she’d heard oh so many stories of med school and the hard work and drama of it all that she decided to create the character Dr. Anick Swenson (forgive spelling as I am listening to it rather than reading it in print). She said that Dr. Swenson was her favorite character to create. And now, rereading the book, it shows!
    Hmmmm, a long response here, huh? A sign of how much I appreciated your comment. THANK YOU, Kim.

    • 4 Kim March 25, 2012 at 2:53 pm

      Beth, searching out the children’s books for donation was fun and gratifying, a treasure hunt! I do worry who will read those books to the kids. While teaching special education, I discovered that some of the parents of our K-2nd grade schoolers were illiterate and many others weren’t proficient readers. Unbelievable! The youngsters who most need preparation for school, aren’t being helped at home. Until our society and government make the education of EVERY child a top priority, the cycle of poverty will continue.

      I haven’t read “State of Wonder” yet. My husband is going to Argentina for 2 weeks this summer and I’ll need a great book for company. To support us while my hubby did his medical training, I worked in a medical research lab. In addition to studying heart disease, we tested several drug prototypes. I KNOW that I’m going to love this book!
      Thanks for responding and keep reading in the schools. It’s important!

  4. 5 Susan Ohde March 24, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    I LOLed when I read “are you blind all the time”? I think all of us are blind some of the time, but you can always
    see your dreams.

  5. 6 bethfinke March 24, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    Susan, that is downright poetic. You should be a writer.
    Oh,wait. That’s right. You are!

  6. 7 Courtney Wilson March 25, 2012 at 10:06 am

    I read somewhere that wolves can see red and yellow, as opposed to the domestic dog’s green and blue variance. I wouldn’t think the dogs would see green if something was red, which reminds me, our targets Seeing Eye gives us for clicker training are bright red, though I think this is more to do with few things being that particular shade. Color itself is relative and dependent on how our eyes actually process an object. Women often see a wider range of colors than men do and we can differentiate more precisely between subtle shifts in color. (Except for those of us with visual problems, laugh) I’d imagine a dog seeing a red object might perceive it as brown or yellow or maybe just a muted red. Kinda hard to ask them, right? By the way, Felicia and Kazzi are getting along great and are a great influence on each other. Kazzi definitely helps keep Felicia in line, insofar as Felicia sees her being obedient and getting praised and wants that too, and Kazzi has definitely become more assertive and lets me know what she wants much more than she used to.


  1. 1 Imagine « Safe & Sound blog Trackback on March 30, 2012 at 9:57 am
  2. 2 Keep your hopes high « Safe & Sound blog Trackback on May 1, 2012 at 9:11 am

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