Archive for the 'Hanni' Category

She’s 98 in dog years

And now, an update on a few favorite female friends.

Eliza Cooper ended up not racing in that Brooklyn Bridge Swim after the NYC Swims director decided that athletes with disabilities would have to pay an extra fee to participate. A few weeks later, Eliza and her volunteer guide from Achilles International swam 1.2 miles in the ocean, rode a tandem for 56 miles and ran 13.1 miles – they completed a Half Ironman Triathlon, and they finished one hour earlier than they’d anticipated. But wait. There’s more! This past week Eliza started her first day of graduate school –at Columbia University.

Our sensational sister Cheryl was there to visit Flo every single day for the past couple years, whether Flo was still living alone in her condo, or in the hospital, or in a rehab facility. Cheryl went with Flo to doctor visits, she helped Flo with paperwork, and she was there with her kids and grandchildren at Flo’s side the day she died.

Cheryl flew to the Pacific Northwest last month for some well-deserved quiet time on her own, but before she left she went through Flo’s things and divided them into boxes for the siblings. She returns next week, and before then I’m heading to Blind Service Association (BSA) in downtown Chicago with a bag full of papers from my Flo box. Many of the papers are letters I wrote that Flo saved, and the generous readers at BSA have volunteered to read everything out loud to me. I’ll supply the Kleenex.

Nancy Faust just signed a contract to play for the Kane County Cougars again next season. The Cougars are a minor league team in Geneva, Ill., and when I say Nancy is playing for them, I of course mean she’s doing that on her Hammond B3!

I’ve been a fan of the Kane County Cougars ever since they hired me to work in their ticket office in 1994, and now that they’ve rehired Nancy to play every Sunday home game between May and September next year, I’m up for season tickets. All they need to do is come up with a “Nancy Package”: Sunday games only.

This season The Cougars have the most wins of any major or minor league baseball team in the country — the last time they had a championship season like this was back in 2001, when the team was led by Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez. The first game of that series was on September 10, 2001. The Cougars won that game, but everything was cancelled after that.

Myrna Knepler is a writer in my memoir class. In a guest post here called when your birthday falls on September 11 she describes the reaction she gets when people at banks, at airports, or at doctor’s offices ask her for her date of birth. “They always comment,” she says. “And sometimes, they commiserate.”

Myrna has learned to refer to the date as “the eleventh of September,” but says figuring out how to commemorate it is still a conundrum. She’ll be 80 years old this year. I say we celebrate the entire month.

Which one is 4, and which one is 14?

Hanni is still going strong, and her human companion Nancy Bollero reports that The 14-year-old star of Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound is getting creative in her old age: she taught herself to turn the quilt she sleeps on inside-out so she can shape it into a giant ball. “She rolls the ball to a new spot every day,” Nancy told me, describing the artful way Hanni arranges her favorite toys and bones once the ball reaches its new destination. ”And she still wags her tail like mad, thwomping it against the hardwood floor to let everyone know she’s proudof her work.”

Mondays with Mike: You may find yourself in a beautiful house…

That's 14-year-old Hanni on the left, 5-year-old Harper on the right, and Whitney with her back to the camera.

That’s 14-year-old Hanni on the left, 5-year-old Harper on the right, and Whitney with her back to the camera. (Photo by Larry Melton.)

Sunday was dogapalooza in the suburbs. Beth and I and Whitney took the train to Wheaton, where our friends Steven and Nancy, with Hanni in tow all the way from Urbana, picked us up. From there, it was on to Chris and Larry’s, where Hanni, Harper and Whitney—Beth’s last three Seeing Eye dogs—met and rollicked until they and we were exhausted. Continue reading ‘Mondays with Mike: You may find yourself in a beautiful house…’

Here’s what worries me about ride-sharing services

An op-ed piece I wrote for the Chicago Tribune called Should ride-sharing services adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act? was published today — I’m not fooling!

Billy, who first told me about ride sharing.

Billy, who first told me about ride sharing.

Our bartender friend Billy Balducci is the first person I remember telling me about ride-sharing. Billy can Continue reading ‘Here’s what worries me about ride-sharing services’

Mondays with Mike: Time begins on opening day

Right now, on a Sunday morning outside my window on Harrison Street, thousands of hearty runners are streaming east toward the finish line for the annual Shamrock Shuffle. Not sure why it’s called the Shamrock Shuffle two weeks after St. Patrick’s day, but … whatever.

Mr. Bones, comin' at ya.

Chris Sale, a.k.a. Mr. Bones, comin’ at ya.

It’s sunny, and the forecast says we’ll get to 58 degrees today. We just about have turned the corner on winter…and Monday we will. Here in Chicago, on March 31, the White Sox will open their season against the Minnesota Twins. And whatever the weather, things will be right again. Baseball will be back. (For the record, the season officially began with a goofy game played in Australia between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers, and Sunday Night baseball had the Dodgers and Padres—none of which counts for me.)

Chris Sale will be the White Sox starting pitcher, all 6’ 7” and 180 lbs. of him. We’ll have a Cuban import, Jose Abreu, at first base. And a new centerfielder named Adam Eaton we filched from the Diamondbacks in a trade. And Avisail Garcia, a 6’4” 240 lb outfielder who runs like a track star.

I don’t know how it will go, but as always at this time, I’m inclined to think the White Sox will reach the World Series, as they did the only time in my lifetime, in 2005. And win it, for the second time in my lifetime. And if the planets align, they will best the St. Louis Cardinals, forcing Cub fans to root for a real baseball team against their hated enemy.

Others have waxed poetic about baseball. There’s Roger Angell, of course. And the lesser known but totally worthwhile Tom Boswell whose books include “Why Time Begins on Opening Day” and “How Life Imitates the World Series.” I’m just here to say, Hallelujah!

Baseball is better than football. Than basketball. Than that ridiculous European football. About this, no arguments.

OK, well, to me it is.

And, as trite as it sounds, baseball has been a constant part of the fabric of my life. As a patrol boy in grade school, I got to go on school trips to the old Comiskey Park. When I lived in Washington, D.C., I adopted the Orioles but tracked the White Sox best I could via box scores and roundups in the pre-Internet days. Back in 1983, I introduced Beth to my parents at a game at Comiskey Park, and the Sox made the playoffs that year. The day after our wedding in 1984, Beth and I and some dear friends who had traveled from Washington, D.C. for our nuptials went to a game.

In July of 1985, three days before our first wedding anniversary, Beth and I visited her eye doctor for a follow-up visit after a last-gasp surgery to save her eyesight. We learned that she would not see again. Before heading back to Urbana to face our new reality, we drove to Comiskey to have a Polish sausage with onions (“wit” onions is the correct pronunciation), and take in a ball game. Twenty years later, in 2005, Beth and I and her Seeing Eye dog Hanni got seats in the handicapped section for the playoffs against Boston. Later, I sprung for game 1 of the World Series.

And so, here we are, after the longest slog of a winter in my memory. Not much is expected from the White Sox. Detroit’s the prohibitive favorite in the White Sox division—and in the American league. They’ve got 8-1 odds of winning the World Series. The White Sox are 40-1.

Who cares?

Play ball!




Job satisfaction

Whitney and I are taking a train to Champaign this Wednesday — I’m speaking to an animal sciences class at the University of Illinois, and while we’re there we’ll visit an old friend, too: retired Seeing Eye dog Hanni!

There’s Whit with Hanni’s bone during a previous visit to Urbana.

Whitney has been guiding me over two years now, and I’ll share some stories with the students to explain how confident and comfortable she seems with her work. After that I’ll go over some of the qualifications necessary to become a guide dog instructor. And this time I think I’ll tell them the story of Jim Kessler, one of the Senior Managers of Instruction & Training at the Seeing Eye. Jim supervised Chris Mattoon, the superstar who trained Whitney and me back in 2012.

Jim Kessler left Wall Street for The Seeing Eye.Seeing Eye.

Jim phoned me before I arrived in November, 2012, he read my paperwork and helped Chris size me up and determined that, of all of the dogs Chris had ready to be matched with a blind person, Whitney would match up best with my living situation here in Chicago.

During the last week of training at the Seeing Eye School in Morristown, NJ, students do “freelance” work with their Seeing Eye dogs –-  instructors expose teams to some of the specific things they’ll be facing once they return home. For my freelance trip with Whitney, Jim Kessler chauffeured us to Warren G. Harding Elementary School in Kenilworth, NJ. His daughter Emma was in third grade there, and his daughter Maeve was a first grader. The school visit taught me a lot about what to do when Whitney couldn’t sit still during a presentation, and the rides back and forth to the school taught me a lot about JimKessler, too.

Turns out Jim hasn’t always worked for the Seeing Eye — he’d worked for Lehman Brothers before it imploded, and then he worked at the Federal Reserve. “And I can tell you the very last day I ever went to work in Manhattan,” he told me. ”It was September 11, 2001.” He’d been contemplating a career change before then, and 911 cemented the decision. An article I found later in the North Jersey Record

The position requires a college degree, Kessler said. He worked for an investment bank and was considering a career change when the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, made him switch jobs. Kessler said he chose this position because it combined his interests in teaching, working with dogs and helping people.

After passing a three-year apprenticeship, Jim became an instructor in 2004. He was promoted to Senior Manager of Instruction and Training in 2012 – we were the very first class he supervised. That North Jersey Record article reported that salaries start in the $40,000 range for those in the Seeing Eye’s three-year apprentice training program, and that the salary for full instructors ranges from $50,000 to $85,000. Odds are that Jim Kessler took a significant paycut to work for the Seeing Eye, but he doesn’t talk about that. He talks instead about his pride in the instructors here, his love for the dogs, and his family at home. Jim and his wife have three beautiful daughters, and it was a privilege to be with him and two of those daughters at their school back in 2012. I look forward to telling the undergraduates in that animal sciences class at University of Illinois all about Jim and his inspiring career change during my talk next week — and then playing with Hanni afterwards!

Hanni at 14

Hanni’s enjoying her retirement.

My retired Seeing Eye dog Hanni turns 14 years old today. Loyal dog followers know that after Hanni retired from guide work, she went to live with our dear friends Nancy and Steven. To celebrate the big day, they’re heading out for a run in the snow at Homer Lake, a nearby forest preserve.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that a 14-year-old Labrador and Golden Retriever Cross is going for a run today – my first Seeing Eye dog Dora retired at 12 and lived to be 17 years old. The excellent health of these mature dogs has everything to do with the wonderful friends who adopted my retired dogs, but the care and research the Seeing Eye and other guide dog schools put into their breeding programs deserves a lot of credit, too.

Some schools still train service dogs who’ve been donated from individuals or from animal shelters, but the more established guide dog schools know they have to breed their own dogs in order to end up with the unique traits so important to guide work:

  • excellent health
  • intelligence
  • temperament
  • willingness to work
  • ability to thrive on praise

The Seeing Eye breeds Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, Lab/golden crosses and German Shepherds — when I was training with Whitney, I was told the Seeing Eye is the only guide dog school in America still breeding German Shepherds to become guides.
Updated on 02/09/14: I met a young woman named Erin on a trip to Denver a few years ago, she’s a volunteer puppy-raiser for Guide Dogs for the Blind and explained in a comment below that, “Guide Dogs for the Blind decided not to use shepherds because of the very low success rate.” She said only one or two out of eleven German Shepherd puppies made it as guides. She also pointed out Guiding Eyes in New York still breeds and trains shepherds and the only breed they use at fidelco is German Shepherds. Another update on 02/12/14 from a comment Cindy left below, she and her family raise puppies for Leader Dogs and says they still breed and train German Shepherds, too.
Decades of research has gone into the Seeing Eye’s breeding program, much of it driven by the fact there is no “perfect Seeing Eye dog.” Dogs of all sorts of temperament, size, strength, speed and energy are necessary to match with blind people who come to the Seeing Eye school with, guess what, all sorts of temperament, size, strength, speed and energy levels. The Seeing Eye web site says their breeding station has “interconnected geometric pavilions, designed so that dogs can see each other and see people enter the kennel, so barking –not to mention stress – are greatly reduced.” Their goal? “To provide a facility most conducive to a positive early childhood experience for the puppies.” I just love that.

And I just love Hanni, too. I’m so grateful the Seeing Eye bred her for me, and so happy to think of her with Nancy and Steven today, running joyfully through the snow to celebrate her 14th birthday . Happy birthday, dear Hanni. Happy birthday to you.


Just got word that my friend Lindy Bergman died. Lindy was a well-known art collector who found a way to continue living and loving her life after losing her sight. She was very smart and extremely charming, but you know what I liked best about Lindy? Her surprisingly wicked sense of humor. The frigid weather, combined with a bad cold I picked up a few days ago, kept me away from the memorial service today, but in her honor I’m reblogging a post I published about Lindy here back in 2012. You sure are gonna be missed, Lindy.

My friend Lindy Bergman was an art collector. Then macular degeneration set in.

When the disease became so severe that Lindy could no longer see the surrealist works on her apartment walls, she donated the collection to the Art Institute of Chicago. From a New York Times review of the Art Institute’s new modern wing:

The unsinkable Lindy Bergman

…and a wonderful little tropical fantasy by Leonora Carrington. This last work is part of the museum’s extraordinary Bergman Collection of mostly Surrealist art, which forms a kind of cabinet of curiosities at the heart of the third-floor galleries.

The Bergman trove includes a phalanx of 30 boxes by Joseph Cornell, an American. That collection contains the only artists on this floor who developed outside Europe, primarily Arshile Gorky, Matta and Wifredo Lam. (The exception is the Parisian expatriate Man Ray, who is in the Bergman collection and elsewhere in these galleries.)

After donating her collection, Lindy took to writing. Out of Sight, Not Out of Mind chronicles Lindy’s journey with macular degeneration and offers suggestions on how to keep your head above water when vision loss is trying to pull you under. Lindy is the perfect role model. In her 90s now, she swims a quarter mile each day, works out with her trainer, serves as a board member for a number of organizations, and goes to concerts and lectures. She is particularly enthusiastic about the audio cassette that comes along with her book — it features recordings of classical music as well as Lindy’s children and grandchildren. I recognized the voices of a few of the experts on the cassette — they are the same caring University of Chicago doctors that did my eye surgeries back in the 1980s. “I didn’t want it to just be my old voice droning on and on. Who’d want to listen to that?” she says with a self-deprecating laugh.”I wanted the book to be uplifting, not depressing!”

My friend Bonita has known Lindy a long time and was wise enough to introduce us when Mike and I moved to Chicago. On our first lunch date, I showed Lindy how to fix her talking watch so it’d quit announcing the time out loud every hour on the hour. She was so appreciative for what I saw as a small gesture. We’ve been friends ever since.

The stories Lindy tells me about tracking down art with her late husband Ed sound like Hemingway novels. “Ed always was a collector of something or other,” Lindy says with a shrug, describing a sun porch full of aquariums when Ed was collecting tropical fish, or his enormous shell collection.

“Not just a few shells. We had a lot of them. So he really was always a collector, and I just went along with it.” They’d already been married about 10 years when she and Ed decided to take a course on the Great Books at University of Chicago. A teacher there recommended a book by the Museum of Modern Art called Masters in Modern Art. “We had a lot of books to read for class, but every night we would start reading about art. That’s how it all began. We really educated ourselves.” By the late 1950s, the Bergmans were established as Surrealist collectors. They met Wifredo Lam on a visit to Cuba in the mid-50s, and the painter met them again in Paris in 1959 to show them around. Aside from that Salvador Dali poster with the melting clocks we hung in our college dorm rooms, I don’t know a whole lot about surrealism. Lindy met a couple artists in Paris whose names I actually do recognize, though: Man Ray and Max Ernst. She and Ed met Dali on another trip to Europe.

Time flies when I’m with Lindy. She loves hearing stories about my travels with my Seeing Eye dogs, and delights when Hanni — and now, Harper — sneak away from me under the table to lie on her feet. “It keeps me warm!” she laughs. The Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind is honoring Lindy Bergman at a gala at The Four Seasons tonight, and Bonita is generously sponsoring me to attend. A description of Lindy from the invitation reads like this:

Lindy has been living with macular degeneration for nearly fifteen years and has become an exemplary benefactor of The Chicago Lighthouse. In 2009, she was among those who played a critical role in helping The Lighthouse realize its goal of a new building addition. Most recently, she has helped establish the Bergman Institute for Psychological Support, where our professional rehabilitation staff counsel people who are blind or are losing their sight. Finally, she has partnered with our professional rehabilitation staff on a second “Lighthouse” edition of her book on macular degeneration, Out of Sight, Not Out of Mind.

With all of Lindy’s accomplishments, the one area where she lacks confidence is … public speaking. At our last dinner together, and in subsequent phone calls, I’ve been coaching her for the short talk she’s been asked to give at tonight’s gala. I know she’s gonna wow them. She sure has wowed me!

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