Archive for the 'Harper' Category

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. (As a bonus, our friend Greg was also there, visiting from Seattle.)

I probably don’t need to explain much about Hanni, the one on the left in the photo, given that she has her own book. I will say this: she looks pretty darn good at age 14. That’s thanks in no small part to the care she receives from Steven and Nancy, who adopted her when she retired three years ago. Hanni’s having a great retirement in Urbana.

The male Yellow Lab on the right is five-year-old Harper. If you’re a regular reader, you know the story—but if not, here’s the scoop on Harper. Right from the start he seemed somewhat ill at ease as a Seeing Eye dog. He walked very briskly, but in retrospect we realize he went so fast because he wanted to get his work over with as quickly as possible. He was stressed out by his responsibility, but still, he did his job—and saved Beth from a catastrophic accident. That incident, though, led to a canine version of post-traumatic stress disorder—he refused to walk more than a block from home. Hence, early retirement, and placement with a great couple (that’d be Chris and Larry) in a sweet little house in a quiet neighborhood. It took time, but he got his mojo back and he’ll walk for miles now.

And of course the copper one with her back to the camera is Whitney, my current favorite. Whitney’s great at her job, but off the harness she’s a bit of a deliquent. She licks. She sniffs. And she destroys toys. Sunday afternoon, she ate through a Frisbee, ripped a tug toy and ate through to the stuffing of one of Harper’s squeak toys.

It was great fun having them all together, but as much as I love the dogs, it was better seeing our friends. At one point I stopped and had a moment where that Talking Heads song–”Once in a Lifetime”– played in my head, “You may find yourself…”. And I wondered how Beth and I found ourselves on a quiet street in Wheaton, with three former and current guide dogs and five adults, all of whom I pretty much adore.

Of course, the answer is Beth, who is a sort of one-person network. But more specifically, it dawned on me that it was, of all things, Beth’s work with hospice back in Urbana many years ago. That’s where she met Greg, when they were both volunteers. It’s also how she came to meet Gladys Bollero—Nancy’s mother. Gladys had severe MS, and Beth visited her regularly, and we eventually got to know Nancy and Steven that way. Back to Greg—he introduced us to his friends Chris and Larry, with whom he regularly hikes the Grand Canyon—when we moved to Chicago.

Which I guess may all sound kind of mundane. But to me, for a moment there, taking stock in Chris and Larry’s living room, dogs running, us chatting, I thought it kind of miraculous the way we people find each other.




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!

A confession

Which is which?

The Kenilworth kindergartners squealed with delight when Whitney led me into their school wearing snow boots. “That‘s our special guest Mrs. Fink,” their teacher announced. “And that’s Hanni, the dog from the book, too!”

We’d arrived late (our commuter train had been delayed in Chicago due to weather) and our opening assembly had to be cut back to 15 minutes. After that, Whit and I gave separate fifteen-minute sessions for all the kindergarten and first grade classes at Joseph Sears Elementary School.

Fifteen minutes was not enough time to explain that Hanni, the star of Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound had retired, that this was a new dog, I’d had to decide when it was time for Hanni to retire, I could have kept Hanni as a pet or brought her back to the Seeing eye but I decided to find friends to adopt her, that she’s doing fine and is living an enviable retirement in Urbana, that I had another dog after that, his name was Harper, he retired, and now, this new dog is Whitney, and she’s a ball of energy.

And so, I did what I had to do. I referred to the dog at my feet generically. She was “my Seeing Eye dog.” Ick snay on it-whey ee-nay. The questions during the classroom visits reflected what the kindergartners and first-graders are learning to do in school:

  • How do you put on your shoes?
  • How can you print your name if you can’t see the paper?
  • How do you read those green signs that tell you what street it is?
  • How do you get dressed?
  • Can you tell time?
  • Does your dog really know right from left?

I had to be honest with the little girl who asked that last question. I really wasn’t sure. “We say the word ‘left’ when we want our dogs to turn left,” I told her. I went on, then, explaining how Seeing Eye trainers teach us to point to the left and face our shoulders left, too, at the same time we give the “left” command. “So I don’t know if my Seeing Eye dog understands the word ‘left’ or she sees my body language… .” I could hear the kids starting to fidget. I was losing my audience. Gee whiz, Beth. Stop talking! Just show them how it works

In the real world, out on the street, a blind person memorizes or knows the route before leaving home. The pair gets themselves situated on the sidewalk and faces the direction they’ll start. The blind person commands “Forward!” and the dog guides them safely to the curb. When the dog stops, the person stops. That’s how a blind person using a guide dog knows they have arrived at an intersection.

If the person wants to turn right or left at that corner, the person commands the direction, simultaneously turning their upper body in that direction and pointing in that direction, too. The dog turns, and the blind companion follows the dog’s lead.

Back in the school classroom, I wake up the dog sleeping at my feet and lift the harness off her back. And then, uh-oh, it dawns on me. These kids all think this dog is Hanni.

Dog is my co-pilot. I offer a quick prayer. “Please, Whitney, go along with the ruse.” I point both shoulders and my right finger left and command, “Hanni, left!”

My dog heads left with more exuberance than usual. She’s on to the fake. I give her another command. “Hanni, outside!” She leads me to the door.

Dear Sears School kids who are reading this: I’m sorry I lied.

Dear Safe & Sound blog readers: any of you have a phone number for a dog psychiatrist that specializes in identity issues?

They ain’t robots, they’re better

Here’s my husband Mike with a terrific guest post about how my Seeing Eye dogs look from his point of view.

by Mike Knezovich

Beth’s on her fourth Seeing Eye dog—and, in a very real way, so am I. Everyone easily grasps the difference a guide dog can make in its partner’s life. What they might not consider though, is the huge difference a guide dog can make to their partner’s partner’s life, too

After Beth lost her sight, life was a slog for both of us. She had to learn a lot of things, and many of them were only learnable the hard way. And I had to watch. It pushed me into something of a parental role—how much to protect? How much to let her (literally) take her hard knocks? Beth went to school to get orientation and mobility training—which taught her how to navigate with a cane. The instructors were great, the techniques are ingenious. But it’s hard as hell to learn. Like Braille.

And, as Beth will attest, she kinda’ sucked at the white-cane-mobility thing. So when she left to say, go to the mailbox, it was utter hell for me not to spring to my feet and say “I’ll go with you.” So, at first, I did spring to my feet. Or offer to drive her to wherever. Because the thought of her out there by herself with that cane just about killed me. But my being there with her all the time was not sustainable, from either of our points of view.

That's Dora.

That’s Dora.

Enter Dora. She was easily the most classically beautiful of all Beth’s dogs. A sleek, athletic, jet-black Labrador, Dora could jump and reach toys I held wayyyy over my head. She could swim in heavy ocean surf. She lived until she was 17. But she didn’t much love her job. She led Beth around and kept them safe —but she was stubborn and balky at times. Beth and I have often wondered if it had to do with us as much as Dora. And some of it surely did.

The Seeing Eye trains the people every bit as much as they train the dogs—and dreary consistency is vital. Beth and I were probably taken a bit by the novelty of a new member of our family, and we surely weren’t as consistent with our dog-training habits as we are now. Still, Dora had a defiant streak that I think would have, well, defied us, whatever our behavior.

The one. The only. Hanni. (Applies to Beth, too.)

Then came Hanni of course, and I probably don’t need to say much about that, given that she has her own book. Except, as much as I still love her, even Hanni wasn’t perfect. (Pretty close, though!) Her most annoying trait: She hated rain. A freaking Lab-Golden mix behaved as if rain drops were hot, burning acid. She’d walk slowly, and edge too close to buildings to try to get cover, walking Beth into things in the process. She also didn’t much care for swimming. Who can figure?

Harper came next, and from the start, he seemed somewhat ill at ease. He had an incredibly fast gait, but we realized in retrospect that he’d been treating walks as something to get over with as quickly as possible. He was stressed by his enormous responsibility, and why not? Still, stressed and all, he did his job heroically and saved Beth from a catastrophic accident. His ensuing canine PTSD could have been heartbreaking—except that it landed him with two fantastic people and he lives a helluva good life now.

Harper living the good life in retirement, with his best buddy Beau.

Harper living the good life in retirement, with his best buddy Beau.

Which brings us to my new favorite, Whitney. Whit came home with every annoying dog behavior Beth’s previous mates didn’t have. When she’s off harness she licks. She sniffs too much. She always wants to play. And she never gets enough attention. God I love her.

On harness, especially during bustling weekdays downtown, Whitney’s head is on a swivel, constantly looking out for her and Beth. She walks at a great pace but slows when she should—threading Beth around construction zones, slowing down for ice, creeping gently around WPs (wobbly people). Walking right up to the curb at each crossing and waiting for Beth to command straight, left or right. God I love her.

People sometimes tell us that they saw Whitney—or Beth’s other dogs—screwing up. In some cases, the people actually have it wrong. For example, they simply don’t know that the dog is supposed to go straight all the way until they get to the curb—and wait for Beth’s command to go left or right. This looks wrong, because it means overshooting the point where a sighted person would make a right or left. But it’s absolutely necessary. The person has to be the navigator, and the dog can’t take shortcuts.

WhitneyPortraitIn other cases, the dog really is screwing up—weaving to sniff another dog (and our neighborhood is full of them). Responding to the whistle or petting of well-meaning but clueless passersby. Bumping into pedestrians who are texting. Beth is forced to correct her partner in those cases, which is no fun but absolutely necessary.

Without question, the dogs have flaws. All of them. But as the old adage goes, “If you come across a talking horse, you don’t complain about its grammar.” Beth’s dogs have probably added years to my life by relieving me of worry. So if they sniff or veer or bark occasionally, I’m OK with it. And I’ve loved them all.

Her sisters are Windy and Wispy

A Xinda by any other name would still be ... adorable.

A Xinda by any other name would still be … adorable.

Last year 61 litters – 470 puppies — were born at the Seeing Eye breeding station. That’s a lot of puppies to name.

The Seeing Eye gives the dogs in each litter names that start with the same letter of the alphabet, and once a puppy is named, that name can’t be used again until that dog retires or is removed from the program. Right now 1710 people like me are getting around safely using Seeing Eye dogs, and only one of the working dogs is named Whitney.

What this means is that if I were to call the Seeing eye and tell them, say, that Whitney is starting to cross streets diagonally rather than going straight across, they know exactly who Whitney is –- they wouldn’t have to ask, “Remind me, is this the Whitney in Chicago or Whitney in Sioux Falls?” This also means that the Seeing Eye has to get a little creative with names sometimes. I mentioned the name game in a post titled A dog Called Vondra, and just this week a teenager left a comment to that post that made me smile:

Hi. I came across your blog in a google search when I read the name Vondra. I am a teenage Seeing-Eye Puppy Raiser about to get my sixth puppy to train, and I have not been lucky with names. I have risen
1. Veca
2. Tara
3. VONDRA (not the same one, however, as mine was rejected from the program and lives with me and my family)
4. Norm
5. Xinda (yeah…)
6. X….(all we know is that she is a female lab whose name starts with an X)

We are no happier about the names than anyone else and almost always groan when we find out the names of our new dogs. We often wonder how the dog-namers can do such a thing to an adorable little puppy.

Seeing Eye dogs are our dogs once we finish training with them and bring them home. And since they are ours, really, we could call them anything we want to. The Seeing Eye discourages us from changing our dogs names, though: one, the dogs are used to their name by the time we are matched with them, and two, the Seeing eye keeps explicit records of all the dogs they train, and keeping their original name makes that easier to do.

A classmate hated the name Hootie so much that he had the Seeing Eye paperwork changed to name the dog Rudy. A blind lawyer in one of my classes complained that no one would take her seriously if she entered the courtroom with a dog named Wags. She changed his name to Wagner.

Names are so subjective, aren’t they? I would have loved working with a dog named Wags, though I must agree with the teenage puppy raiser when it comes to Xinda (yeah…). but hey, what’s wrong with Norm?!

Reviving Virginia Woolf

Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s revival of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” won three Tony Awards last Sunday, including
Best Actor for ensemble member Tracy Letts. This good news gives me an opportunity to excerpt a post I published here two years ago after seeing the play here in Chicago. Better put, when I felt and heard the play: Steppenwolf provided special programming for the blind, and that was the first time I ever participated in a  special touch tour. Here, from that 2011 post:

Touching Virginia Woolf

Two things convinced me to give this touch tour thing a try:

  • We’d get to meet the actors and actresses before the play. I love meeting actors and actresses.
  • Tickets for touch tour participants were half price.

Flo Finke didn’t raise no fool. I ordered two half-price tickets for the play, convinced my friend Brad to come along with me to the touch tour, and we settled into our seats two hours before the matinee started so we could hear the staff explain the set.

All of the action takes place in Martha and George’s living room, in a small college town somewhere in New England. The staff was familiar with the play, of course. They knew exactly which props were most vital to help us understand the action on stage. Doorbell chimes hanging by the entrance. A small photo of Martha’s father on the mantel. A toy gun with an umbrella that shoots out of the barrel. These explanations really helped. Example: Before the play, they pointed out an abstract 60s painting on the wall, towards the right, in George’s study. “It’s modern art,” they said. “Muddy blue swirls and brown tones. Not very interesting.” Later on in the play, when the actors are on the right side of the stage and someone asks about a painting, George says, “What it is, actually, is it’s a pictorial representation of the order of Martha’s mind.” Thanks to the presentation ahead of time, I understood how biting – and witty – George’s comment was. Which, in turn, helped me better understand the play.

The actors introduced themselves to us ahead of time, too.

Tracy Letts and Amy Morton as George and Martha in a scene from the play.

Tracy Letts and Amy Morton as George and Martha in a scene from the play.

“My name is Tracy Letts, I’m 45 years old. That’s the same age as George, who I’ll be playing today.” Each actor described their physical characteristics — “I’m…well, a big guy. I’m six foot three inches tall, about 210 pounds. Stocky, I guess” – and what they’d be wearing on stage. When Amy Morton, who plays George’s wife Martha, told us she was five foot ten, I could picture her pairing up well with Tracy Letts’ George.

The actors were happy to answer any questions we had. We discovered this is the seventh time Tracy Letts and Amy Morton have played husband and wife on stage. They’ve known each other thirty years. Both won Tony awards for August: Osage County, and Tracy Letts won a Pulitzer Prize for writing that play. It was a thrill to have this private audience with them.

The Steppenwolf folks were happy to share fun facts from behind the scenes, too:

  • They weren’t drinking liquor on stage. It was water. Or colored water. The ice was real, though!
  • They had to learn to pace the way they sipped. That way their glass would be empty at the precise moment George asks if they want a refill.
  • The glasses and bottles flung across the stage during arguments look real, but they’re special-ordered acrylic resin bottles designed to shatter realistically and safely – wouldn’t be cool to act on broken glass, or have shattered glass spray into the audience.
  • Martha’s boobs weren’t entirely real, either. “Lots of cleavage,” Amy Morton said after being asked to describe her costuming. “Helped by padding.”
  • The couch and comfy chair on stage were bought new, then sent to an upholsterer to cover them so they’d match, both in color and in the way they looked worn out.

These theatre–types had described the set so well that I really didn’t need to go up there and feel how books and journals had been strewn about on tables and bookshelves or fondle the glasses and bottles on the bar stand. But who could refuse a chance to stand on stage at the Steppenwolf? Harper and I stepped right up.

This was Harper’s first time attending a play, and Evan the front house manager thought my new dog would be most comfortable in the front row – plenty of room for him to stretch out. How. Cool. Steppenwolf offered headphones to wear — a narrator describes visual effects — but I don’t like those. I get a kick out of figuring it out for myself, and sitting so close made that easy to do. I felt like Harper and I were right there with George and Martha in their living room.

Congratulations on the Tony Awards, Steppenwolf. Lately you (and the Blackhawks!) are making us especially proud to live in Chicago.

Harper and me with our Steppenwolf hosts during the on-stage touch tour.

Me, Harper and our gracious Steppenwolf hosts Hilary and Malcolm, on stage during the touch tour. Malcolm is holding one of the breakable prop bottles and a bouquet of the plastic snapdragons which figure prominently in the play.

A triathlete in more ways than one

Remember my last post, the one where I wrote about all the young people in my 2010 Seeing Eye class using talking iPhones? Eliza Cooper was one of those young Seeing Eye classmates, and the very day I published that post last week she was featured in a story on Marketplace from American Public Media. The story was all about, guess what? Smartphones for blind users.

The story opened with reporter Meg Kramer explaining the many ways blind users find standard smartphones so helpful. “A phone’s camera can identify money and read text, and GPS navigation tells blind users where they are and what’s nearby,” she said. “Screen readers are second nature for someone like Eliza Cooper, Who has been using the technology since elementary school.” The reporter goes to expert Eliza for details about mobile accessibility, and then listeners follow along to observe how Eliza uses her iPhone as she packs for a trip with her Seeing Eye dog Harris.

This guy look familiar? He’s my retired dog Harper’s bro!

I liked Eliza Cooper from the minute we met at the Seeing Eye. She’s a talented drummer, an we had a ball jamming together at weekend parties during class. When we discovered her dog Harris is Harper’s brother, we knew it was destiny. We had to continue working together after graduation.

Eliza is a social media consultant, and I hired her for a few months back in 2011 to learn new ways to use my Twitter feed and my Facebook fan page. She’s come a long way, baby, since then. She picked up three new consulting clients last year and completed a number of short-term projects in social media and web consulting in 2012 as well. And get this–after completing her first two triathlons (you read that right, two triathalons) last summer, she began blogging for the Huffington Post about her experiences as a blind triathlete. Eliza also appeared in a profile in Triathlete Magazine last year and was featured as a triathlete in an ad for Volkswagen, too.

And now, she’s started 2013 with a bang, too. Her Marketplace story is called “Building a Better Smart Phone for Blind Users” and you can still hear it online. It aired in time for the annual Consumer Electronics show this past week and was heard on public radio stations nationwide. Go to Eliza’s blog to find out more about the Marketplace interview and learn more about her interest in social media strategy and management. Go, Eliza, go!

How do blind people use iPhones?

One of the many, many reasons I decided to buy an iPhone two years ago was to support the idea of universal design: the iPhone 3GS was the first touch-screen device that blind people like me could take out of the box and use right away.  It comes with speech software called VoiceOver — built-in screen access for people who are blind. Miraculously, it allows blind people to interact using the touch-screen.

The iPhone 4 came on the market in 2010, just before I left town to train with Yellow Lab Harper. During training at the Seeing Eye I could hear phones murmuring text messages to the younger students in class while we were waiting in the lounge. Carlos regularly updated his Facebook status from his iPhone while we commuted in the Seeing Eye van together. He and Marcus would point their phones at their dogs from time to time to take photos, then manipulate their phones to send the photos home to loved ones.

Photo of Harper

My classmate snapped this photo of Harper on his iPhone and sent it to Mike.

Apple drastically reduced the price of the iPhone 3GS to $49 the very month I came home with Harper. I bought one, and after learning how to use it to make a phone call (in case of an emergency) I put off learning how to do anything else with it.

My two-year contract ends next month. I finally devoted time over the holiday break to climb the very steep VoiceOver learning curve so I can decide whether or not to renew.

The simplest way for you sighted iPhone users to understand how VoiceOver works is to give it a try yourself. Here’s how you turn VoiceOver on :

  • go to Settings
  • choose General
  • choose Accessibility
  • choose VoiceOver
  • turn it on.

Still with me? Okay. Now press the home key. Slide your finger around the screen, and Voice Over will call out the icon you’ve touched. Don’t worry, it won’t select that icon, it will just call it out so you’ll know where you are on the screen. Hold the iPhone so that the earpiece is facing up, toward the ceiling. If you touch the left edge of the screen about an inch below the earpiece, you’re likely to land on the top left icon. VoiceOver will call out what that is. Flick one finger right to select the next one. If you flick your finger four times to the right , you’ll get to the first app on the second row of apps. If you come across an app you want to open, tap the screen twice, and…voila! Note: If you open an app BY MISTAKE, just press the Home button and you’ll return to the home screen.

Is your head spinning? Then you can imagine what a dither I was in the past two weeks learning how to listen to voice mail, Google, send and receive email using my iPhone. I can get into all that in a future blog post if you are really interested, but I’m guessing that all you sighted folks want to do right now is learn how to turn the #(@%! VoiceOver off. If you follow the bulleted directions above, below the heading at the top of the VoiceOver screen you’ll hear a button labeled “VoiceOver on.” Notice that VoiceOver gives you a hint out loud by saying, “Double-tap to toggle setting.” When you hear that, go ahead and Double-tap to turn VoiceOver off.

I reached a big goal over the weekend when, ta-da, I exchanged a series of text messages withmy sister Marilee. I’m OMW. TTYL!

A year with Whit

Whitney taking a break from her Nylabone on Thanksgiving day.

My husband’s giving me a holiday blog break with this guest post–here’s Mike Knezovich!

On Friday night Beth came through the apartment door sounding slightly panicked. “Mike, take a look at Whitney — I think she’s bleeding.”

A dog had lunged at Whit in our building’s elevator, and Whit was bleeding from a cut across her nose. As I cleaned it up, Beth recounted what happened. And then we both fell silent.

Of the many, many things Beth and I have felt thankful for over the past few days, one stands out: This is the first year of the past three that Beth wasn’t flying to New Jersey the weekend after Thanksgiving to spend three weeks training with a new Seeing Eye dog. Like many other couples, Beth and I appreciate our breaks from each other, but I don’t like it when she’s gone that long. And I particularly don’t like the yearlong process, after being matched with a new dog, where we figure out how and if it’s going to work.

Regular “Safe & Sound” readers know the story…in 2010, Beth’s guide dog Hanni began a well-earned retirement. Though it was sad to say goodbye to the intrepid Hanni, it all felt natural. We both looked at this next episode with positive anticipation. Sure enough, Beth returned with Harper, a gentle, loveable and handsome Yellow Lab. All was well until Beth and Harper had a terrifyingly close call with a car—and Harper was never the same.

So last November it felt more like “Groundhog Day” than Thanksgiving. For the second straight year, Beth juggled her work schedule, packed her things for a three-week stay at The Seeing Eye, and girded herself for the physical and emotional challenges of training with a new guide. I crossed my fingers that this one would take.

And it has. It’s been a year since Whit and Beth met, and Whit continues to learn and improve. She still has her moments—she’ll just sort of space out and lollygag, veering here and there to sniff around—I liken it to teenage behavior.

But those episodes are fewer and further between. More often she walks—trots, really—with a purpose, stops precisely where she should at the crosswalks, and waits for Beth’s command to go. Her head is high, and on a swivel—she’s always scoping out her environment. She’s affectionate but independent—she prefers to sleep in her luxurious bed under the piano in the living room rather than on the floor in our bedroom.

And so, after the elevator episode, Beth and I each quietly feared the worst: Whit might get scared in the elevator, and then, who knows.

We headed out for a long city walk yesterday and she didn’t miss a beat—in the elevator or on the street. Whit seems undaunted, and boy, am I thankful. Hanni’s enjoying a splendid retirement. Harper’s got a best friend named Beau. I’ve got a new favorite in Whitney.

And Beth’s right here where she belongs.

Friends of Harper

Loyal blog readers know that my third Seeing Eye dog Harper was traumatized after being clipped by a car in Chicago traffic last year. When it became clear that this heroic Yellow Labrador couldn’t work any more, our friends Chris and Larry agreed to give him a home with them in Wheaton, a quiet Chicago suburb. I’m sharing this update from Chris as a guest post in honor of Thanksgiving — Mike and I are so thankful to have Harper in such loving hands.

Looking forward to year two

by Chris Towles

Heroic Harper hangin’ in his new harness.

Has it been a year since Harper retired and came to live with us? I can’t imagine our house without him. When he came to us last year, he did fine in the house and loved playing in the backyard, but walking anywhere on a leash was tough. He would often refuse to budge, cowering at times, planting his paws so firmly that we could not get him to move, all the time with a look on his face that seemed so troubled and anxious it would just break your heart.

We started by taking small steps, going no further than one house away, then two houses. I would walk backwards most of the time, doing a lot of coaxing and no leash. We had tried treats, toys, other dogs, but nothing really worked until we hit on the “we walk backwards to get Harper to walk forward” technique.

Finally after a couple of months, we were able to get all the way around the block. That seemed like such a huge accomplishment. Building on this success, and after lots of trial and error with various collar and leash combinations, we found that a “Premier EasyWalk” harness and a retractable leash were key in convincing Harper that our walks were less about work, and more about fresh air and exercise.

Now when we walk, we get loads of compliments on how well behaved Harper is. People are always amazed to hear the heroic story of this lovable yellow lab who has become such a part of our life. We gladly acknowledge that our training is a small part of who he is, and that the credit really goes to the folks at The Seeing Eye who trained and cared for him so lovingly. These days we can walk over three miles on the bike paths and in the forest preserves without problems, and with all of us facing the same direction — yeah! .

Harper has a special knack for doing things that warm our harts. Every night he meets me at the back door, dancing and wagging his tail. Every morning he’s an alarm clock, laying his big ol’ Labrador head on the bed right next to Larry and breathing loudly – I love it! He’s great around kids and has managed to turn my dog fearing nieces and nephews into dog lovers. He’ll play catch, keep away and tug-o-war with them for hours, while being incredibly gentle with the little ones. Neighborhood kids also have great fun playing with our Harper.

Harper and neighbor Beau, caught in one of the rare instances in which they’re standing still.

Harper has made some dog friends too. He and Beau, the collie next door, wear themselves out running and chasing each other around the back yard. Harper also looks forward to playing with Wallace, another yellow lab who lives down the street.

Occasionally I take Harper to my office, where he has several FOH (Friend’s of Harper – Beth is president of the club). He helps to relieve workplace stress just by hanging out and letting people pet him.

We’re looking into getting certified as a therapy animal team and maybe spending some time with veterans at a VA facility. Larry and I were both in the Army, so the idea of sharing Harper’s special calming skills with veterans seems like a good fit. I can’t wait to find out what year two has in store for us.

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April 2014
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