Don’t ask, don’t tell

Photo of Beth and her dog at Kipling school.

That's me at Kipling. But is it Hanni or Harper?

Last year when I called the Seeing Eye to tell them I’d be returning to train with a new dog, I told them I wanted one who looked just like Hanni. They laughed, and I laughed along with them. But I was only half-joking.

Ever since Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound came out in 2007, I’ve been enjoying traveling to schools and libraries with Hanni to talk with kids who’d enjoyed reading the book. Wouldn’t these kids be disappointed if I arrived without the star? I figured maybe, just maybe, if my new Seeing Eye dog even looked a teeny-tiny bit like Hanni, the kids would never know the difference.

When we apply for a dog, the Seeing Eye listens politely to our preferences—“I love German Shepherds” or “I’d really like another male” – but they make no promises. When it comes to matching us with our dogs, other more important qualities take priority. Harper was the dog in the November/December 2010 class who best matched my strength, size, walking speed, energy level, lifestyle and personality.

And lucky for me, Harper looks a lot like Hanni.

Harper and I took a train to Deerfield last Thursday to visit Kipling Elementary School. When Linda, the nice mom who met us at the train, opened her car door, she said, “Hanni can sit back here.” I didn’t tell her it wasn’t Hanni. The minute we walked into Kipling’s media center a chorus of second-graders squealed in delight. “There’s Hanni!” How could I disappoint them? I kept my mouth shut.

During my speech to the Kipling second-graders, I constantly referred to the dog at my feet as “my Seeing Eye dog.” I explained the three rules to keep in mind if you happen to see a guide dog with a harness on: don’t pet the dog, don’t feed the dog, and don’t call out the dog’s name.

“Those things can distract a Seeing Eye dog,” I told them. “It’d be like if someone nudged you or kept calling your name wile you were working on your spelling words at school. You wouldn’t be able to concentrate on your work.”

I suggested we come up with a fake name for my Seeing Eye dog. “We’re going to be around here for a while, and you might want to say hello if you see us in the hallway,” I said, explaining that iff they use my Seeing Eye dog’s fake name to say hello, the dog wouldn’ notice. “My Seeing Eye dog will think you’re talking to someone else!”

I asked the kids what their principal’s name was. Being the polite children they are, they gave me their principal’s formal name. “Does anyone know Mrs. Mosley’s first name?” A sweet little voice rang out. “I do! It’s Adrienne.”

Adrienne. A huge smile crossed my face. That could be Adrian, right? A girl’s name, or a boy’s name. “How about we call my Seeing Eye dog ‘Adrian’ today?” The kids ate it up.

During the Q&A part of the session, a student asked if Adrienne sleeps with me. It was a good question – it gave me a chance to explain that Seeing Eye dogs are not allowed on furniture. “Seeing Eye dogs usually sleep as close as they can to their owner,” I said. “Adrian lies right next to my bed. If I get up for a glass of water in the night I have to be careful so I don’t step on my dog.” Students asked whether Adrienne likes other dogs, does Adrienne ever slip on the ice, can Adrienne go on escalators. They wanted to know a lot about Adrian, but really, most of their questions had more to do with blindness: how do you shop, how do you eat, how do you cook.

“Can you use a cell phone?” one girl asked. I told her that most cell phones have a dot on the number five. “That helps me dial,” I said. The phone I use now is just a regular cell phone. It doesn’t talk or anything, so I have to memorize the phone numbers I use. “Did you ever lose a number?” another girl asked. She sounded very concerned. And somehow, even though I’d been lying about the Seeing Eye dog at my feet for this entire session, I couldn’t lie to this girl about my cell phone. “Yes,” I said. “Lots of times.” This gave me a chance to talk about the iPhone I am hoping to get soon. I sensed them creeping closer and closer to Adrian and me as I answered questions. They were intrigued.

The hour flew by, and we left the room to a chorus of cheers and goodbyes to Adrienne. We pulled it off, I thought. But on the way back to the train station with Linda my pride turned to horror. Harper had enjoyed a big bowl of water while we were at Kipling. He would have to pee before we got on the train.

I tried to distract Linda while Harper did his duty, asking her questions about her family, a recent wedding they’d been to, that sort of thing. I’m not sure if she was looking at me or at Harper as we talked, but she did get quiet all of a sudden.

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13 Responses to “Don’t ask, don’t tell”


  1. 1 Lauren January 22, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    At Tom’s school, they train the boys to squat–she’d never have been the wiser! Sweet, sweet stories. Tom’s new dog, our first female, looks absolutely NOTHING like his others. She is a Lab, to be sure, but she’s black and tan, an unusual coloration that happens only in females and very rarely. She really looks a lot like a Rottweiler–beautiful nonetheless, still with the Lab’s sweet disposition, problematic nose, and soft floppy ears:)

  2. 3 Lolly January 22, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    Hey, Beth, Harper’s book will be out soon, right? If this pickle presents itself again, you can always say that Harper is helping you work on his own book, and he’s learning how to tell the story through Hanni’s experiences.

    • 4 bethfinke January 23, 2011 at 9:33 am

      Aha, another great idea from Lolly! I may try that next time. Keep your ears glued to this blog, I’ll let you know what happens.

  3. 5 Jenny January 23, 2011 at 6:27 am

    haha what a brilliant post!
    My aunt has been calling O.J Oliver John since I got him, mostly to embarrass me when we’re out. It works well if she sees us at the other side of the street because O.J doesn’t get distracted, so now other people use it when we’re talking about him and we don’t want him to know.

  4. 6 Kathy January 23, 2011 at 9:21 am

    Waiting to see Harper’s face on the cover of Out Magazine…!

  5. 7 Bob January 23, 2011 at 9:22 am

    Don’t you think someone from Kipling might read this blog post? Then the jig will be up.

  6. 8 Cam January 23, 2011 at 11:53 am

    I’m glad you pulled it off! You’ll just have to make sure Harper doesn’t drink in public anymore.

  7. 9 Benita January 23, 2011 at 11:54 am

    I’ve read that 8 or 10 generations of collies portrayed Lassie in the movies and on TV. The first one was named Pal (a boy) and the others were his descendants. Not one was a girl named Lassie. So, is Harper appearing as Hanni? In the case of Kipling—I guess he was. It’s mos def an existential question. What’s totally cool is that Hanni is always appearing as herself.
    Does any of this make sense?

  8. 10 Andrea January 23, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    I grew up watching “Lassie” on TV. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned that the Lassie on TV was played by different dogs.
    So Harper is following in a Hollywood tradition!

  9. 11 Benita January 23, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    Harper is either Hanni’s stunt double or perhaps her dubber—her Marni Nixon, perhaps! How crazy is this conversation??

  10. 12 Eva January 31, 2011 at 10:57 am

    Intreating post!
    Every time I see your blog about giving speech to the children in secondary school, I would hope that you can come down here in Champaign some day and give a speech here just like you did in my friend’s animal class. That I will definitely go!

    Wish everything is awesome for ya : )

  11. 13 bethfinke January 31, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    Eva, if you can figure out a way to have me speak with your class there, please do. I’d love to do that, always lookning for an excuse to return to Champaign!


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