Archive for the 'Hanni' Category

The Hanni hop

Nancy has the full attention of both the 6-year-old and the 16-year-old. Or, the treat does.

Nancy has the full attention of both the 6-year-old and the 16-year-old. Or, the treat does.

My Seeing Eye dog Whitney and I took an Amtrak train to Central Illinois Monday to give a presentation to an animal sciences class at the University of Illinois. While there in Urbana, we looked in on retired Seeing Eye dog Hanni. Her human companions Nancy and Steven report The 16-year-old star of Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound is still going strong.

Steven and Nancy hosted their families for Thanksgiving this year and headed to Homer Lake at a nearby forest reserve afterward to walk their dinner off. Hanni came along, and when they took her leash off, she took off for a run.

“Well,” Nancy conceded. “It was more of a lope.” Hanni suffers from joint pain in her back hips, but Steven says the female Golden Retriever/Black Lab cross is still determined to go for runs around the lake. “She’s learned to lift up both back legs together and hop while she pulls herself ahead with her front legs,” he marveled. “She ran like a rabbit for more than a mile!”

Hanni and Whit: Safe & Sound

It’s been a busy travel week for my Seeing Eye dog and me. We flew back from our fun-filled Sisters’ Weekend in the Pacific Northwest Monday night and then turned around Wednesday to take a three-hour train ride from Chicago to Champaign, Illinois. The next morning the two of us gave a presentation for an animal sciences class at the University of Illinois. While there, we stayed overnight in Urbana at the home of an old friend: retired Seeing Eye dog Hanni.

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

Whitney and Hanni are both Labrador/Golden Retriever crosses, they are both graduates of the Seeing Eye school In Morristown, N.J., and both of them are very, very smart. I had no trouble telling them apart, though. Hanni is a tail wagger — you know it’s her when you hear a thump, thump, thump on the floor. She’s taken on more and more of her Golden Retriever side in these matronly years: she wears her hair long and full. Her coat matches her personality: fluffy.

Whitney, on the other hand, is a lean, mean machine. She’s six years old now, and she no longer shows signs of childish jealousy that she used to on visits with her predecessor.

Sixteen-year-old Hanni is in very good hands with her people Steven and Nancy. She retired five years ago, and she’s slowed down since then, of course.

Hanni no longer runs to greet us when we enter the room. Like the royalty she is, she simply lifts her head and acknowledges us from her bed. The only person she gets up to greet at the door now is her beloved Nancy. At 16 years old (you figure it out in dog years, I can’t do the math) Hanni still gets out regularly with Nancy for walks. Sometimes, when they head to Homer Lake, Hanni even runs.

Nancy and Hanni came in our bedroom Thursday morning to check on us just as I was picking up the Seeing Eye dog harness — it was time to head over to campus for the guest lecture. “Whitney, come!”

“Think Hanni will want you to put it on her instead?” Nancy wondered out loud. I held the harness up, Whitney lifted her head to slide in, and as I buckled her in, Hanni answered Nancy’s question loud and clear. She turned 180 degrees and happily left the room. The girl enjoys her retirement, and who can blame her? It’s a joy to behold.

Come see Whitney and me at Sandmeyer’s Bookstore today

 That’s the star of the book in front of Sandmeyers Bookstore with me back in 2007, when Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound was published.Today, May 2, 2015 is Independent Bookstore Day in Chicago, and Ulrich and Ellen Sandmeyer have graciously invited my Seeing Eye dog Whiteny and me to come help them celebrate:

Sandmeyer’s Bookstore:
11 am- Meet Beth Finke, author of HANNI & BETH: SAFE & SOUND, and her Seeing Eye dog and learn how they work together.

I’ll be signing books in print and in Braille, and my Seeing Eye dog’s pawprint will be rubber-stamped into each sold copy as well.

But wait! There’s more! Sandmeyer’s Bookstore is holdidng a drawing, and a lucky winner will win a free signed copy of Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound, too. I’ll be there with Whitney for about an hour — come early and see us. More about Chicago’s Independent Bookstore Day from their web site:

What is Independent Bookstore Day?
Independent Bookstore Day is a day when readers, booksellers, authors and book lovers all over the country celebrate the local independent bookstores in their community.

What day is Independent Bookstore Day?

Saturday May 2nd!

What’s going on that day?

Some stores are having events. Some stores are having raffles. Some will have author appearances. Check the events page for what’s going on. There’s even a special short story written by Chicago’s own Stuart Dybek and illustrated by Dmitry Samarov!

What’s the deal with the story?

Written by Stuart Dybek, the story is a previously unpublished work illustrated by local author and artist Dmitry Samarov. The print run is limited to 120 copies.

How do I get the story?

You go to one of the participating bookstores early in the day and spend $25 to get a passbook. Then visit each of the remaining 11 stores to collect a page of the story. When you collect and combine all 12 pieces, you’ll have a book!

All of them?!

Yes. All twelve bookstores. That’s half of the fun! You’ll get to see everything the indy bookstore world of Chicago has to offer.

Check out  Chicago Independent Bookstore Day’s events and giveaways page for information on what all 12 participating Chicago bookstores will be offering, and start the day out at Sandmeyer’s Bookstore, 714 S. Dearborn St. (312.922.2104). Whitney and I will be listening for you there.

Even dogs can get tattoos

 

Hanni showing off her ear-do.

Hanni showing off her ear-do.

Seeing Eye dogs are so hip that they all get tattoos. That’s how they roll, dude.

I’m sure you’re assuming that my four Seeing Eye dogs all opted for tattoos of hearts with the letters b-e-t-h inscribed inside.

Wrong.

My Seeing Eye dogs all had tattoos long before I met them. The Seeing Eye uses tattoos — a series of letters and numbers inside their right ear flap — to keep track of the dogs as puppies. The tattoos can prove useful later, too, in identifying working Seeing Eye dogs who might get separated from their blind companions.

I learned about these tattoos 25 years ago, when I was training with my first dog Dora. It’s only recently, however, that I found out that someone famous helped come up with the system for tattooing identification numbers on pets in case they were lost. It’s likely you’ll recognize his name when I tell you who he is. First, some hints:

  • He was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1925
  • He was a WWII co-pilot on a B-24 bomber
  • His first post-war job was with a Kansas City film company that made industrial shorts
  • He talked President Truman into having one of his dogs tattooed
  • He sold his first film script to Hollywood in 1948
  • He moved to Hollywood In 1955 and found work directing episodes of shows like Maverick, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Bonanza
  • When he was 45 years old, he agreed to direct a film about a group of irreverent, anti-establishment doctors serving in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital on the front lines of the Korean War
  • His 14-year-old son Mike wrote the lyrics for the movie’s theme song, “Suicide is Painless”

You got it: Robert Altman! I learned all this last month because I subscribe to Writer’s Almanac, and it was Robert Altman’s birthday February 20. Altman ranks as one of the greatest and most influential filmmakers in history, but from here on out, I’ll remember him as the man who helped invent and promote a tattooing machine for dogs.

Mayville

Teachers in Mayville, Wisconsin had read my children’s book Hanni and Beth: Safe &Sound  aloud to their students before I arrived there last week, so when I showed up without Hanni, the star of that book, a few of the kids were – quite reasonably– disappointed.

Hmm. Might be good to start my presentation with an explanation. Hanni had retired from guide work, I told them. She lives with friends, she plays in the forest preserve a lot, and she just had a birthday. “Hanni is 15 years old now,” I said. After explaining what dog years are, I asked them to multiply 15 X 7. They were amazed.

From there I described how frightened my next dog Harper became after he heroically saved us from getting hit in Chicago traffic. “He saved us from getting killed,” I said. And for that, he deserved an early retirement.” I sensed them nodding in agreement.

I told them how another pair of friends took Harper in, and I shared stories of how happy Harper is now in a quiet suburb with a big back yard to play in.

Then I introduced them to the dog sitting calmly at my feet. When Whitney heard her name, she sprung up, flipped over and kicked her legs, hoping for a belly rub. The kids laughed and clapped,overwhelmingly approving of this silly new dog.

Whitney loved being off harness, and the kids loved it, too.

Whitney loved being off harness, and the kids loved it, too.

While Whitney and the kids started settling down, a hand shot up with a question. “How come you didn’t bring those other dogs with you then, too?” The questions went on from there. Some examples:

  • How did you get blind?
  • How do you drive?
  • How did you get here?
  • How does it feel to be blind?
  • Do you ever get tired of the color black?
  • How do you write books if you can’t see the paper?
  • Does your dog ever make a mistake?
  • How do you open a door?
  • How can you use a key?
  • How do you know what year and month and day and time it is?
  • Why do you keep your eyes open if you can’t see?
  • How can you sit on chairs and not fall off?

Whitney and I had a ball in Wisconsin last week –the temperature was below zero, but the people we met were so warm we hardly noticed. The staff at the Radisson in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin took turns taking Whitney outside for me whenever she needed to “empty.” The thoughtful teacher who picked us up at the hotel to drive us to school had a cup of hot coffee waiting for me in her warm car, and the Mayville students were bright and curious and thoughtful – one girl had painstakingly glued beads onto a sheet the night before to create a Braille note I could read on my own. It all warmed my heart.

Cold enough for ya?

The predicted high today is 4º. Some of our Chicago friends have escaped to Florida, Mexico, Costa Rica. Whitney and me? We took off north, to Wisconsin.

I’m writing from our hotel in beautiful Menomonee Falls, just outside Milwaukee. Whitney and I are preparing for our visits to schools in nearby Mayville, which, according to the city web site, is “a growing city of 5,240+ residents.” How is it that this tiny town found out about me and my dog and my book and asked us to come? Let me explain.

horacemann

Hanni and I during a visit to Horace Mann School in 2009.

Six years ago Hanni, the star of my children’s book Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound and I spent the day at Horace Mann elementary school in West Allis (a suburb of Milwaukee). A high school friend was teaching there at the time, and our visit was billed as a reading incentive program.

After our day of class visits, Hanni and I returned to the school in the evening to spend time with the kids and their parents. Families wrote books together that evening, and when I signed copies of Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound in print and in Braille for the kids, they had me sign my name into the books they’d written with their parents, too. As the evening drew to a close, I told these budding young authors that I had to get home. “I need to get some sleep!” I said, explaining that Hanni and I were waking up early the next morning to be interviewed on Morning Blend, a show on WTMJ-TV, the NBC affiliate in Milwaukee.

After hearing this, one of the kids there asked my very favorite question of the entire day: “What does it feel like to be a world famous author?”

And so, there’s your answer. How did the tiny town of Mayville come to ask me to come and visit their schools? I’m a world-famous author.

And now, the rest of the story: one of the teachers who taught at Horace Mann when I visited with Hanni in 2009 teaches in Mayville now. She emailed late last year to ask if my Seeing Eye dog and I could come, then asked the local Lions Club if they would donate the funds to bring me up here. They said yes, and after a cab ride to Union Station in Chicago, a train to Milwaukee, and a bus to our hotel in Menomonee Falls, that teacher is picking me up tomorrow morning for a day full of classroom visits. Like every good teacher I’ve met, this one is resourceful!

I’m looking forward to visiting the Mayville Schools,and who knows, if one of the schoolyards there is fenced in, maybe Whitney will be able to get out and play in the snow.

Mondays with Mike: My partner’s partners

Beth here. We debuted our “Mondays with Mike” feature just about a year ago, and since then many of you blog readers have told us how much you enjoy starting your week reading my husband Mike Knezovich’s posts. Some of you newcomers might not know that Mike had been weighing in occasionally with guest posts long before we started his regular Monday installment, and since the poor guy is down with the flu today, we’re reblogging a guest post he wrote in 2013, before “Mondays with Mike” was born. Please accept my apologies if the photos are out of whack –Mike usually handles the graphics on our blog posts!

They ain’t robots, they’re better

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.


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