Posts Tagged 'Bark blog'

Whitney has a smart bump, and she’s not afraid to use it

Sometimes she's a little too smart for her own good, not to mention mine.

Today Bark Magazine published a blog post I wrote about my first weeks at home in Chicago with Whitney. I start out the post describing how the Seeing Eye-dog thing is supposed to work. The blind person memorizes or finds the route, the pair gets themselves situated on the sidewalk, 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, and the dog turns. If the person wants to cross the street, the dog waits while the human being listens to traffic, and when it sounds safe to cross, the person says the dog’s name and commands, “Forward!” After confirming it is indeed safe to cross, the Seeing Eye dog leads the human to the other side of the street.

That’s how it’s supposed to work, anyways. Unfortunately, The near miss I had with my Seeing Eye dog Harper last year had left me more anxious than I wanted to admit. I wasn’t letting Whitney lead me right to the edge at intersections. She was already beginning to know our routes –- why make her go all the way to the curb, just to wait there before I told her which way to turn? From the Bark Magazine blog post:

Whitney’s decision to keep us away from the edge of the intersections, to just go ahead and make turns on her own, well, it meant I didn’t have to face the rush of traffic in front of us. I felt safe.

Until Whitney started crossing intersections diagonally, that is. Dang that smart bump! The girl is so clever that when she knew we’d be turning right or left once we crossed the street, she figured hey, why not save time? We’ll just go kitty-corner.

For those unenlightened ones out there, a “smart bump” is the occipital bone on the top of a dog’s head. All retrievers have this bump, and when it really sticks out the way Whitney’s does, we call them “smart bumps” and convince ourselves our dogs are smarter than others. And so, my two-year-old genius was not only crossing intersections diagonally, she was also anticipating a turn at every corner, veering as we approached intersections and leaving us all discombobulated. And if there is one place you especially don’t want to feel discombobulated with a Seeing Eye dog, it’s when you’re approaching a city intersection.

So are you wondering what Seeing Eye trainer Chris Mattoon suggested when he visited last week, and whether his advice is working for Whitney and me? Well, I guess you’ll have to link to my post on the Bark Magazine blog to find out!

Smiling dogs

Here's another of Mary Ivory's shots, from the jacket flap of our award-winning children's book.

While preparing my essay for Chicago Public Radio this week I decided to send something about Harper’s early retirement to Bark magazine, too. They liked what I wrote and published When a Seeing Eye Dog Gets Off-Track as a guest post on the Bark blog last Tuesday.

The post I wrote for Bark is similar to what I’ve been writing here, but you might want to link to it anyway just to admire the photograph they published along with it –it’s another photo taken by my friend Mary Ivory. Mary is a licensed clinical professional counselor, social worker, life coach, and from all accounts, a very talented photographer. She took the photograph on the book jacket flap of Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound, and when I phoned her earlier this week to ask if she could take a last-minute photo of Harper and me for the Bark blog, she came in, ahem, a flash.

Having work published in Bark puts Mary and me in some darned good company: the magazine’s impeccable pedigree includes publishing many of today’s most acclaimed authors including Ann Patchett, Augusten Burroughs, Rick Bass, Amy Hempel, and Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver. Bark has been honored with an Award of Merit from The Society of Publication Designers, and their photo book DogJoy features the magazine’s popular “Smiling Dogs” submissions. from their web site:

Bark is the magazine of modern dog culture—it speaks to the serious dog enthusiast. Bark is the indispensable guide to life with dogs, showing readers how to live smartly and rewardingly with their canine companions. Founded in 1997, as a newsletter to advocate for off-leash dog parks in Berkeley, California, the magazine quickly grew into a glossy, award-winning publication acclaimed for its timely commentary and rich literary offerings. Today, Bark has a nationwide readership of over 250,000.

In addition to regular guest Bark blog posts,I’ve had a few stories published in the four-color “glossy, award-winning” version of Bark, too. It’s always a thrill to be contacted by their staff — it gives me the opportunity to brag that I write for the same magazine Ann Patchett writes for. And now Mary Ivory can brag, too. Her photography has been published by the same folks who honor photographs of “Smiling Dogs” in every issue.

Bark Magazine refers to them as the “Broken Foot Chronicles”

Here's the photo The Bark used.

All your comments and questions to my posts about Harper’s well-being after I broke my foot made me think. Hey, maybe The Bark would like to publish a post about what happens to a Seeing Eye dog while his blind partner is recovering from an illness or injury.

And so, I revamped a post I’d already published here, attached a photo Mike took, and sent it off. Ding-ding! An email came right back from The Bark. “Thanks for this. I think our readers will like it.” They titled the post What happens to a Seeing Eye dog when his human breaks her foot? and published it right away.

But wait, there’s more: the response to that first post was so good (thanks for commenting there, Susan and Rick!) that The Bark asked for more. Last Thursday they published Beth decides what to do with her sidelined Seeing Eye dog, my third Bark post since the inglorious foot break.

The posts I write for The Bark are inspired by the comments you leave here. Examples: A Safe & Sound blog reader wrote to ask, “Can you enlist another guide dog user to walk your dog on harness? I realize you are trained as a team but wouldn’t someone who went through the same school as you did be able to work as a sub?” Fair question, but the Seeing Eye frowns on having anyone other than the person with whom they matched the dog use the harness with that dog. From the day I was matched with Harper at the Seeing Eye school in Morristown, no one but me has held Harper’s harness, not even Steve our Seeing Eye trainer. Harper had an ear infection while we were training in Morristown, and when Steve brought him to the vet, he took him on leash.

The blog reader’s question about having another Seeing Eye grad sub for me and work with Harper inspired me to stress the importance of the Beth-and-Harper bond in the post I wrote for The Bark:

While stuck at home together, I do a daily obedience routine with Harper. I’m the only one who feeds him. I give him his water. I groom him. I play with him. Mike takes Harper on leash for walks, and when Mike is away, friends volunteer to help. But I’m always the one who calls Harper to the door, and I’m always the one who clips the leash to his collar before they head outside.

Another Safe & Sound blog reader had commented that perhaps the, ahem, break, might make Harper more eager to do a good job when he returns to work. I posed this idea to John Keane, Manager of Instruction & Training at the Seeing Eye, and used his answer in last Thursday’s Bark blog post:

I’d been doing my best to get out with Harper a couple times a week, even with the boot cast. It’s a fine balance, and I hear my voice sounding a bit more stern when giving Harper commands—I can’t risk falling again. And you know, Harper responds!
“You never know,” I joked with John. “Maybe he’ll be even a better guide after getting all this time off!”
No joke, John said. “Harper wouldn’t be the first Seeing Eye dog we’ve worked with who improved after sitting out for a while.”

So thank you for your comments, my loyal blog readers, and please keep them coming. Your questions and suggestions inspire me, and the comments you leave at The Bark blog keep them asking for more!

Healing

A guest post I wrote for The Bark blog earlier this month explained why it was that I’d been toying with sending Harper back to Morristown while I stay in Chicago and recover from my broken foot. That guest post (called “What’s a Seeing Eye dog do when his human breaks her foot?”) ended like this:

While getting regular workouts with Seeing Eye trainers in Morristown would be great for Harper’s work ethic, we worry what a temporary move back to Seeing Eye School might do to Harper’s mental health. Not to mention … mine.

A few days after that post was published, Mike took Harper to a regularly-scheduled vet visit. I stayed home, slumped in front of my laptop with my cast up on the back of the couch. Harper checked out fine except for one thing. He’ gained five pounds.

So it wasn’t just about our mental health anymore. Now my broken foot was affecting Harper’s physical health, too. I cut his food down from two cups to one-and-a-half cups a day and gave the Seeing Eye another call.

The doc left the x-ray up on the computer and Mike snapped it. It's getting there!

John Keane, Manager of Instruction & Training, said that, yes, I could send Harper back to the school for a while.” Our trainers could walk your dog every day, and of course Harper would perform for them,” he said. “But really, what would that get you, Beth?” Not much, I admitted. Just like cars that squeak or malfunction at home but perform perfectly at the mechanic’s, guide dogs are notorious for behaving well with instructors. It’s working at home that really matters.

“We usually only have dogs come back for help if they’re having problems in traffic, problems that are so serious they can’t be solved at home,” John said. In that case, trainers might try to re-enact the traffic problem while the dog is there in Morristown, see if they can remedy it, then bring the dog back and work with the team in the graduate’s home environment. I’d been doing my best to get out with Harper a couple times a week, even with the boot cast. “I really don’t notice any problems with traffic,” I told John, and he was happy to hear that.

“We’ll send someone out to give you another refresher course once your foot is healed,” John assured me. “Just be sure to let us know the minute you get any hint about when you might be out of the cast.”  John is the guy in charge of scheduling home visits, and he wants to get mine on the calendar.

I may be making that magical phone call to the Seeing Eye very soon: last Wednesday the foot doctor gave me a prescription for orthopedic shoes! I never dreamed I’d ever, ever be so excited about the prospect of wearing orthopedic shoes, but trust me, I am doing the one-legged dance of joy. My foot is on the mend, the doc said, and once my shoes come in and get fitted with a wide shank for added stability, the  boot comes off for good. And then, watch out, world: Harper and I will be on the road again.

Flo has been checking up on me every day since I got my cast on. She was elated to hear how protective my new shoes will be, and relieved to hear my foot is healing. “I’ll have to start out slow with the new shoes, you know, only one block the first day, then two the next,” I told her, explaining those are the only shoes I am allowed to wear the next couple months. “Guess I won’t be wearing any of my summer dresses for a while.”

“Oh, you can still wear your dresses,” Flo assured me. “They wear anything these days.” It’s a Floism she’s been using since I was a teenager. And you know, she’s still right.

One break was so severe that it will heal crookedly. So much for a future career as a foot model. Even after a few months, when I can get out of the orthopedic shoes, I’ll have to stick to practical ones. Hardly a concern, though. thanks to Flo’s daily phone calls, Mike’s help at home and his work with Harper, my sister Marilee and our friend Matt Cunningham subbing with Harper when Mike was out of town, and you countless others who have helped keep my spirits up the past couple of months, you’ll be seeing me back on the streetd soon. I’ll be easy to spot: just look for the happiest clodhopper in Chicago.


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