Posts Tagged 'Seeing Eye'

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.



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!

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!

Off Leash with Bark Magazine

Yesterday the editors at Bark Magazine invited me to be a guest on Off Leash, their weekly open-thread real-time chat. I pretended I knew what an open thread real-time chat is and said yes.

They’ve been doing this weekly open thread thing for a while, I guess, but are making one tweak. They want to start inviting special guests to each open thread, and they decided to use me as their “test run” yesterday:

We’ll feature a regular Bark contributor, so readers can drill down on specific topics, such as training, behavior, rescue, activism, animal law and more. Other times, we’ll invite folks we admire to join the conversation.

I’ve never done instant messaging, but I’m guessing my experience yesterday afternoon was kind of what IM is like. Bark fans would comment or ask questions to the thread, and I’d answer in real time. An example from yesterday’s Off Leash thread:

Submitted by Jennifer B on April 27, 2011.
Beth, I’m not blind but I know several people that will be due to degenerative diseases of the eye. How hard was it to learn to trust your dog? I’ve worked as a care aide and done sensitivity training as if I were blind and it is hard to trust a human, that’s why I’m asking. How long did it take you to really put yourself in her paws?
• reply
Submitted by Beth Finke on April 27, 2011.
With my very first Seeing Eye dog I think it took me about a year to trust her. The second dog it only took me three months. I have been with Harper, my third dog, for four months now and find I don’t trust him *completely* yet, but I think that’s b/c I am living in a very busy city now — Chicago — and traffic is more difficult here. So actually, I guess I *do* trust Harper, just don’t trust the traffic!
• reply
Submitted by Lizzi on April 27, 2011.
I’d be interested to hear some more about your challenges in living in Chicago with a guide dog, as I live in Chicago and have a BIL with a guide dog.
And I agree, you should definitely NOT trust the traffic in Chicago. Especially cab drivers. Maybe they should teach guide dogs to recognize cabs and refuse to cross in front of them (only half joking here!).

Photo of Harper lying across Beth's lap on the floor.

Sometimes he thinks he's a lap dog.

The timing for this little threading experiment was perfect for me – the Seeing Eye sent out an instructor Monday to give me some techniques to try with Harper. We’ve been at it all week, and after making some progress yesterday afternoon we decided to take a break. While Harper snored at my feet, I “mingled” online.

In exchange for all this, Bark will place an ad for my children’s book Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound in an upcoming issue. Bark had me write a guest post for their blog Wednesday, too. It’s about what it takes to be a guide dog instructor, a timely topic since Harper and I have spent so much time this past week with the visiting instructor. More on all that in a future post. Now that my open thread real-time mingling is over, I think I’ll join Harper in snoreland. Zzzzzzzzz…

Or maybe they’ll name the pup Mr. October

Hanni and I have a soft spot for those Yankees. Starting after this weekend.

The Yankees come to Chicago this weekend, and like always, I’m rooting for my White Sox to sweep ‘em. I must admit, though, that a story on this week has left me with a soft spot for those Damn Yankees.

Last Tuesday Manager Joe Girardi and pitchers David Robertson, Chad Gaudin and Joba Chamberlain surprised my fellow Seeing Eye graduate and baseball fan Jane Lang as she left her house with her dog Clipper on the way to that night’s Yankees game. From the ESPN story:

They didn’t have a limo. They didn’t have a fleet of Suburbans. They had only sneakers. They were going to make the journey with her.

“Oh my God!” Jane said.

“We think you’re amazing,” Girardi said.

“Follow me,” Clipper seemed to say.

You have to understand what a two-hour, one-way journey to a baseball game takes for somebody like Jane. She’s been blind since birth, and these trips have not always turned out well. Once, some kids decided it would be fun to spin her around a few dozen times. Another time, she fell onto the subway tracks and was nearly killed. But ever since she got a guide dog, she’s been intrepid.

Jane’s special trip to Yankee Stadium Tuesday was part of the Yankees’ “Hope Week.” When the whole thing was over, the Yankees gave $10,000 to The Seeing Eye in Jane’s honor. I’m wondering if they plan on taking advantage of a special deal the Seeing Eye provides to big donors: if you donate $5000 or more to the Seeing Eye, you have the privilege of naming a puppy. Just imagine. When I return to the Seeing Eye after Hanni retires, I might be matched up with Derek Jeter!

Using Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound in the classroom

This afternoon I’m giving a presentation to school teachers attending the Sandberg Literacy Institute at University of Toledo. Part of my job is to give them ideas of how to use Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound in the classroom. I figured heck, as long as I’m gathering resources to share with these teachers this afternoon, why not also share these terrific resources with you, my loyal blog readers?

An entire lesson plan devoted to Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound is right there for the taking on a web site called Learning to Give. The site suggests “Reading Experiences to Inspire Acts of Kindness,” and features lists and lists of activities for kids who read our book. Example:

During Reading

ASK: How does Hanni keep Beth safe during the day? What senses does Hanni need to use to help Beth?

SHOW: Look at the pictures of Hanni guiding Beth.

CONNECT: How is the way that Hanni takes care of Beth similar to how your parents or friends take care of you, or how you help others? For example, have you ever helped a younger child or elderly person cross a street or perform a task? Imagine what kind of help you would need if you could not see or hear or if you could not move easily.

The site also mentions Braille:

In addition to having special dogs to help them get places, those with a visual impairment also have a special alphabet that helps them read. This alphabet is called Braille. It is made up of dots that are raised off a piece of paper, so a person can feel them. All letters are made up of a combination of six dots. For more information, go to the Monroe County Women’s Disability Network webpage on Braille. Practice writing your name in Braille.

You can order Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound in a special print-Braille format (no illustrations) from Seedlings Braille Books for Children. Braille words appear directly under the printed words, providing visually-impaired children and their sighted parents and teachers a wonderful way to enjoy learning together. The Seeing Eye also offers oodles of resources for teachers and librarians.

And finally, this fantastic resource: Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound is one of the books on the Martha Speaks Read-Aloud Book Club list. Each book selected for the Martha Speaks Book Club is coordinated with a Martha Speaks episode on PBS. For Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound, PBS suggest kids watch an episode where Martha wants to pursue her dream of becoming a real firehouse dog, but then realizes the job is not as easy as it seems.
You can download this episode from the PBS Kids site here.

The Martha Speaks Read-Aloud Book Club resource guide is three pages long so I can’t go into all the details here. It does suggest inviting a special guest to read-aloud sessions, so if any of you teachers or librarians are thinking ahead about special events for the next school year, please know: Hanni and I would love to come.

How old are guide dogs when they retire?

That's Dora -- my first Seeing Eye dog -- off duty on a stroll on the beach. She was 12 when she retired.

That's Dora -- my first Seeing Eye dog -- off duty during a stroll on the beach. She retired at age twelve.

The average working life for a Seeing Eye® dog is 7-8 years. Hanni turned ten in February. I was supposed to head back to the Seeing Eye next month to train with a new dog, but I postponed the trip. I can’t let Hanni go.

I had a hard time letting my first Seeing Eye dog retire, too. Dora worked until she was twelve. I know now that it wasn’t fair to keep her working so long — she needed a break. I don’t want to make the same mistake with Hanni, but I’m just not ready to train with a new dog. Not yet.

When I finally do let poor Hanni retire and enjoy her senior years, we’ll have three options:

  • I can bring Hanni back too the Seeing Eye, and they’ll find someone to adopt her, or
  • we can find a friend who wants to adopt her, or
  • we can keep her as a pet, and when I bring my new Seeing Eye dog home we’d have two dogs.

Hanni is healthy. She is good in traffic, and still knows her lefts from her rights. Her tail still wags when I grab her harness off its hook and call her to go outside. But Hanni can’t keep a good pace anymore. Long walks make her tired. Most of her time at home is spent sleeping. As much as I try to avoid thinking about it, it’s time for Hanni to retire.

As if to remind me, an email from the Seeing Eye arrived in my “in box” this week. Subject matter: Seeing Eye grads invited to participate in study

The Seeing Eye has agreed to distribute information about upcoming research into the factors contributing to early retirement of service and working dogs.

The study is being conducted by the University of Pennsylvania. The research team at Penn Veterinary School is seeking the help of owners of service and working dogs. Specifically, they are looking for people whose current guide or service dogs are from The Seeing Eye, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, or Canine Companions for Independence, and are interested in participating in this important study.

Participants will be asked to complete online (web based) surveys about their dogs’ recent health, behavior and activities twice yearly for a period of 2-3 years. You may also be asked to comb some hair samples from your dog’s fur and return them to Penn Vet School in prepaid envelopes. These samples will be analyzed for the stress hormone cortisol.

Send dog fur via U.S. Mail? It sounds so… voodoo! They had me right there. I wanted to sign up just for that. Hanni is so close to retirement, though, they couldn’t possibly want her as part of the study, would they? Yes, they would.

The researchers wish to collect data on working guide and service dogs of all ages regardless of their current health status or proximity to retirement.

I think I’ll sign up. If you happen to be a guide dog user, and you think you’d like to participate, too, you can go to the survey to provide your name and email address (as well as the name, breed and age of your dog) to indicate your willingness to be considered for the study.

Our Dirty Little Secret

To celebrate its 80th birthday, the Seeing Eye invited all its canine and human graduates to a reunion in Morristown last weekend. I love the Seeing Eye. I am very proud Hanni and I are graduates. But we didn’t go.

Here’s a dirty little secret: Being around a lot of blind people with guide dogs makes me nervous.

The American foundation for the Blind reports 1.3 million people in the US are legally blind. Only 7,000 of us use guide dogs. That means of the estimated 12,000 people who are legally blind living in Chicago, only 60 of us use dogs for guides. In any given situation, Hanni and I are usually the only guide dog team in the bunch. Here’s an understatement for you: Hanni and I both enjoy attention. And among the 300 who showed up for last weekend’s Seeing Eye reunion, we’d just be two more cute faces in the crowd. Worse than that, any attention we might get would probably be negative.

Just like parents at a playground, we guide dog users find it difficult to resist judging and comparing the behavior of our little ones. My dog handling skills are not ideal, and as a result my Seeing Eye dogs do not rank Best in Show when it comes to discipline. Both Dora, my first Seeing Eye dog, and Hanni, my current dog, have kept me safe for 18 years, and in all sorts of situations. But both dogs broke many Seeing Eye rules along the way. And the one rule Hanni especially likes to break? “Don’t sniff at other dogs.” She tries to ignore the dogs who cross our path, she really does. More often than not, though, she finds other dogs, well…irresistible. A reunion of 300+ Seeing Eye dogs could have been disastrous for us.

The people and dogs of The Seeing Eye were featured as the Pioneers of the Week on ABC World News with Charles Gibson last Friday, and the segment included footage from the reunion. Of course Hanni and I are now second-guessing our decision to stay home. Remember, we like attention. Maybe, if we had gone to Morristown, we would have been on TV!

Ah, well. Somehow, some way, the Seeing Eye managed to look fantastic on the TV segment without us there to help. The feature included an interview with Seeing Eye president Jim Kutsch and his wife Ginger. You might remember them from a post I published here after Mike, Hanni and I stayed at their house during a visit to the Seeing Eye a year ago.

Ginger Bennett (L) and Jim Kutsch (R), great hosts and great guides to Morristown, NJ. (That's me and Hanni bringing up the rear.)

Ginger Bennett (L) and Jim Kutsch (R), great hosts and great guides to Morristown, NJ.

The ABC TV crew also accompanied an instructor training a dog, and they filmed a litter of Black Lab puppies. You can link to the two-and-one-half minute story online, but be sure to have a Kleenex or two on hand. Mike teared up when he saw those pups!

Helper Parrots & Guide Horses: Where to Draw the Line?

Yesterday’s Day to Day programon National Public Radio (NPR) aired a story called Helper Parrots, Guide Horses Face Legal Challenges.

Day to Day, January 2, 2009 • Chances are you’ve seen a blind person accompanied by a guide dog.  But what about a guide horse, a service parrot or a monkey trained to help an agoraphobic?

These are just a few of the nontraditional service animals that are used across the country to help people with disabilities and psychological disorders.

As their uses are expanding, however, the government is considering a proposal that would limit the definition of “service animal” to “a dog or other common domestic animal.”

Day to Day host Alex Cohen interviewed Rebecca Skloot, the author of an article in the New York Times Magazine called Creature Comforts – Assistance Animals Now Come in All Shapes and Sizes.

Rebecca Skloot outlines why many people are upset about the pending law. Sometimes less familiar animals make better helpers, she tells Alex Cohen.The NPR story described how Sadie, a parrot, helps a man who suffers from bipolar disorder.  The parrot can sense when he is on the verge of a psychotic episode and talk him down. Richard, a bonnet macaque monkey, helps a woman get through the day without debilitating panic attacks.  And Panda, a miniature guide horse, guides a woman who is blind.

Skloot spent many hours observing how a miniature horse named Panda helped a blind woman named Ann Edie.  Even after all her preparatory research, Skloot was blown away.

“I could sort of envision how a horse could guide a person. But the level at which Panda guides her is amazing. In just a few blocks, I saw her maneuver around things that I, as a person that’s sighted, wouldn’t have thought of.”

When it comes to getting into airports, restaurants and other public places with a service animal, the ADA allows employees to ask a person if the animal is a service animal, and if the animal is required because of a disability. Documentation of the person’s disability or the animal’s training can NOT be required as a condition for providing service to an individual accompanied by a service animal.

In other words, people don’t have to prove they are disabled or that their pets are service animals in order to have those animals accompany them into a public place. All a person has to do is claim a disability and say their pet has been trained to provide assistance. No questions asked.

This is just one of many reasons the government is considering revising the definition of “service animal” in the American’s with Disabilities Act – it’s not simply because bigoted dog lovers want to keep other animals off the list.

A piece I wrote for The Bark about a teenager who sat next to me on a plane helps explain:

“I’m an only child. Rusty’s like a brother to me.”
Unwilling to have their German Shepherd fly as cargo on family vacations, her dad came up with a solution. “My dad wears sunglasses,” she said with a laugh. “He acts like he’s blind, and pretends our German Shepherd is a Seeing Eye dog.  He even, like, had somebody at the leather shop make one of those harness things for Rusty.”  She was really laughing now. Can you believe that?”

I could. In fact, this was the second time I’d been given a firsthand account of someone faking blindness to get a dog into an airport. I’ve heard stories, too, about people faking or exaggerating other maladies in order to get their animals on board with them.

“We are getting more and more complaints about service dogs,” a specialist on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) information line told me. She said that most complaints come from business owners. People with guard dogs, attack dogs, therapy dogs, companion dogs, and even security dogs are calling their dogs “service” animals to get them special privileges. “We just tell businesses to let the dogs in,” she said. “Otherwise they’re asking for a lawsuit.”

I guess “reasonable accommodation” is just a one-way street, then? Doesn’t seem fair to me.

Those of us with legitimate service animals suffer when others fake or exaggerate a disability so they can bring their pets wherever they go. Last year I was stopped while trying to get into a Cubs game at Wrigley Field with Hanni. The man taking tickets said he didn’t know if the dog was allowed. I pointed to Hanni’s harness, told him she was a Seeing Eye dog. He was skeptical.

Turns out that a week earlier someone had brought their puppy to Wrigley, claiming the dog was a service dog. The dog misbehaved, and fans sitting nearby complained. After that, the people working the gates were told to scrutinize anyone coming in with a service dog.

In addition to being despicable, faking a disability to gain privilege is fraud. It also results in increased scrutiny of people with legitimate disabilities. I’ve had this happen at Crate and Barrel on Michigan Avenue. And at Andy’s Jazz Club on Hubbard. At Jimmy John’s Sandwich Shop on State Street.

I was stopped at the door at each place. At the first two, the doorman checked with a supervisor before letting me through. At Jimmy John’s, they just kicked Hanni and me out. We haven’t been back.

The Seeing Eye is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. As the very first school in the US to train guide dogs for the blind, Seeing Eye pioneers worked long and hard to open the doors and give our dogs public access. I can tell you stories and stories of people who have faked blindness or other disabilities to get their pet dogs into public places. I have no problem allowing qualified service animals of any type – horses, monkeys, parrots — into public places with their disabled human companions. I just worry that opening ADA legislation to even more animals who may not truly be qualified could possibly ruin the good name our Seeing Eye pioneers have worked so hard to build over the years.

You can read more about the proposed legislation in Skloot’s article in The New York Times Magazine and see photos of her blog.

Odd Man Out

Hanni is not particularly fond of baths!Hanni heads off to Doggie Bath House again this Thursday. She needs to look – and smell! – good for our trip To New Jersey. We’ve been invited to the Seeing Eye’s annual “Family Fun Day on Saturday –it’s a day to honor the puppy raisers and other volunteers who do so much to make our guide dog partnerships possible. The Seeing Eye ordered FIVE HUNDRED special copies of Safe & Sound for the volunteers, and Hanni and I will be on hand to sign my name (plus rubber stamp Hanni’s pawprint) inside each one.

A car will meet us at Newark Friday to drive us to the home of Jim and Ginger Kutsch. Jim – or perhaps I should say, ahem, Dr. James A. Kutsch, Jr. – is the first blind person to be named president of the Seeing Eye. I learned a lot about Jim while writing a profile of him for the Illinois Alumni Magazine. Jim lost his sight when he was 16 years old, then ended up getting a PhD in computer science from the University of Illinois.

Jim Kutsch hoped the chemistry experiment would impress his high school buddies. When his homemade explosives backfired in a fiery blast, however, the explosion not only left the 16-year-old totally blind, but also resulted in the amputation of half his right hand.

Thanks to friends leading him through school hallways and relatives and neighbors reading textbooks to him at night, the determined teenager from Wheeling,
W. Va., managed to graduate from high school on time. After finishing his first year at West Virginia University, Kutsch traveled to Morristown, N.J. to train with his first Seeing Eye dog, a German shepherd named Sheba.

Thirty-six years, three college degrees and five dogs later, Dr. James A. Kutsch, Jr. doesn’t need outlandish science experiments to impress his friends. A career that has taken him from academic professor to the high-tech business world does his bidding for him. This year another achievement has been added to his list: In September, Kutsch became the first blind person to be named president of the Seeing Eye.

Jim’s wife Ginger Bennett Kutsch was the Associate Manager of Development at the Seeing Eye before Jim took his position there. Ginger is blind, too — the pair met while training with new Seeing Eye dogs. Jim’s German Sheppard Anthony couldn’t keep his eyes off Peyton, Ginger’s yellow Lab/golden
Retriever cross. The rest, as they say, is history.

Mike is coming along with Hanni and me on the trip. Poor guy, I’m afraid he might feel left out Friday night. After all, he’ll be the only one at the Kutsch’s house without a guide dog!

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