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. Continue reading ‘Mondays with Mike: You may find yourself in a beautiful house…’

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.

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