Posts Tagged 'Seeing Eye'

Mondays with Mike: The truth about dog years           

Pretty much everyone knows the “dog years” thing—you know, that a dog’s age in years is seven times a human’s. So, for example, a dog that is seven years old is roughly at the same point as a 49 year-old human. (Unless the human watched the debate last night, in which case the human aged a year for every ten minutes, which really messes up the math. But I digress.)

Click on the image to see Hanni do her 94-year-old dash.

Click on the image to see Hanni do her 94-year-old dash.

I’m not sure why calculating dog years ever really mattered, except that as one theory suggests, it’s just a shorthand way of thinking about canine longevity relative to human longevity. Anyway, the bottom line about dog years is that it really has no basis in, well, anything.

The American Veterinary Medical Association calculates relative age as follows:

  • 15 human years equals the first year of a medium-sized dog’s life.
  • Year two for a dog equals about nine years for a human.
  • After that, it’s easy: each human year would be approximately five years for a dog.

This article at the American Kennel Club website explains the reasoning and science.

I got to thinking about all this as the result of a really nice afternoon spent with our friends Chris and Larry and Greg yesterday. Greg has been a friend since our Urbana days. He introduced us some years ago to Chris and Larry, who you may recall adopted Harper, Beth’s third Seeing Eye dog. After a close call in which he saved Beth from getting hit by a car, Harper developed a heartbreaking case of canine PTSD, and Harper just couldn’t guide Beth anymore. In fact, when he moved to a quiet, leafy suburb to live with Chris and Larry, Harper wouldn’t even walk around the block. He was that traumatized.

Beth returned to The Seeing Eye to be matched with her current dog Whitney. And thanks to Larry and Chris’ care and patience, Harper’s doing great, goes for long walks now and loves playing with the other neighborhood dogs.

At one point during our time together yesterday, Larry said, in a careful tone, “I’m almost afraid to ask, but how’s Hanni doing?” Afraid, because he thought there might be bad news about Harper’s predecessor, Hanni—who’s retired and living in Urbana with our friends Steven and Nancy.

Larry was relieved when we told him that Hanni’s doing dandy and fine in her golden years, which total 16 in human terms. Seventeen come February. And he was tickled when I showed him the video Nancy sent last month of Hanni running full bore at a forest preserve.

Now, full bore isn’t what it used to be, and Nancy said Hanni slept for hours after her frolicking.

But it’s not bad for a 112, er, um, let’s see… 94-year-old golden/lab retriever cross.

P.S. Special thanks to Greg for his patience. I think he may have aged a month for every minute the rest of us talked about dogs.

Does this harness make my butt look too … small?

I had just tied Whitney’s latest deposit into a pick-up bag and was leaning down to re-buckle her harness when a stranger approached. “Excuse me,” She said. Her question must have been pressing. She couldn’t wait for me to stand up before asking.

What do you think?

What do you think?

”I’m not sure you notice, you know, not being able to see him and all, but do you know your dog is too skinny?” My face broke out into a huge smile. I think I even chuckled.

Once I stood up, I looked towards the sidewalk stranger’s voice and thanked her for her concern. “You know, it’s funny,” I said, explaining that the night before graduates leave for home with our new Seeing Eye dogs, a veterinarian from the Seeing eye speaks at our “Going Home” presentation and warns us that once we get out and about with our guides at home, complete strangers will stop us to tell us our dogs are too thin. “And here you are!” I said.

During that Seeing Eye lecture, the veterinarian tells us our dogs are the perfect weight,” I told the sidewalk stranger. “The vet told us Americans feed their dogs too much food, everyone gets used to seeing overweight dogs, and they end up thinking that’s the way dogs are supposed to look.”

The sidewalk stranger was unmoved. “I know they breed them special, I know that,” she said. “but there’s something wrong with yours, he’s too skinny. I have three dogs, I know dogs. Bring him to a vet. Ask them, they’ll tell you.”

I considered telling her that at our visit to the vet a month ago the doctor had confirmed that Whitney is still the perfect weight. But then I thought better of it.During that same Going Home lecture at the Seeing Eye, another Seeing Eye staff member had told us that when we’re out and about with our Seeing Eye dogs it’s normal to encounter questions — and sometimes interference — from people who do not intend to cause us difficulty. “By being polite and courteous and developing a brief explanation, you will limit the interference — educating these people will prevent more problems in the future,” he advised. .“As distracting as public interference can be, you will generally make it worse if you lose your temper.”

And so, I didn’t lose my temper, even when the sidewalk stranger confessed she’d been following me for a while. “I was walking behind you and his back legs, you can’t see him, but he’s too skinny,” she said. “The way he walks, there is something really wrong with him. You need to take him to a vet.”

Time to go. I thanked the sidewalk stranger again for her concern, an then I told her I did have something she could help me with. “Without being able to see, you know, I can’t tell where a nearby garbage can might be.” I said. “Can you throw this out for me?” And with that, I handed her the bag of poop.

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!

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