Saying goodbye to an old friend

November 25, 2010 • Posted in Beth Finke, blindness, guide dogs, radio, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized by

Best. Dog. Ever.

Note: If you link to WBEZ to listen to the piece, it’s a little confusing. Use this link, and then just wait, don’t click anything–the right piece should start playing. Don’t pay attention to the playlist that may appear.

A longer version of this blog post aired on Chicago Public Radio November 24. I don’t cry during the reading, but if you listen closely you’ll hear me get a little choked up. Hanni has given me so, so much to be thankful for. I am really going to miss her.…

My Seeing Eye dog will be 11 years old in February. Walks to the Loop used to invigorate Hanni. Now they wear her out. She takes long naps after our excursions, and she doesn’t wake up from those naps as easily as she used to.

It’s time for Hanni to retire.

Back in 1990, it took two terrifying mishaps in traffic to convince me to switch from a white cane to a guide dog. Now, after ten years of side-by-side travel with Hanni, it’s going to take a lot to convince me I’ll ever love my next Seeing Eye dog as much as I do her.

Blindness dictates practicality, however. For Hanni’s and for my sake, I’ve signed up to return to the Seeing Eye this Saturday. I’ll be there three weeks, training with a new dog.

Dog-loving friends assumed I’d keep Hanni as a pet. Mike would like to keep her. I’m just not sure I can devote myself to a new Seeing Eye dog if Hanni is still around.

I can bring Hanni back with me to the Seeing Eye when I fly there Saturday to train with my new dog. They’ll find her a good home. I’m just afraid I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on my new dog knowing Hanni was in the nearby kennel, waiting. The new dog wouldn’t stand a chance!

And so, I’ve decided. I’m giving Hanni to a couple of friends. We visit these friends often, so when I get Hanni pangs, I can always head over there for a hug. These friends don’t have a dog now, so they’ll be able to give Hanni their undivided attention. That’s something she’s used to. Getting attention, I mean.

I’ll get to visit Hanni, but it’s hard to imagine traveling more than a couple feet to hug her. Or trusting a dog other than Hanni to lead me around the city and keep me safe. I can’t think about that now, though. It’s time to take one last walk. With good ol’ Hanni.

Lolly On November 25, 2010 at 11:32 am

HI, Beth,

My thoughts and prayers are with you, Hanni and your new dog as you move through this transition.

When you sign up to use a guide dog, you understand this business of transitions is part of the package, but that never makes it any easier.

It’s especially hard when you have a “heart,” match as you do with Hanni. Making space in your heart for the new pup to come takes patience, wisdom, self-awareness and grace. May you find these in abundance as you begin this journey.

The Seeing Eye has been helping people make this transition for 81 years. They are the best at what they do, and you couldn’t be in better hands.

God’s speed!

bethfinke On November 25, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Lolly, what a sweet, reassuring note! I have never heard the term “heart match” before, but it describes my pairing with Hanni beautifully.
Blog readers who want to know more about these transitions, or about the use of Gide dogs in general should take a look at Lolly’s web site, it’s smack full of great information. You can link to “GuideBrooke Productions” here:
http://www.guidebrookproductions.com/

Maureen Naset On November 25, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Beth,
I was in tears reading that it is time to retire Hanni. What a wonderful dog she has been to you all of these years. Had you not had already found her a home I would have loved to have adopted her. We lost our 13 and 1/2 year old golden in August and I am really missing having two dogs and our shepherd-lab mix Joey is lonely without her. Good luck the next three weeks at The Seeing Eye. What a great organization they are!! I look forward to “meeting” your new dog when you start writing about her.
Have a beautiful Thanksgiving.
Love,
Maureen

Sandra On November 25, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Beth,

Good luck in your new transition. I remember when I went to The Seminar for Youth. I worked with one of their dogs for a few hours, and even then I felt as if I was about to form a bond with her — although I understand it takes many days, weeks, and even months to get to know a dog guide well and form that special bond that exists between dog and human. In any case, I’m sure Hanni will be fine with your friends, and The Seeing Eye will help you a great deal in your transition!

Happy Thanksgiving!

becky On November 25, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Oh. My heart sank. This is not easy. Words can’t begin to describe the multitude of emotions that we go through at this time. I recall very clearly when it is was time to retire my first guide … then I tried to ignore it … then it was really apparent it was time to retire my first guide! Sending love, much love to you and Hanni and your next guide as you all transition through this next phase.

Deborah Lynn Jacobs On November 25, 2010 at 2:56 pm

How sad to have to say goodbye to Hanni. I’m glad you’ll be able to visit her.

Margo Gremmler On November 25, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Before reading your post today, I didn’t realize seeing eye dogs retire at (what seems like) such a young age. I’m so glad I could meet and see you together at Trina’s SCBWI workshop. And we’ll still read about you at home, from Safe & Sound.

You must be so thankful for Hanni today!
-Margo

Eva On November 25, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Reading this make me sad 🙁 I can’t imagine leaving a friend that I’ve been with for so long. well, i mean, you are not really leaving her, but not seeing her everyday.
However, I am sure you will find your new dog that is as good as Hanni. I believe every Guide Dog has its own special characteristic that you will fell in love with. : )

Happy thanksgiving. (it is snowing now on campus!)
-Eva

Susie On November 25, 2010 at 6:26 pm

Wishing you a pleasant time out in New Jersey meeting your soon to be best buddy. I know that this is a heartwrenching time for you with the loss of Hanni’s wonderful companionship. My heart goes out to you, Mike and Hanni (and all who love Hanni). I’m glad that your friends are going to take her and know that they will take good care of her.
I’m certain that this will be a transition that you will sail through with grace and humor.

Bob On November 25, 2010 at 10:28 pm

Never occurred to me that service dogs would have to retire. Thanks for enlightening me, happy retirement to Hanni, and good luck with your new dog.

Erin On November 26, 2010 at 1:58 am

I can tell you thought a lot about this. I wish you and Hanni both luck in this new transition. I hope you will keep us well updated.

Benita On November 26, 2010 at 9:28 am

She’s the greatest. I hope her successor looks nothing like her, but is as good. She so deserves her new world of leisure. I will never forget her running around in the special box at US Cell—just being allowed to be a friendly, happy dog! Bye, Hanni—here’s a scratch between the ears from NY.
My nagging thought is this rhetorical question: How does she know that this is for her own good?

marilee On November 26, 2010 at 9:31 am

We are going to miss Hanni-bonnie. You two were a perfect match. Hoping that the folks at Seeing Eye have found another perfect match for you and Mike. Can’t wait to meet your new buddy!

Cheryl On November 26, 2010 at 10:03 am

On Thanksgiving we were thankful to be able to spend time with Hanni before she heads to retirement. Beth took Hanni’s harness off and let her roam the house along with Ben and Julie’s dog Cooper. The grandkids asked who the new dog was? They never saw her without her harness and didn’t recognize the “new” dog visiting that day. Hanni had a great time eating a special treat that Minke brought and was able to eat the crumbs under the Thanksgiving table with no scolding. The grandkids were given disposable cameras to take pictures of Hanni that they could keep in their scrapbooks. We’re all thankful for Hanni and happy to know that she will be going to a loving home.

bethfinke On November 26, 2010 at 11:05 am

Thanks to all of you for your sweet and thoughtful wishes, it’s becoming more and more obvious that Hanni was loved by more people than just me!
Cheryl is especially humble in her comment, it was *Cheryl* who came up with that wonderful gift idea, providing cameras for all of the kids to take pictures of Hanni yesterday. Each camera came in wrapping paper covered with pictures of…DOGS, of course! Flo found those homemade treats for Hanni at a craft sale and saved them for the party yesterday.
Hanni was in heaven, and so was I. What a sweet, fun, happy Thanksgiving send-off.

judy ciambotti On November 26, 2010 at 10:14 am

Well, you may not have cried but it brought tears to my eyes reading today. Love to Hanni, Mike and Gus, and to there wonderful friends you have.

Lauren On November 26, 2010 at 10:32 am

Oh Beth. It’s a hard decision, and I speak from our family’s experience when I say that while the dogs do differ, each one brings his/her own strengths, personality, and sense of humor into your family. Whoever your new dog is, whatever s/he brings to you, the comparisons you fear aren’t likely. It’s a little like having another baby after your first. My mother always used the metaphor of “opening a new room in your heart.” I understand that you’ve made up your mind, but I also want to tell you that our family’s experience of keeping the retired dog as a pet has worked out wonderfully well for all involved. The old dog has a few days of concerned confusion while you’re off at Paw Camp, but it subsides quickly. And when the new dog comes home, we always feel like the old dog has the same feeling the rest of us get when the neighbor has to go to work while we get to stay home:) That part really is fun–and funny–to watch, the whole canine version of “Have a good day at work” with the whispered giggle into the paw that says “Sucker!” Good luck. Paw Camp is physically, emotionally, psychologically draining. But you get a new lease on life at the end.

Thinking of you–all three of you, it’s tough on Mike, too–during the transition.

Lauren

Sandra On November 26, 2010 at 11:52 am

Oh, what a wonderful retirement celebration for Hanni. It’s true your successor dog won’t be like Hanni, but I’m sure he/she will have distinct characteristics you’ll fall in love with! Again, I wish you the best in this new journey!

Cam On November 26, 2010 at 12:22 pm

I’ll certainly miss Hanni, but it’s nice to know she’s going to a good home and will have a relaxing, enjoyable retirement in a loving home.

And what a great send-off party.

Sounds like you’re doing better. Thanks for writing and sharing with us. I know that’s not always easy.

bev On November 26, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Best wishes to Hanni. You’ve done all that was asked of you and then some. Heck, you even co-wrote a book! Enjoy your retirement and rest assured your buddy Beth will be in good hands with her new doggie. You set the bar high Hanni and I’m sure your replacement is up for the challenge. It’s an exciting time really. Hanni gets to rest after a job well done and a new little doggie gets his big break after all the hard work preparing for the day when Beth is ready to pick you up. Can’t wait to meet the new side kick.

Mike On November 26, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Well, maybe Beth didn’t cry on the radio, but I’m a freakin’ mess. And really, Beth is, too. We’ve been over the decision a million times and I’m sure it’s the right thing.

Benita–what Hanni thinks about this has also been on my mind. She clearly has a sense that something’s going on–related to Beth packing her bags. Hanni always gets this way before a trip. But I wonder if she’ll feel abandoned.

Then I comfort myself with this: A few years back we traveled to Poland to attend a friend’s wedding. While it was possible to bring Hanni, it would’ve been a big hassle. It was the only time we traveled together and left Hanni with someone else.

Well, the someone elses were Carol and Pat, great people who have a terrific place on Michigan Avenue. When we got home, jet-lagged an all, we couldn’t wait to get over to their place and see Hanni. I sort of expected she’d sprint for us as soon as we came through the door. Instead, she was happy to lie on a really nice rug next to a really nice couch. She came over, let us scratch her, and then went back to her place. We were chopped liver in only five days:)

Which is all to say, I think she’ll be unnerved for a bit, and then say, “Hey, this ain’t bad.” And she’ll be with two wonderful friends whom we visit regularly.

Lauren–I know for a fact that keeping a dog can work. We know of others who tell the same kind of story you did. I guess the short of it is, under the right circumstances. My working situation is pretty irregular right now and may require being away pretty often sometime soon, Beth’s career has her traveling all the time, and I think this time around, this decision makes sense. But given how I’m feeling at the moment, I’m pretty sure the next one stays with us.

L^2 On November 26, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Sending lots of hugs to you, Mike, and Hanni. I totally understand what you’re going through, because I just did this same heart-wrenching thing a few months ago. It was tough to accept, but I knew that sending my guide dog to a “retirement home” was the right thing to do for her as well as everyone else involved. I know my girl is thoroughly enjoying life as a spoiled pet with her new family, and I’m sure Hanni will too. 🙂
I also had the same concerns about working with a new guide dog. However, my boy and I have been home from class for a month now and I couldn’t be happier with him. He’s such a perfect match for me that the transition to a new dog was easier than I expected it to be. And I’m so grateful to finally be able to travel again with a dog that is healthy, eager and happy to go, go, go!
Best of luck to you in training. I’m looking forward to hearing about your adventures with your new dog, as well as how Hanni is enjoying retired life with her new family.

Siobhan Senier On November 26, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Bittersweet. We are thinking of all of you. And dang–Beth, we are passing through Newark tonight en route home, wish we could whisk you away for dinner! Looking forward to hearing all your new adventures with your new companion.
xoxo

Chris G On November 27, 2010 at 9:37 am

Hanni is off to enjoy her retirement. . .missing you as much as you miss her I bet. But in a happy home it sounds like. Start of a new chapter, and new stories with your buddy. Best of luck today and at Seeing Eye.

Carol & Pat On November 27, 2010 at 10:02 am

Hi Beth,
I know you and Mike will miss Hanni but you will always have the fond memories. And, you may dream about her once in a while. Your new dog will love you both and his/her new home and city. I will be looking for you in Printers Row although I don’t know if you will be speeding by like you used to do with Hanni. We really enjoyed her when she stayed a few days with us. Thanks for letting us watch her. Best wishes. Carol & Pat

Rachel Spencer On November 27, 2010 at 5:19 pm

Oh my SNIFF! I remember when you got Hanni, what a long time ago that seems. Glad to hear she’s going to friends and you’ll be able to visit, keeps this post from being downright heartbreaking. Good luck with the new pooch : )

MaryEllen Schneider On November 28, 2010 at 8:47 pm

Beth, you did a beautiful job telling the story of Hanni’s retirement. I’m so glad I persevered in trying to listen to it–although I wasn’t able to hold back the tears.

FYI, anyone who’s interested, to hear Beth’s story you need to click on the pie story instead–the links are reversed on the WBEZ website.

As hard as it must be, Beth, I hope you take comfort in the wonderful gift you gave Hanni by giving her a chance to kick-up her heels as a retiree.

I am so grateful that you shared Hanni with the SitStayRead students. Thank you so much. I can’t wait to meet your new partner. Although it wont’ be the same, I have no doubt you two will be an awesome team.

Darla J. Rogers On November 28, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Dear Beth and Hani,

Retiring that first dog, especially when the match was made in heaven, is doggone difficult (no pun intendended). Just remember Michelle, at Seeing Eye, is always there if you find yourself too sad or unnerved when you leave Hani and take that plane to New Jersey.

Just remember: Hani is going to a good and loving home, and she will be happy to see you and your new partner, whenever you can visit, but she will probably be relieved not to have to deal with guiding every day in such large ity.

Godspeed; can’t wait to learn all about your new partner, and Hanni: Have a wonderful, relaxing retirement; you have earned it.
Darla Rogers & Seeing Eye Dog Precious Roxy

bethfinke On November 29, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Thank you all so much for the good wishes – I write to you today from my room at the Seeing Eye as I wait for my trainer to come down, lead me to one of the lounges here and introduce me to my new dog.
They’ve kept me and my 17 fellow blind students busy these past few days teaching us our way around the school using white canes (we had to be confident knowing our way around before being introduced to our dogs, as we have to be able to tell the dogs when to turn “right” and “left’ to get where we want to go). We’ve also practiced fire drills and had many, many class lectures and took three different walks with our instructors so they can judge how fast we walk and how strong a pull we can manage from our new dog and so on and so on.
Life as I know it will change in a matter of minutes. No news yet of gender or breed or name, because really, they didn’t know *exactly* which dog I’d get until they had a chance to evaluate my pace and strength and disposition and tone of voice (the lilt in how we say “hup up” or “forward” all matters, too).
Have to be at the ready, leash in hand, when my trainer comes, so need to end here. A big thank you for all of you who have left comments here, your kind and thoughtful words have really helped me transition from my last walk with Hanni Saturday morning to where I am now, waiting to meet her successor.
Once the two of us meet, we will be busy, busy, busy getting to know each other and learning how to work together. I’m afraid I may be too busy to blog or answer email messages, so Mike has generously agreed to keep up my blog for me while I am gone, check here periodically for updates on his progress at home, Hanni’s progress in her retirement home, and my progress with the New Dog.
Stay tuned –

Teej On November 29, 2010 at 2:28 pm

I’m in tears, Beth.

Looks like you may be meeting your new dog for the first time this very minute. As sad as I am about Hanni, I’m excited about the new dog. Wishing you all the best as you start to bond…

Jane Jarz Browe On December 14, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Beth-

Jane Jarz of yore at York… Sal Lejarza had pointed me to you on Facebook and I’ve been reading about your experience with your seeing eye dogs.

I just wanted to drop you a note and let you know how touching your stores are, and your clear affection and respect for your dogs.

I had declared my German Shepherd, Wrigley, as the best dog of the year. I don’t need her for vision assistance, but she has been incredible emotional support through a really, really tough year.

When she was six weeks old, I went to see her for the second time. The first time at about three weeks, she was all curled up in a heap with a couple of her sisters. Second visit, she and her litter mates were all up on their hind legs at a gate in the kennel barking at me. Before we were introduced, Wrigley looked me in the eye and “said”, “I’ll see you through your pain.” I pointed to her and asked, “Is that my dog?”

The breeder looked at the tag on her collar, and said, “Yep. Browe. How’d you know?” Well…she spoke to me.

And she was right. All’s well, but I sure don’t know if I’d have gotten through the year without this faithful dog at my side. Best Dog of the Year.

Sounds like she has good competition!!

bethfinke On December 14, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Jane,
So great to hear from you, and a big THANK YOU to Sal LeJarza for sending you my way. I have no doubt that your beloved dog helped you through a hard time, Seeing Eye dogs are not only our guides, but provide HUGE emotional help to us, too.
Relieved to hear you are doing well now, and please do give your precious pooch a scratch from me. AND from Hanni. And from Harper!

L^2 On January 18, 2011 at 4:40 pm

Retirement and re-homing decisions are never easy, but they are decisions all handlers must deal with eventually. Thank you so much for submitting this excellent post for the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. I’m checking all my links now, so the full list of contributions should be posted on my blog soon.

Sharon Wachsler On January 19, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Beth,

Thank you so much for including this in the Carnival. What a hard time it is when we lose an assistance dog, to retirement or death.

I’m so glad Hannni is in a great home where you can visit. And maybe by now you already have your new guide?

I didn’t know you have a blog! I’ll have to work my way through it. I’m a little star-struck because I’ve been reading your work for many years; you were a big influence in my learning about disability rights issues, especially women and disability. Thank you for that, too!

bethfinke On January 21, 2011 at 8:39 am

What a sweet comment — never thought of myself as any sort of an expert on “women and disability” but after reading your words I talked to a friend about having me speak to a Woman’s Studies college class. Thanks for the inspiration, Sharon.

Jess and Glacier On January 19, 2011 at 1:34 pm

What a bitter sweet time in your life. The post made me a bit teary.

bethfinke On January 21, 2011 at 8:41 am

Thanks for the empathetic tears — it may make you feel better to know that Hanni is in very good hands and enjoying a retirement where she is going on long leisurely walks, enjoying treats and getting lots of good loving from two people who adore her.

Ro On January 22, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I’m so glad that when the time comes, in twenty years haha, to retire Jayden, that I’ll have plenty of people who have gone before me to help get me through it. I can’t even think about that now.

Second dog syndrome « Safe & Sound blog On February 8, 2011 at 9:29 pm

[…] well and showing good judgment at intersections. The only problem? She was slowing down. From my blog post Saying goodbye to an old friend: My Seeing Eye dog will be 11 years old in February. Walks to the Loop used to invigorate Hanni. […]

torie On February 10, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Hey Beth. I’m so glad that hanny is somewhere local to you. I always dread any mention of the dreaded R word, and hope it’s many years before my Ushi dog has to retire.

Take care, and hope you are getting on with your new dog. Torie and guide dog Ushi.

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